In the state of Illinois, yellow birds bring a bright and cheerful presence to the diverse habitats in which they live. From fields to forests, wetlands to meadows, these birds add a splash of sunny color to the landscape. Bird watchers and nature enthusiasts alike would be happy to catch a glimpse of some of the yellow birds in the state. Some are harder to spot than others. This article details 14 of the beautiful yellow birds found in Illinois.
14 Yellow Birds in Illinois
Illinois is home to several gorgeous yellow birds, including the American goldfinch, cedar waxwing, Baltimore oriole, Eastern meadowlark, yellow warbler, palm warbler, magnolia warbler, Nashville warbler, yellow-throated vireo, prothonotary warbler, evening grosbeak, summer tanager, scarlet tanager and common yellowthroat.
The birds we’ve chosen below are notable for their bright color, but they certainly aren’t the only birds in Illinois with yellow plumage. If you are trying to identify a bird you don’t see on this list, grab a field guide and look up warblers, vireos, orioles, tanagers and flycatchers. Those bird families often display yellow in their plumage.
1. American Goldfinch
Scientific Name: Spinus tristis
The American goldfinch is not only beautiful but also the state bird of Illinois. Also known as the Eastern Goldfinch, it is a common sight across the state year-round.
The male American goldfinch boasts a striking appearance, with bright yellow plumage that intensifies during the breeding season, and fades to an olive-yellow in the winter. Its black wings and tail, along with a contrasting black cap, create a stunning color combination. Attract them to your yard with nyjer seed.
2. Cedar Waxwing
Scientific Name: Bombycilla cedrorum
Cedar waxwings are medium-sized songbirds known for their soft colors and elegant face. They have a yellow belly, bright yellow feathers at the tip of their tails, gray wings and tail, and tawny brown body. Perhaps most easy to identify by their wispy head crest and black “bandit mask” around the eyes.
They get their name from the waxy red tips on the secondary wing feathers, which are more prominent in mature adults. Cedar waxwings can be found in Illinois year-round, often in small flocks or family groups. They prefer open woodlands, orchards, and areas with a lot of fruit-bearing trees.
3. Baltimore Oriole
Scientific Name: Icterus galbula
While the males of this species feature orange and black feathers, the females are the reason they are on this list. Female Baltimore orioles are mostly yellow or yellow-orange with gray wings. Juvenile males present as yellow for a time too, before they grow in their orange and black adult colors.
Baltimore orioles are migratory birds, arriving in Illinois in the spring to breed and raise their young. They like habitats with a mix of trees like woodlands, forest edges, and residential areas with mature trees. In the fall they head south again to spend the winter in warmer climates.
4. Eastern Meadowlark
Scientific Name: Sturnella magna
Eastern meadowlarks have stout bodies with long, pointed bills. They are usually between 8 and 11 inches long. The feathers on their backs and wings are primarily brown, streaked with black and white markings. However, their most striking feature is the bright yellow coloring on their throats and bellies, divided by a distinctive V-shaped black patch on the chest.
These tall grassland birds that like to sing while perched on fences and utility lines. Many remain year-round in Illinois, although they may be less common in the winter, especially in the northern parts of the state. The western meadowlark is also seen in Illinois, and looks nearly identical, but is much less common.
5. Yellow Warbler
Scientific Name: Setophaga petechia
The yellow warbler is aptly named for its bright yellow plumage. Both males and females have yellow feathers, although the males tend to display more vibrant yellow tones during the breeding season. Males also feature rusty red streaks down their chest.
They are between 4.5-5 inches in length and have short beaks and black eyes. In Illinois, you can often find these yellow beauties in woodlands, forest edges, and even in urban gardens and parks, especially if a stream or pond is nearby. But, they only visit the state during the spring and summer months.
6. Palm Warbler
Scientific Name: Setophaga palmarum
The palm warbler is a species of migratory bird that makes an appearance in Illinois during the spring and fall. These small birds have yellow feathers running from their throats, down their bellies, and under their tails.
They have rusty brown caps on the top of their heads and brown feathers down their backs and on their wings. Palm warblers primarily feed on insects and spiders, which they glean from the ground or snatch while in mid-air. They also have a unique foraging behavior called “tail-wagging,” where they flick their tails up and down to flush out hidden insects from foliage.
7. Magnolia Warbler
Scientific Name: Setophaga magnolia
The magnolia warbler is a small songbird, measuring around 4.5-5 inches in length. They prefer to breed in pine forests and glean insects from the ends of tree branches. But they breed further north than Illinois, so you’ll have to spot them in spring and fall migrating through the state.
Both sexes have yellow bellies, but females lack the distinct black stripes that the males have. They won’t stop at feeders, but they might overnight during migration season if you have native trees and bushes planted.
8. Nashville Warbler
Scientific Name: Leiothlypis ruficapilla
Despite the name, the Nashville warbler isn’t confined to Nashville, TN. It can be found throughout much of the US, including Illinois. This songbird has a bright yellow belly and chest and olive-green coloring on the back and wings.
Its head is gray, and there is a distinctive white ring around each eye. During migration, they pass through Illinois, arriving in late April or early May during the spring migration and in September during the fall migration.
9. Yellow-Throated Vireos
Scientific Name: Vireo flavifrons
The yellow-throated vireo is a small songbird you’ll find hoping from branch to branch in search of insects. They have a yellow throat and chest with an olive-yellow head and back. In contrast, their wings and tail are gray with white under the tail. Brighter yellow circles around their eyes give the appearance of eyeglasses.
These birds are a common throughout Illinois for the breeding season, arriving after migration in May and staying until late summer.
10. Prothonotary Warbler
Scientific Name: Protonotaria citrea
The prothonotary warbler is a beautiful yellow bird found in Illinois, especially southern parts of the state, during the summer months. This bird also makes an appearance in northern parts of Illinois but isn’t nearly as common as it is in the south. They feature a brilliant golden-yellow head, neck, and belly.
Their wings and tails are a contrasting gray. This warbler also features a relatively long and slightly curved bill. Their arrival in Illinois typically occurs in late April or early May, and they may be observed until early fall before they embark on their southward migration.
11. Evening Grosbeak
Scientific name: Coccothraustes vespertinus
Bright males are mostly yellow with sooty heads featuring a yellow forehead stripe, a black tail, pale beak, and white and black wings. Females are gray with only hints of yellow.
They use their sturdy beaks to crack seeds in evergreen forests of Canada and the northern United States. While Illinois isn’t in their standard range, they do sometimes extend down into the state during the winter in search of food. So some winters, especially in the north, you may see them show up at backyard feeders.
12. Summer Tanager
Scientific Name: Piranga rubra
Summer tanagers are a medium-sized songbird that was once a member of the tanager family of birds. In recent years, however, this genus has been reclassified to belong to the cardinal family, but they still keep the tanager name.
The male summer tanager is almost entirely red, while females are entirely yellow. These birds prefer to forage for insects in the treetops, and are known for their ability to eat bees and wasps. Summer tanagers visit Illinois in the summer, typically from May through August. They are more common in the southern half of the state.
13. Scarlet Tanager
Scientific name: Piranga olivacea
Similar to summer tanagers, during the breeding season male scarlet tanagers are red while females are yellow. You can tell them apart by their wings, black on males and dark/dusky on females. During the non-breeding season, males molt back to look similar to females.
Spot scarlet tanagers during the spring and summer in the eastern United States, including Illinois. While the bird’s primary food source consists of insects, they may be attracted to a yard with berry bushes.
14. Common Yellowthroat
Scientific Name: Geothlypis trichas
The common yellowthroat is a warbler with a round belly and long tail. They have bright yellow underparts that extend from tail to throat, with and olive-brown back and head. Adult makes also have a black mask across both eyes. Females and immature males have a similar appearance but lack the black mask.
Common yellowthroats are summer resident birds in Illinois. They arrive from Mexico and Central America in the spring and stay until the fall. Look for them in thick vegetation, especially around marshes and wetlands.