Tennessee is home to many different species of wild birds. 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 Tennessee year round, while others are migratory and only part-time residents to the volunteer state. In this article, we’re going to take a look at 25 backyard birds in Tennessee 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 Tennessee birdwatching hotspots.
How many different species of wild birds are in Tennessee?
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 Tennessee. However, according to Wikipedia there are at least 423 species of birds in the state of Tennessee. 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 give us an idea of the number of species.
For the purposes of this article we are just going to look at some of the most commonly seen (especially in your backyard) species found in Tennessee.
25 backyard birds in Tennessee
Below we’ll look at 25 species of backyard birds in Tennessee, 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 Tennessee 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 tawny 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 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 (the “mohawk”) that helps you tell them apart from other birds. Both male and female Titmice are silver-gray on top and lighter on bottom, with a black patch just above their beaks.
The Tufted Titmouse is found throughout the state of Tennessee all year.
Titmice will readily visit most seed feeders, offer them mixed seed blends and black sunflower seeds.
3. Carolina Chickadee
Scientific name: Poecile carolinensis
Length: 3.9-4.7 in
Weight: 0.3-0.4 oz
Wingspan: 5.9-7.9 in
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 blackish gray, and their underbodies are puffy and whitish.
Carolina Chickadees, not to be confused with their nearly identical neighbors to the north Black-Capped Chickadees, are found throughout the state of Tennessee. 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.
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. They can be quite loud and their chirps sometimes have a metallic sound to them. They are also quite good at impersonating the calls of hawks.
Blue Jays are another year-round resident to the entire state of Tennessee. 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 are all blue on top with rusty reddish-orange bellies. 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 Bluebird is a year-round resident of Tennessee. You are most likely to see bluebird activity in the spring months, and if you are putting up a birdhouse make sure it is ready in February or March.
Bluebirds don’t typically eat seeds, but can be enticed to visit feeders with mealworms or 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. I’ve noticed that they also have the ability to walk vertically on trees better than many other types of birds. 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 Tennessee.
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.
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. 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.
Robins live all year in Tennessee, although you may see them less frequently in your yard during the winter.
American Robins do not often visit bird feeders, so attract them with mealworms, native fruit-bearing plants, leaf-litter for foraging, 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 they like to hang out underneath feeders and pick up the seeds that fall to the ground. Mourning Doves are mostly gray with black spots on top and a pale peachy color below. They have a pale blueish-gray eye ring and pink legs.
Mourning Doves are found all year throughout Tennessee.
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. While Starlings often look black, they are actually iridescent and in the right lighting can have pretty purple and green plumage.
Unfortunately starlings are found in every one of the lower 48 states year-round, Tennessee included.
European Starlings will eat almost anything, but are especially fond of suet. 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 breeding males become mostly yellow, or “gold”, with black-tipped wings and black cap on top of their heads. Females and juveniles are not as bright yellow and they lack the black cap. In the winter they will molt and lose these flashy colors and have more dull brownish or olive colors. You can always recognize them any time of year by the black on their wings, and their finch-like beaks.
Goldfinches are found all year in Tennessee.
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 Tennessee. Though they are invasive to the eastern U.S., 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. Males are mostly streaked brown in color with some red on the head and chest, females are all brown.
House Finches are common all year throughout Tennessee.
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 looked 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 to the U.S. 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. They are known to evict other birds nesting in birdhouses.
House Sparrows are found throughout Tennessee, especially around areas of human activity. If you see drab brown birds hanging out around shopping areas and building nests inside of storefront signs, they are likely House Sparrows.
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 their red and yellow “shoulders”. They can fluff these out and make them very visible, or hide them quite a bit. The females of this species however, look very 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 are found year-round in Tennessee.
Red-winged Blackbirds visit most types of feeders and will eat seed as well as suet. They may show up in large mobs.
14. Carolina Wren
Scientific name: Thryothorus ludovicianus
Length: 4.7-5.5 in
Weight: 0.6-0.8 oz
Wingspan: 11.4 in
Carolina Wrens are small, stocky little birds. They have chestnut brown wings and back with a lighter buffy chest, and a noticeable white stripe that runs along their whole head above the eye. You will often see them sitting with their tail cocked upwards. They like to forage for food in shrubs and thickets, where they blend in well and are hard to see. Although tiny, they sing fairly often and quite loudly for their size.
Carolina Wrens are found throughout Tennessee all year long.
Carolina Wrens won’t often come to your feeder for seed, but they do like suet and will visit suet feeders.
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 are found year round in the eastern half of Tennessee, but may only be common in the western third of the state during the fall and winter months.
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 pink 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 year round in Tennessee.
Attract Red-bellied Woodpeckers with a suet feeder, though they will also sometimes eat at seed feeders if you offer sunflowers 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). They look nearly identical to the Hairy woodpecker, but are noticeably smaller.
Downy Woodpeckers are found all year throughout the whole state of Tennessee.
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 with their iridescent feathers. 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. They are easy to identify by their solid coloring, yellow ringed eye.
Grackles are found year round in Tennessee.
Grackles are foragers and will eat just about anything, they are often thought of as pests.
19. Hairy Woodpecker
Scientific name: Leuconotopicus villosus
Length: 7.1-10.2 in
Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz
Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in
There’s not much to differentiate Hairy Woodpeckers from Downy Woodpeckers, aside from the Hairy’s larger size and a few other key features. They both have very similar markings and are almost always found in the same places of the country as each other. I have found though that the Hairy Woodpecker does not visit bird feeder near as often as Downy’s do.
Hairy Woodpeckers are found throughout the state of Tennessee all year.
While not as common as Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers will visit suet feeders.
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 dark gray heads and are overall a dark slate-gray on top, but a lighter grayish white on their bottom half, with 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 only visit Tennessee during the late fall and winter months.
Juncos will sometimes visit feeders, but prefer to eat seeds on the ground. You will often see them picking up the spilled seeds on the ground directly under bird feeders.
21. Northern Mockingbird
Scientific name: Icterus galbula
Length: 6.7-7.5 in
Weight: 1.1-1.4 oz
Wingspan: 9.1-11.8 in
The Northern Mockingbird is the state bird of Tennessee. They are a medium sized bird with an overall gray color that is slightly darker on the back and lighter on the chest. They have a bold white stripe on each wing and the outside edges of their tail, although these are not very visible unless the bird has its wings extended or is flying. They are known for their songs, where they “mock” or imitate the songs of other birds, usually performing several bird songs in a long string.
Northern Mockingbirds are found in Tennessee all year round.
Mockingbirds don’t usually visit bird feeders. You can help attract them by having fruiting trees and shrubs in the yard. Often you can see them hopping around on the lawn, or perched on tall shrubs and poles.
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.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds arrive in Tennessee beginning in mid April and stay until late summer.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are very common in backyards if you put out nectar feeders.
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
The brown thrasher is a warm brown with a heavily streaked breast and belly. They have a sturdy black beak and a yellow eye. 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 can be found in Tennessee any time of year.
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
Most 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 Tennessee, and most of the U.S., in the breeding season only (spring-summer).
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 than 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 Tennessee you get the “yellow-shafted” variety, and they have bright yellow feathers on the underside of their wings.
Northern Flickers are common all year throughout Tennessee.
Northern Flickers will visit a suet feeder, but more often than not they find their own food. Unlike other woodpeckers, they often search for bugs on the ground. 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 Tennessee
Tennessee is a wonderful state for birding if you want to go take your hobby outside of your own backyard. The Tennessee Ornithological Society has chapters around the state and is always having meetups, workshops, field trips, and birding tours, should you want to get a little more involved.
If you are a Tennessee 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 Tennessee.
Tennessee birding locations
Learn more about what each of these locations has to offer from birdwatchersdigest.org
- Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge
- Radnor Lake State Natural Area
- Williamsport Lakes
- Pickett State Rustic Park
- Standifer Gap Marsh
- Sharp’s Ridge Memorial Park
- Great Smoky Mountain National Park