Gray birds may not be as eye-catching as brightly colored birds, but they’re appealing in their own way. From delicate singers to underwater swimmers, there’s a gray bird for every region and environment of the United States. In this article we’ll look at 15 types of gray birds, their habitats, diets, and how to attract them to your yard.
15 Types of Gray Birds
1. Tufted Titmouse
Scientific name: Baeolopus bicolor
The gentle tweeting of the Tufted Titmouse is a welcome wake-up call in the eastern United States, where they live year-round. This gray-blue bird has a head crest, black spot above the beak, a light belly and a hint of orange along their sides under the wing.
They eat insects in the warmer months, and switch to seeds in the winter. Like some other species, they create stores of seeds for use throughout the winter.
Attract them to your yard with sunflower seeds, mixed seeds or even suet. They are common in backyards, and during the fall and winter you will probably see them grabbing one seed and flying off to add it their stash.
2. Sandhill Crane
Scientific name: Antigone canadensis
Here is a bird that appears both elegant and dignified. Sandhill Cranes are nearly 4 foot tall, with long legs and necks. Adults are a mottled gray and brown with a bright red patch on the head. In the breeding season, you can spot large flocks dancing and trumpeting their calls.
Populations breed in the north, in open wetlands, fields and prairies of Alaska, Canada and the northern United States. They head south in winter to Florida and Texas, and a small population lives year-round along the Florida-Georgia line.
They have a varied diet including seeds and grains, insects, reptiles and amphibians.
3. Gray Catbird
Scientific name: Dumetella carolinensis
This bird got its name because its call is curiously similar to the “meow” of a cat. Gray Catbirds are shy creatures that prefer to stay hidden deep within the branches of a well-foliated tree. However, they aren’t shy about singing. When not performing their “meow” call, they copy the sounds of other bird species and put them together in a long melodious song all their own.
Entice one to visit your yard with fruit trees and berry-producing shrubs.
4. Willow Flycatcher
Scientific name: Empidonax traillii
Another gray bird, known to be hard to identify, is the Willow Flycatcher. It looks practically identical to other flycatchers, so narrow down the species by using its call. The bird perches in thickets, especially willow thickets, and calls “fitz-bew” over and over.
Spot them in the spring and summer throughout the United States, except for the Southeast. In winter they head to Mexico, Central and South America. Look for the Willow Flycatcher in May and June in wet meadows with willows, when they do the most singing.
5. Eastern Phoebe
Scientific name: Sayornis phoebe
They’re one of the most recognized species of flycatcher. Listen for the characteristic call “fee-bee”, a familiar sound in the eastern half of the United States. They breed in the north and migrate to the southeast to spend the winter.
Eastern Phoebes will build nests near human developments – they like to use bridges especially. They have a gray back and head, with their head being a slightly darker shade. Their belly is light with a slightly yellow tinge.
As flycatchers, their main source of food is flying insects, so they aren’t likely to visit a bird feeder. To attract them, make sure you have plants and trees in your yard that support insects.
6. Mourning Dove
Scientific name: Zenaida macroura
Ubiquitous and widespread, the gentle Mourning Dove is a visitor to the 48 contiguous states. They live year-round everywhere but the northern Midwest and are known for their lackluster nests, lamenting call, and bobbing gait when they walk.
Mourning Doves prefer to feed on the ground, so having a ground feeder or sprinkling seed on the ground will easily attract them. If you have a bird feeder up they are likely to visit, picking through the grass below for spilled seed.
7. Gray Kingbird
Scientific name: Tyrannus dominicensis
This flycatcher makes the southeastern coasts his home. It spends the breeding season along the Florida coast, where it perches on barbed wire, exposed twigs, and telephone lines. They hunt insects in intense chases through the air that can last several minutes.
Gray Kingbirds are known for being boisterous both in voice and behavior. While not flashy with their gray back and white front, their thick black beak helps them stand out.
8. American Dipper
Scientific name: Cinclus mexicanus
American Dippers are the only aquatic songbird in North America. Their chosen prey, invertebrates that live in between the rocks and silt in mountain streams, requires them to swim to get to it. It’s a marvel to spot an American Dipper flitting in and out of the water to grab a snack.
Spot them in the mountain regions of the western United States. Their shape is easy to recognize, with their rounded body and very short tail. Spot them on top of rocks and logs in fast moving streams, bobbing their body up and down.
9. Townsend’s Solitaire
Scientific name: Myadestes townsendi
Despite its grey feathers, the Townsend’s Solitaire is anything but plain. It has a white eye ring, grey and white-mottled feathers, and a dark grey tail. Their rolling, jumbly song can be heard in the mountain west, where they live year-round. While many birds only sing during the breeding season, Townsend’s Solitaire keeps its song going all year.
Attract them to your yard by planting winter-fruiting berry bushes, especially juniper. Berries make up a large portion of the bird’s diet in the winter.
10. Snowy Plover
Scientific name: Charadrius nivosus
The gray and white Snowy Plover is a regular inhabitant of the shores of coastlines throughout the United States. They live along the Pacific, Gulf, and even lakes in the West and Central South in the summer.
Snowy Plovers rarely stop moving, so a good strategy to find one is to sit in a good viewing spot and wait. They scurry along the shore looking for insects and crustaceans. They are a near-threatened species, mainly because their nesting habitat is along beaches that are often disturbed by development and other human recreation. Walling-off protected areas for them to nest is often employed to try and help this species.
11. Rock Pigeon
Scientific name: Columba livia
Rock Pigeons (usually just referred to as “pigeons”) are truly urban birds. Found in the contiguous states and Alaska, not to mention all of Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, they are a bird of the world. Often traveling in flocks, you’ll see them all over cities and in parks where they can scavenge for food scraps.
They’ll readily visit yards if you scatter food on the ground. You can buy special pigeon food, or use cracked corn, peanut hearts, milo, millet and sunflower.
12. Northern Mockingbird
Scientific name: Mimus polyglottos
The Northern Mockingbird is extremely common throughout the United States. Its ability to mimic the songs of up to fifteen different species comes in handy when trying to identify one. They repeat the call of each species 2-4 times then move on to the next in a long stream of song. They constantly flick their tails when perched, and you’ll see their large white wing-bars and tail edges when they fly.
It’s rare to see a mockingbird at a feeder, but planting fruiting shrubs and trees may entice them to visit your yard. They can be quite territorial, so if they decide a tree in your yard is their home base, they may angrily squawk and even dive-bomb anything that gets too close!
13. Canada Goose
Scientific name: Branta canadensis
The infamous Canada Goose is native to the northern reaches of Canada. Normally it migrates between those grasslands and the southern United States, but human development has increased the acreage of open fields and yards Canada Geese find so hospitable.
Canada Geese are aggressive and may disrupt other birds if you have them on your property. Depending on your location, it may be best to leave them be. They are hard to miss with their large size, long black necks and white cheek-patch. Unfortunately they can also be loud and messy when large flocks congregate in an area and leave their droppings.
14. Loggerhead Shrike
Scientific name: Lanius ludovicianus
The Loggerhead Shrike has a curious habit of impaling its prey (mice, reptiles, amphibians and insects) onto sharp objects or wedging them into tight spots. These could be thin twigs, barbed wire, or even a thin crevice in tree bark. They’re mighty hunters and carry prey with their feet like raptors.
Spot their handiwork year-round in the southern states and in the spring and summer up north. They have a light gray body, black wings and a black eye mask.
15. Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Scientific name: Coccyzus americanus
The Yellow-billed Cuckoo can be found in the Great Plains and Eastern United States during the spring and summer. Recognize them when they’re perched because of their black and white polka-dot tail. They have a long and lean shape, with white throat and belly, and yellow bill.
These cuckoos like to remain hidden in tree foliage, sitting still while hunting for caterpillars. Look for their long dotted tail hanging down, or better yet listen for their call. Their call sounds halfway between a hoot and a knock.
Anna is a wildlife biologist who graduated from Texas A&M in 2020. She enjoys feeding, studying, and taking photos of wild birds and hummingbirds. She once worked as the hummingbird department manager at a Wild Birds Unlimited store.