Illinois is home to a good variety of wild bird species, and in this article we’ll take a look at some of the more recognizable and well-known birds found in the state. Some of these species live in Illinois all year long, others are migratory and only part-time residents to the state. In this article, we’re going to take a look at 25 backyard birds in Illinois and learn a little about each species.
After that I’ll show you how to attract them to your yard, give you a crash course in the 10 different types of bird feeders you can use to do so, and even mention a few birdwatching hotspots in Illinois.
How many different species of wild birds are in Illinois?
It’s not really possible to get a precise number of how many bird species are found in North America, the United States, or even in the state of Illinois. However, according to Wikipedia there are at least 450 species of birds in the state of Illinois. One source claims there are 2,059 species in North America, another older source says there are just 914. Since some of the more rare species come and go year to year it can really vary. But this gives us an idea.
For the purposes of this article we are just going to look at some of the more common backyard birds found in Illinois.
25 backyard birds in Illinois
Below we’ll look at 25 species of backyard birds in Illinois, some are year-round residents and some aren’t. These obviously aren’t even close to all the species found in the state, but they are some of the more notable and recognizable Illinois backyard birds. Without any further delay, let’s take a look!
1. Northern Cardinal
Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis
Length: 8.3-9.1 in
Weight: 1.5-1.7 oz
Wingspan: 9.8-12.2 in
Northern Cardinals are among the most recognizable and common backyard birds in North America. Males have bright red feathers and a black mask, females have duller colors and are more pale brown with some reddish coloring. Both males and females are easily recognized by their “mohawks” and reddish orange beaks.
Northern Cardinals are found throughout the state of Illinois year round.
Cardinals will visit most seed feeders, offer them mixed seed blends and black sunflower seeds. See more on attracting cardinals here.
2. Tufted Titmouse
Scientific name: Baeolophus bicolor
Length: 5.5-6.3 in
Weight: 0.6-0.9 oz
Wingspan: 7.9-10.2 in
These little birds are very common at feeders and in backyards within their range. Like Cardinals, they have a small crest (the “mohawk”) that helps you tell them apart from other birds. Titmice are silver-gray on top and lighter on bottom, with a black patch just above their beaks.
The Tufted Titmouse is found throughout Illinois all year, and right along the western edge of their range.
Titmice will visit most seed feeders, offer them mixed seed blends and black sunflower seeds.
Scientific name: Poecile atricapillus (Black-Capped), Poecile carolinensis (Carolina)
Length: 4.7-5.9 in (Black-Capped), 3.9-4.7 in (Carolina)
Weight: 0.3-0.5 oz (Black-Capped), 0.3-0.4 oz (Carolina)
Wingspan: 6.3-8.3 in (Black-Capped), 5.9-7.9 in (Carolina)
Chickadees are tiny little birds that are very easy to recognize because of their “black cap” and black bib. Their cheeks are solid white, their wings and backs are gray, and their underbodies are fluffy and light.
The two types of Chickadees found in the east are Black-capped Chickadees and Carolina Chickadees, and they look nearly identical. For most people, they can tell which one they are seeing based on where they are. However in Illinois, both chickadees are present. Black-capped tend to be in northern Illinois while Carolina’s are in southern Illinois, and they overlap in the middle. They are very common at bird feeders and are often seen darting back and forth from a feeder to cover and back again for more.
Chickadees will visit most seed feeders, offer them mixed seed blends and black sunflower seeds.
4. Blue Jay
Scientific name: Cyanocitta cristata
Length: 9.8-11.8 in
Weight: 2.5-3.5 oz
Wingspan: 13.4-16.9 in
Another very well-known bird species in North America and the U.S. is the Blue Jay. They have a large blue crest on top of their heads with mostly blue feathers on top and white feathers on bottom. They also have a black ring around their necks that looks like a necklace. Their wings are barred white, blue, and black.
Blue Jays are another year-round resident to the entire state of Illinois. They are common in backyards and at feeders.
Blue Jays like platform feeders, peanut feeders, and feeders with large perches. Offer them black sunflower seeds, mixed seeds, and peanuts.
5. Eastern Bluebird
Scientific name: Sialia sialis
Length: 6.3-8.3 in
Weight: 1.0-1.1 oz
Wingspan: 9.8-12.6 in
True to their name, bluebirds have a blue back with rusty reddish-orange bellies. Males are bright while females coloring appears much duller. They are just about the most sought after tenants of birdhouses in the U.S. making the bluebird house industry pretty booming. They are very common in backyards, though not so much at feeders. Put up a birdhouse and try your luck in attracting a mating pair, I was able to with this birdhouse on Amazon.
The Eastern Bluebirds stick around all year in Illinois only.
Bluebirds don’t typically eat seeds, but can be enticed to visit feeders with mealworms and suet nuggets on a tray feeder or in a dish.
6. White-breasted Nuthatch
Scientific name: Sitta carolinensis
Length: 5.1-5.5 in
Weight: 0.6-1.1 oz
Wingspan: 7.9-10.6 in
White-breasted Nuthatches are very common feeder birds found in most backyards within their range. They get their name from the fact that they stuff nuts and seeds under tree bark, then use their sharp beaks to hatch them back out. You may also notice they are great at hopping up and down trees vertically, and often hang upside down at feeders. They have a thick black stripe on top of their heads, with white on either side and on their bellies. Their wings are mostly gray and black.
White-breasted Nuthatches are found year-round throughout Illinois.
Nuthatches will visit most seed feeders, offer them mixed seed blends, black sunflower seeds, peanuts, or suet.
7. American Robin
Scientific name: Turdus migratorius
Length: 7.9-11.0 in
Weight: 2.7-3.0 oz
Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 in
Highly common in backyards, Robins are mostly seen hopping around the grass looking for worms and other invertebrates to eat. Their bright red, round bellies, and yellow beaks make them easy to identify. While they will occasionally visit bird feeders, they do not typically eat seeds. They do, however, seem to really like bird baths.
Robins live all year in Illinois.
American Robins do not often visit bird feeders, so attract them with meal worms, native fruit-bearing plants, or a bird bath.
8. Mourning Dove
Scientific name: Zenaida macroura
Length: 9.1-13.4 in
Weight: 3.0-6.0 oz
Wingspan: 17.7 in
About the size of a robin, doves are very common in backyards and will often sit perched on telephone wires or in groups in trees. I sometimes see them on my tray feeder, but more often than not they are seen walking around on the ground. Mourning Doves are mostly gray with black spots on top and a pale peachy color below.
Mourning Doves are found all year throughout Illinois.
Doves will often visit seed feeders, but prefer scouring the ground for seeds that have fallen. Try a ground feeder with a mixed seed blend, or simply scatter some seeds on the ground.
9. European Starling
Scientific name: Sturnus vulgaris
Length: 7.9-9.1 in
Weight: 2.1-3.4 oz
Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 in
100 starlings were set loose in New York in the 1890s and they have since taken over the country. They destroy other birds’ nests, kill their young, and will overtake feeders not allowing other birds to get any of the food that you put out. They are mostly all dark with white specks on their backs and wings, and have yellow beaks and feet. Starlings can also be a purple and green iridescent color and in the right light can actually be quite pretty.
Starlings are found in every one of the lower 48 states year-round, Illinois included.
European Starlings will eat almost anything. They are an invasive species so we suggest you do not attempt to attract them, they’ll show up anyway.
10. American Goldfinch
Scientific name: Spinus tristis
Length: 4.3-5.1 in
Weight: 0.4-0.7 oz
Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 in
Goldfinches are among my favorite birds to see at feeders, especially when they have their bright yellow feathers in the Spring and Summer. During this period they are mostly yellow, or “gold”, with black-tipped wings. Males will also have a black cap. In the winter they will molt and lose these flashy colors be more dull brownish or olive colored. You can always recognize them any time of year by the black on their wings, and their finch-like beaks.
Goldfinches are found year round in Illinois.
Goldfinches prefer thistle feeders, they may also eat sunflower chips but a thistle feeder is your best chance to attract them.
11. House Finch
Scientific name: Haemorhous mexicanus
Length: 5.1-5.5 in
Weight: 0.6-0.9 oz
Wingspan: 7.9-9.8 in
The House Finch is yet another very common backyard bird in Illinois. Though they are invasive to Illinois, they are not universally hated like House Sparrows, and do not cause the problems that the sparrows do. If you attract them, which is fairly easy to do, they may show up in large flocks and mob your feeders. They are streaked brown and white, and males have red on their heads and chest.
House Finches are common throughout Illinois.
Like other finches, House Finches often visit thistle feeders. They are seen at seed feeders more than Goldfinches, so try some black sunflower seeds to attract them as well.
12. House Sparrow
Scientific name: Passer domesticus
Length: 5.9-6.7 in
Weight: 0.9-1.1 oz
Wingspan: 7.5-9.8 in
Generally look at as pests, Houses Sparrows are the only other species of wild birds in the U.S. besides starlings that you can legally trap and humanely kill. Like starlings, they were introduced in New York in the 1800s and have since spread across our country like wildfire. They are mostly brown in color, with some black and brown streaking on their wings and buffy chest. They are overall aggressive towards other birds, especially around nests.
House Sparrows are found throughout Illinois.
Like the European Starling, House Sparrows are invasive and pose a threat to native species. They will eat almost anything.
13. Red-winged Blackbird
Scientific name: Agelaius phoeniceus
Length: 6.7-9.1 in
Weight: 1.1-2.7 oz
Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 in
Among the most abundant birds in all of North America, male Red-winged Blackbirds are unmistakable because of the bright red on their “shoulders”. The females of this species however, look quite different and are mostly brown and white streaked. They are known as a polygynous species, meaning males will have up to 15 different females that they are mating with.
Red-winged Blackbirds can be found in Illinois all year.
Red-winged Blackbirds visit most types of feeders and will eat seed as well as suet.
14. Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
Scientific name: Pheucticus ludovicianus
Length: 7.1-8.3 in
Weight: 1.4-1.7 oz
Wingspan: 11.4-13.0 in
Rose-breasted grosbeaks spend their winters in Central and South America, so their annual return to the U.S. is exciting for may backyard bird lovers. While females are a streaky brown and white with a bold white eyebrow, males have quite striking colors. They have a black head and back with white wing spots, and a bright red triangle on the chest. Their fat pink beaks can help them break open tough seeds.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are only migratory in far southern Illinois, so look for them there in the spring and fall. In the upper two-thirds of the state, they remain to breed throughout the summer before heading south again in the fall.
Red-Breasted Grosbeaks will sometimes visit bird feeders and snack on mixed seeds and sunflower seeds.
15. Song Sparrow
Scientific name: Melospiza melodia
Length: 4.7-6.7 in
Weight: 0.4-1.9 oz
Wingspan: 7.1-9.4 in
These sparrows are mostly brown on the back and wings, with heavy brown streaks on a white breast. Song Sparrows are very common throughout most of North America and their plumage can vary a bit from region to region. The male of the species uses his song to attract females as well as to defend his territory.
Song Sparrows remain in Illinois all year.
Song Sparrows will sometimes visit bird feeders and snack on mixed seeds and sunflower seeds.
16. Red-bellied Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus
Length: 9.4 in
Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 in
These medium-sized woodpeckers are fairly common at feeders and in backyards in general. Though they are described as “red-bellied” you may first notice the bright red streak along the back of their heads. They have a plain white breast with an area of pinkish red lower down in their “belly” area which is often not visible. Their wings are what really makes them easy to identify though, with the white and black barring.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers are found throughout Illinois year round.
Attract Red-bellied Woodpeckers with a suet feeder, though they will also sometimes eat at seed feeders, especially if you offer sunflower and peanuts.
17. Downy Woodpecker
Scientific name: Picoides pubescens
Length: 5.5-6.7 in
Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz
Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in
Downy’s are very common backyard birds that love to visit bird feeders. They are the smallest woodpeckers in North America and are always one of the first species I see at a new bird feeder. They are easily identifiable by their all white underbodies, black wings with white spots, black and white striped heads, and the red spot on the back of their heads (in males, females have no red). Though they do closely resemble the Hairy Woodpecker, Downy’s are smaller with shorter beaks.
Downy Woodpeckers are found all year throughout the whole state of Illinois.
Downy Woodpeckers are very common at most types of bird feeders. Offer them mixed seed, black sunflower seed, and suet.
18. Common Grackle
Scientific name: Quiscalus quiscula
Length: 11.0-13.4 in
Weight: 2.6-5.0 oz
Wingspan: 14.2-18.1 in
Though they fall into the bully bird category like the starling does, grackles are also quite pretty in the right light. Overall they appear mostly black in color and will roost with other types of blackbirds, sometimes in massive flocks numbering in the millions of birds. In the right lighting however you can see they are iridescent and sport hues of blues, greens and purples. They are also easy to identify by their yellow ringed eye.
Grackles are found in Illinois all year.
Grackles are foragers and will eat just about anything, they are often thought of as pests.
19. Indigo Bunting
Scientific name: Passerina cyanea
Length: 4.7-5.1 in
Weight: 0.4-0.6 oz
Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 in
These beautiful buntings migrate at night, traveling up from their wintering grounds in Mexico and southern Florida. While females are mostly brown with just hints of blue, males are bright blue all over with some black on their wings. This coloring comes from the way their feathers reflect light rather than blue pigment. Look for them in summer singing along the edges of fields and woods.
Indigo Buntings can be found throughout Illinois during the spring and summer.
While not as common at feeders, they will sometimes visit especially if you offer mixed seed and nyjer.
20. Dark-eyed Junco
Scientific name: Junco hyemalis
Length: 5.5-6.3 in
Weight: 0.6-1.1 oz
Wingspan: 7.1-9.8 in
Juncos are often thought of by people in the U.S as winter birds, since they spend their summers up in Canada. They have blackish gray heads and are overall a dark slate-gray on top, but a lighter grayish white on their bottom half, and a light pink beak. Females and immatures can appear more of a buffy brown color. They are most common in forests and wooded areas where they can often be seen hopping around on the ground.
Dark-eyed Juncos are found in Illinois only during the winter months.
Juncos will sometimes visit feeders, but prefer to find food and eat seeds on the ground, and like to pick up the seeds beneath feeders that the other birds are dropping.
21. Baltimore Oriole
Scientific name: Icterus galbula
Length: 6.7-7.5 in
Weight: 1.1-1.4 oz
Wingspan: 9.1-11.8 in
Orioles are fruit eating birds and like dark colored berries and fruits. If your backyard has native fruit-bearing trees and plants you have a good chance of attracting Baltimore Orioles. Males have a dark hood on their entire head, black backs with white stripes on their wings, and they are totally orange on their breasts and underbodies. They also have an orange rump and some orange tail feathers. Females coloring is a much more muted yellowish-orange.
Baltimore Orioles are migratory birds that only show up during the breeding season in most of the country, including Illinois. So look for them in the spring and summer.
Orioles love sweet things, put out an oriole feeder and offer them jelly and orange halves to attract them when they’re in town.
22. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Scientific name: Archilochus colubris
Length: 2.8-3.5 in
Weight: 0.1-0.2 oz
Wingspan: 3.1-4.3 in
Though only common in the eastern half of the United States, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are the most abundant species of hummingbirds in the country. They are also the only breeding species of hummingbird found in the Eastern U.S. They get their name because males have a bright ruby-red throat. Ruby-throated Hummers are emerald-green on their backs, wings, and heads with white under-parts. Females lack the red throat feathers.
You might find a couple of rare wandering species from time to time, but Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are generally the main hummingbirds found in Illinois. They are found throughout the state from Spring to Fall.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are very common in backyards if you put out nectar feeders, in most cases this should be done in April or May.
You may like: Facts, Myths, and FAQ about hummingbirds
23. Brown Thrasher
Scientific name: Toxostoma rufum
Length: 9.1-11.8 in
Weight: 2.1-3.1 oz
Wingspan: 11.4-12.6 in
These backyards birds in Illinois aren’t as common as others on this list, but they can be found if you know where to look. As the name suggests they are mostly brown in color and I assume they are called thrashers because of the way they will thrash through fallen leaves looking for bugs, don’t quote me on that though. Brown Thrashers are accomplished songbirds and are believed to have over 1100 different songs, including those of other bird species.
Brown Thrashers have a breeding range in most of Illinois, so look for them in Spring and Summer. However, they may stick around all year in the far southern tip of the state.
Brown Thrashers don’t usually visit bird feeders but may pick up seeds on the ground. They mainly dig through leaves and sticks looking for bugs to find their food.
24. Gray Catbird
Scientific name: Dumetella carolinensis
Length: 8.3-9.4 in
Weight: 0.8-2.0 oz
Wingspan: 8.7-11.8 in
Catbirds are dark slate gray, with black caps on top of their heads, blackish gray wings, and long tails. They are mostly fruit eating birds so attract them with native fruit-bearing trees and bushes. They get the name catbird from their calls that somewhat resemble that of a meowing cat.
Gray Catbirds are found in Illinois, and most of the U.S., in the spring and summer only.
You may be able to attract catbirds if you offer some fruits, berries, and other sweet things but they prefer to forage on the ground or in bushes for food.
25. Northern Flicker
Scientific name: Colaptes auratus
Length: 11.0-12.2 in
Weight: 3.9-5.6 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 in
These medium to large sized woodpeckers are quite common in backyards throughout the United States, though not extremely common at feeders. In my opinion they are also among some of the most colorful birds in North America. Flickers feed mainly on insects and are slightly less common at feeders as the other woodpecker species on this list, but if you know where to look you will still spot them in your backyard. Identify them by their black spots on their bellies, solid black bib, red patch on the back of their necks, and barred black and gray wings. In Illinois you get the “yellow-shafted” variety, and they have bright yellow feathers on the underside of their wings.
Northern Flickers are common all year in Illinois.
Northern Flickers occasionally visit a suet feeder, but more often than not they find their own food. They will however visit a bird bath if you have one out.
How to attract birds to your yard
Interested in attracting some of these birds to your backyard? Take a look at these 5 simple tips, starting with the most obvious.
1. Put out bird feeders
The best and most obvious way to attract birds to your yard is to put out a bird feeder or two. I suggest starting with a simple tube feeder, hopper feeder, platform feeder, or a window feeder. See below for suggestions for each.
2. Add a water source
A pedestal birdbath like this one on Amazon is great, but you can also use something as simple as a terra cotta flower pot saucer, like this one. Birds need water not only to bathe in but also to drink and adding a water feature to your yard will only increase your chances of attracting birds. Also consider adding a solar fountain since moving water will entice the birds to visit the water even more.
3. Offer birdhouses
Many species of birds will readily take up residence in birdhouses if put out in the right spot at the right time of year. Eastern Bluebirds are among the most common sought after birds to attract to birdhouses. I have this birdhouse in my backyard and a mating pair of bluebirds were checking it out the same day I installed it.
4. Provide shelter
Make sure that your yard has trees, bushes, and shrubs that the birds can dart back and forth to when they sense danger. This is their main defense from predators. If your yard is perhaps in a new subdivision with no mature trees then do your best to add some landscaping features that will allow birds to look at your yard as safe.
5. Add native plants
For many birds that eat nuts, berries, and seeds, having native plants that produce these things will only aide your efforts to attract more birds. Try to avoid invasive and non-native plants as they can be harmful to native birds who are not used to these plant species.
10 different types of bird feeders
Here are 10 of the most common bird feeders people set up in their yards.
- Hopper feeder – Hopper feeders get their name because they have a compartment in the middle, the hopper, that holds the bird seed. There are perches on the sides for birds to land on and eat from. Many hopper feeders are in the shape of a house and are covered on top to keep the seed dry. Use black sunflower seeds or mixed birdseed for this type of feeder. Here’s one of my favorite hopper feeders, it’s squirrel-proof too.
- Platform feeder – Sometimes called tray feeders, platform feeders are open on top and can usually be hung from a tree or hook, or pole-mounted. They are great for feeding most types of birds and are easy to get set up. Though since they are completely open, every animal in your yard that can reach them will eat from them. Use black sunflower seeds or mixed birdseed for this type of feeder. I’m using this platform feeder in my backyard right now.
- Tube feeder – Tube feeders are nothing more than clear plastic tube-shaped bird feeders. They can range in size from holding a few cups of seed to holding 5 lbs or more. They are great because they keep your seed fresh and dry while also allowing you to easily seed when it needs to be refilled. Many types of birds will use a tube feeder. You can use black sunflower seeds and mixed seeds in tube feeders. Squirrel Buster makes some of the best tube feeders on the market, this one is great and is of course squirrel proof.
- Suet feeder – Suet feeders are for one type of bird food, suet cakes. They are a very simple concept, usually made of nothing more than a metal wire cage, sometimes with a tail-prop coming down for larger birds. Suet feeders are popular in the winter time when birds are looking for high-fat foods and are frequently visited by woodpeckers. I suggest getting a suet feeder with a long tail prop so you can attract larger woodpeckers, like the Pileated and Northern Flicker.
- Window feeder – Window feeders are small bird feeders that typically mount right onto a glass window by means of suction cups. They are similar to tray feeders in that they are open on top and you just pour the seed into the tray area to refill them. These feeders are popular with many different types of birds, are super easy to get started with, and great for people who don’t have big yards. Use black sunflower seeds or mixed birdseed for this type of feeder. This is by far the most popular window feeder on Amazon, and maybe the most popular bird feeder on Amazon overall.
- Thistle feeder – Thistle feeders, aka Nyjer feeders, are specialized bird feeders made especially for thistle seed. The main types of birds that thistle feeders attract are birds in the finch family, which includes the American Goldfinch and House Finch whom are both on this list. Thistle feeders are often in a tube shape and have tiny holes all along the sides of the tube allowing the birds to pick out the thistle. Here’s a good thistle feeder from Droll Yankees.
- Ground feeder – Ground feeders are more or less tray feeders that sit on ground level. They will be very popular with birds like Mourning Doves and Juncos as well as squirrels, raccoons, and any other type of ground animal. Use black sunflower seeds or mixed birdseed for this type of feeder. You might like this ground feeder made from recycled plastic.
- Oriole feeder – Oriole feeders are another type of specialty feeder for pretty much one type of bird, orioles. The feeder itself is often orange in color and usually has little plastic or glass dishes made for holding jelly, which orioles love. They also allow you to stick orange halves onto the feeder, another food that orioles relish. Here’s a simple oriole feeder with 4 jelly trays that holds for orange halves.
- Hummingbird feeder – Nectar feeders, aka hummingbird feeders, are designed specifically for hummingbirds to extract sugar water. Even though they are designed for hummingbirds, I frequently see Downy Woodpeckers at mine who also loves that sweet nectar. See this article to learn how to make hummingbird nectar without boiling the water. Hummingbird feeders are simple and inexpensive so there’s no need to spend much on one, here’s one that I’ve personally used and had success with.
- Peanut feeder – Similar to thistle feeders, peanut feeders are tube-shaped and usually composed of a metal wire mesh material. Only the holes in the wire mesh are much further apart to allow for either whole unshelled or shelled peanuts to pass through the holes. These feeders attract birds like Blue Jays and as the name suggests, should be filled with peanuts. If you want to keep squirrels out of your peanut feeder, then this one by Squirrel Buster is your best bet. Otherwise this simple one will do the trick.
Bird watching in Illinois
Illinois has plenty of great spots if you want to go take your hobby outside of your own backyard. The Illinois Audubon Society has multiple chapters and is always having meetups, workshops, field trips, and birding tours, should you want to get a little more involved.
If you are an Illinois resident and would like to add some new species to your life list, then take a look at this list I’ve compiled some popular birding locations in Illinois.
Illinois birding locations
Learn more about what each of these locations has to offer from birdwatchersdigest.org
- Illinois Beach State Park
- Mississippi Palisades State Park
- Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
- Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge
Find even more hotspots with Audubon Illinois Important Bird Areas.