There are many species of wild birds found in the state of Rhode Island. In this article we’ll take a look at some of the most common and well-known Rhode Island birds, especially those that can be found close to home. Some of these species live in Rhode Island all year long, others are migratory and are only part-time residents. So let’s take a look at 23 backyard birds in Rhode Island 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 and birding organizations in Rhode Island.
How many different species of wild birds are in Rhode Island?
It’s difficult to get an exact number on how many bird species are found in North America, the United States, or even in the state of Rhode Island. However, according to Wikipedia, 431 species have been documented on the official state list (as of July 2019).
One source claims there are 2,059 species in North America, another older source says there are just 914. So I’m not sure how much I trust these numbers, but they do give us a rough idea of the number of species.
For the purposes of this article we are just going to look at some of our favorite backyard species found in Rhode Island.
23 backyard birds in Rhode Island
Below we’ll look at 23 species of backyard birds in Rhode Island, some are year-round residents and some aren’t. These obviously aren’t all the species in the state, or even close to it, but they are some of the more notable and recognizable Rhode Island backyard birds, many of which you can see at your bird feeders. Let’s get to it!
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 in Rhode Island year-round.
Cardinals will visit most seed feeders, offer them mixed seed blends and black sunflower seeds.
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 (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 common all year in Rhode Island.
Titmice will visit most seed feeders, offer them mixed seed blends and black sunflower seeds.
3. Black-capped Chickadee
Scientific name: Poecile atricapillus
Length: 4.7-5.9 in
Weight: 0.3-0.5 oz
Wingspan: 6.3-8.3 in
Chickadees are tiny little birds with rounded bodies that are very easy to recognize because of their “black cap” and black bib. Their cheeks are solid white, their wings and backs are blackish gray, and their underbodies are fluffy and light.
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 are always among the first birds I see visiting a new feeder in my yard, and they can be quite bold for their size!
Black-capped chickadees can be found year round throughout Rhode Island.
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 along their back and white feathers their chest and belly. Their wings and tail have black stripes. They also have a black ring around their necks that looks like a necklace. They have several loud, metallic sounding calls, and will often be among the first to alert all the birds in the area of a predator such as a hawk.
Blue Jays are another year-round resident to the entire state of Rhode Island.
Blue Jays like platform feeders, peanut feeders, and feeders with large perches. Offer them black sunflower seeds, mixed seeds, and peanuts.
5. 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 that often culminate in a central brown spot. 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 are present in Rhode Island all year.
Song Sparrows will sometimes visit bird feeders and snack on mixed seeds and sunflower seeds.
6. 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. While they will occasionally visit bird feeders, they do not typically eat seeds. Their bright red, round bellies, and yellow beaks make them easy to identify. In many areas they retreat to the wood during winter and don’t frequent yards again until spring. This gives the illusion that they are migrating out of the state, but in most cases they stick around through the winter.
Robins stay in Rhode Island all year.
American Robins do not often visit bird feeders, so attract them with meal worms, native fruit-bearing plants, or a bird bath.
7. 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, mourning doves are very common in backyards and will often sit perched on telephone wires or in groups in trees. Their soft “cooing” is a common backyard sound. 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, a pale peachy color below, and pink legs.
Mourning doves are found all year throughout the whole state of Rhode Island.
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.
8. 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.
Unfortunately this invasive species is found in every one of the lower 48 states year-round, Rhode Island 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.
9. 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 and males have a black cap on top of their heads. During winter they will molt and their bright yellow fades out to a more dull brownish or olive tone. You can always recognize them any time of year by the black on their wings, and their finch-like beaks.
Goldfinches can be found year-round throughout Rhode Island.
Goldfinches prefer thistle feeders, they may also eat sunflower chips but a thistle feeder is your best chance to attract them.
10. 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 in the eastern U.S. are dark gray on their head, chest, back, wings and tail. This is called the “slate-colored” variety. Their belly all the way to the bottom of the tail is white. Females may look similar or appear a buffy brown instead of gray. Two good things to look for when recognizing junco’s are their pale pink beak and roundish body shape. They are most common in forests and wooded areas where they can often be seen hopping around on the ground.
Dark-eyed Juncos can be found throughout Rhode Island during the winter, and some may stay year-round in western parts of the state.
Juncos will sometimes visit feeders, but typically prefer to eat seed from the ground underneath your feeders that other other birds are dropping. They like mixed seeds.
11. 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 robin-sized birds with dark slate gray coloring all over, a black cap on top of their head and a long tail. They have a rusty red patch just beneath their tails which often goes unseen. Catbirds love to eat fruit, 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 may be more abundant during the summer, but can be found on Rhode Island year-round.
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.
12. 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 common backyard bird in Rhode Island. Though they are invasive to the eastern U.S., they are not universally hated like other invasive birds such as house sparrows or european starlings. If you attract them, which is fairly easy to do, they may show up in large flocks and mob your feeders. Males are mostly streaked brown in color with some red on the head and chest, females have no red coloring. Unfortunately they can be prone to a transmittable eye disease, so that is something to keep an eye out for at your feeders.
House finches stick around all year throughout Rhode Island.
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.
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 their red and yellow “shoulders” that stand out amongst their black bodies. The females of this species however, look quite different and are mostly brown with light streaks. They are known as a polygynous species, meaning males will have up to 15 different females that they are mating with. Unfortunately they sometimes show up at feeders in flocks and gobble up seed quickly.
Red-winged Blackbirds can be found throughout Rhode Island all year.
Red-winged Blackbirds visit most types of feeders and will eat seed as well as suet.
14. 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 noticeably smaller.
Downy woodpeckers are found all year throughout Rhode Island.
Downy Woodpeckers are very common at most types of bird feeders. Offer them mixed seed, black sunflower seed, and suet.
15. 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 backyards in the eastern U.S. 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 break 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 live year round in Rhode Island.
Attract Red-bellied Woodpeckers with a suet feeder, though they will also sometimes eat at seed feeders, especially if peanuts are offered.
16. 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 with their iridescent feathers. They often appear black in color, but in the right light you can see hues of blue, green, brown and purple. Grackles sometimes will roost with other types of blackbirds, and appear in massive flocks numbering in the millions of birds. They are easy to identify by their solid coloring, long narrow body and tail, and yellow ringed eye.
Grackles are found throughout Rhode Island all year round.
Grackles are foragers and will eat just about anything, they are often thought of as pests.
17. 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 get their name from the fact that they stuff nuts and seeds under tree bark, then use their sharp beaks to hatch the seed from the shell. These birds also have the ability to walk vertically on trees better than many other types of birds. White-breasted nuthatches 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 Rhode Island and are common backyard birds.
Nuthatches will visit most seed feeders, offer them mixed seed blends, black sunflower seeds, peanuts, or suet. They usually like to grab and run, taking a seed and immediately flying off to eat it or cache it in a nearby tree.
18. 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 Rhode Island.
Like the European Starling, House Sparrows are invasive and pose a threat to native species. They will eat almost anything.
19. White-throated Sparrow
Scientific name: Zonotrichia albicollis
Length: 6.3-7.1 in
Weight: 0.8-1.1 oz
Wingspan: 7.9-9.1 in
For most of the country white-throated sparrows are only winter birds, but not so in Massachusetts where they can be found year round. Their white throat patch makes them easier to identify among sparrows, along with their bold facial pattern of black and white stripe with yellow spots between the eyes. The females often nest on or just above the ground in hidden areas of dense brush and vegetation.
White-throated sparrows are generally only seen during the winter in Rhode Island.
White-throated sparrows readily visit feeders and like to pick up fallen seed below feeders. Offer sunflower, millet and mixed seed blends.
20. Carolina Wren
Scientific name: Thryothorus ludovicianus
Length: 4.7-5.5 in
Weight: 0.6-0.8 oz
Wingspan: 11.4 in
These little birds are mostly reddish-brown on top and a lighter orangish color on bottom. Their longish, slightly curved beak and bold white “eyebrow” are good identifiers. They like to hide in brush and may be hard to spot, however their loud “teakettle-teakettle” song is likely one you would recognize.
Carolina wrens are found all year in Rhode Island.
Carolina Wrens are quite common in backyards and are often seen visiting suet feeders, like the picture above of one we saw in our yard.
21. 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 unlike other woodpeckers, often like to find them on the ground rather than trees. Identify them by the black spots on their bellies, solid black bib, red patch on the back of their necks, and barred black and gray wings. Males have a black “mustache”. In Rhode Island you get the “yellow-shafted” variety, and they have bright yellow feathers on the underside of their wings and tail.
Northern Flickers can be found throughout Rhode Island all year.
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.
22. Northern Mockingbird
Scientific name: Mimus polyglottos
Length: 8.3-10.2 in
Weight: 1.6-2.0 oz
Wingspan: 12.2-13.8 in
Mockingbirds get their name from their ability to mimic the songs of other species of birds. It’s estimated that a male mockingbird can learn up to 200 different songs in its lifetime. These medium sized backyard birds are mostly gray and white in color and can also be recognized by their rather long tail feathers. They are often seen living in tall bushes and can often be quite aggressive of intruding birds.
Northern Mockingbirds are found throughout the state of Rhode Island year-round.
Northern Mockingbirds are very common in backyards, but don’t really visit bird feeders. Entice them to your yard with some of the other tips below such as fruit bearing bushes or a bird bath.
23. Yellow Warbler
Scientific name: Setophaga petechia
Length: 4.7-5.1 in
Weight: 0.3-0.4 oz
Wingspan: 6.3-7.9 in
Aptly named, the yellow warbler is yellow throughout its whole body. Their chest and head tends to be brighter while their back can be more of a darker, olive yellow. Males have some reddish-brown streaking on their chest. Their preferred habitat is thickets and small trees near wetlands or streams.
Yellow Warblers can be found throughout Rhode Island during the spring and summer.
Yellow warblers are insect eaters so they won’t visit bird feeders. You can try to attract them by planting small trees that support caterpillars.
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. Not only that, but native plants foster caterpillars and other insects that feed many birds and support nesting birds since most songbirds feed insects to their hatchlings. Try to avoid invasive and non-native plants that can out-compete the native plants that foster a healthy ecosystem.
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 Rhode Island
Rhode Island has plenty of opportunities for birding if you want to take the hobby outside of your own backyard. The Rhode Island Audubon Society has meetups, workshops, field trips, and birding tours, should you want to get a little more involved.
If you are a Rhode Island 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 Rhode Island.
Rhode Island birding locations
Learn more about what each of these locations has to offer from birdwatchersdigest.org
- Norman Bird Sanctuary
- Colt State Park
- Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge
- Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge
- Block Island
Find even more hotspots with Audubon Rhode Island Important Bird Areas.