Top 31 COMMON Birds In Illinois (ID Guide With Photos)
Did you recently come across a familiar bird in Illinois, and want to know what species it was?
Bird identification in the state of Illinois is not as easy as it might seem, since there are many bird species in the Prairie State that look similar.
To help you identify the bird you saw, we’ll cover the most common birds of Illinois in this article, and where to find them.
What are the most common bird species in Illinois?
The 31 most common bird species found in Illinois are:
- American Robin
- Northern Cardinal
- Northern Mockingbird
- House Sparrow
- American Goldfinch
- Mourning Dove
- Blue Jay
- American Crow
- House Finch
- European Starling
- Red-winged Blackbird
- Common Grackle
- Red-bellied Woodpecker
- Downy Woodpecker
- Hairy Woodpecker
- Carolina Wren
- Ruby-throated Hummingbird
- House Wren
- Gray Catbird
- Tufted Titmouse
- Tree Swallow
- Common Yellowthroat
- Eastern Bluebird
- Indigo Bunting
- Yellow Warbler
- Baltimore Oriole
- Black-capped Chickadee
- White-breasted Nuthatch
- Song Sparrow
- Chipping Sparrow
While many of these birds are found year-round in Illinois, some are migratory birds that only occur in Illinois during the summer.
Now let’s dive into the details, and take a closer look at each of these common species in order to get the full scoop:
Scientific name: Turdus migratorius
The American Robin is one of the most common songbirds in the Prairie State.
This popular bird is actually a thrush, but got its name from early settlers in North America who noticed its resemblance with the European Robin.
The orange chest of the American robin makes it easy to identify this type of bird. It mostly forages for food on the ground with the help of its powerful legs and stout yellow beak.
In the fall and winter, it feeds on fruit and searches for snails and worms amid the fallen leaves. It frequently congregates in big roosts in the non-breeding season.
The American Robin is a superb singer, with a song that is melodious and flowing, similar to many other thrushes.
They construct their bulky nests out of twigs at a very variable height, from the ground all the way up to the canopy of the trees.
In a typical year, American robins will have between two and three broods.
While the original habitat of American Robins was woodlands, they have adjusted superbly to the expansion of human settlements, and are now found in suburban areas as common breeding birds.
The American Robin is a partial migratory bird, and outside of the breeding season it likes to form flocks that roost together.
American Robins in northern Illinois (i.e. the upper peninsula of Illinois) are entirely migratory, while they are year-round residents in southern Illinois.
Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis
The Northern Cardinal is the state bird of Illinois, and is without a doubt the most well known backyard bird in the state.
Male Northern Cardinals have a bright crimson red coloration on their head, chest, and belly, and slightly darker red on their back and wing feathers.
In addition, the face has a black mask extending from the bright red bill to the throat.
Female Northern Cardinals are not quite as colorful as males, and have a more buff-brown body color with some reddish tinges, although they also have a bright red bill.
During the winter months it doesn’t defend its territory, and sometimes gathers in flocks of up to 25 individuals that feed together. The Northern Cardinal is a regular visitor at bird feeders.
Northern Cardinals are common red birds in Illinois, and can be seen year round in backyards, small forests, and parks.
Scientific name: Mimus polyglottos
The melodious whistling song of the Northern Mockingbird can be heard in many parts of Illinois.
Its overall appearance is dark gray with black wings with white stripes, which are especially conspicuous in flight, flashing like bright signals.
Both sexes of Northern Mockingbirds resemble each other. In addition to the black wings, the tail is also black, and has white margins.
It has a dark eyestripe that contrasts with the yellow eye, while the underparts are buff white. Juvenile birds look similar to adults, but are covered with spots and streaks.
The Northern Mockingbird is a common songbird throughout North America, and a year-round resident in Illinois.
This bird is the only mockingbird species found in North America. It prefers wooded areas as well as urban habitats with sufficient tree growth, such as parks and golf courses.
Scientific name: Passer domesticus
The House Sparrow is a familiar urban songbird in Illinois.
Adult males have upperparts that are primarily chestnut brown with dark streaks. The wings are chestnut brown with a white wingbar.
A great characteristic to identify males is by their gray crown and rump. Females are more drab, and are mostly buff gray with dark streaks on their back.
The House Sparrow is not a native bird of Illinois, but was introduced by European settlers.
However it has successfully colonized the entire North American continent, and is now a common urban bird that is found in parks and backyards.
Scientific name: Spinus tristis
The American Goldfinch is easily recognizable due to its distinctive bright coloration.
Adult males have almost entirely bright yellow plumage, except for a black cap, black wings, and a black tail.
Females are not as brightly colored, but are more buff yellowish-brown with black wings.
It is a common year-round backyard bird in Illinois, and a regular visitor at bird feeders offering sunflower seeds.
During the winter months, it forms flocks that forage together, feeding on thistles in weedy fields.
Scientific name: Zenaida macroura
The Mourning Dove is one of the most common birds in North America, especially around farms and suburban areas.
This bird is almost entirely grayish-brown with a pale underside. The wings and the tail are pointed, and there is a small black dot on the side of the face.
When viewed up close, a grayish blue eyering as well as pink legs and toes are great distinguishing features of the Mourning Dove.
It is a common dove in Illinois, and can be seen year-round while bird watching. During the winter it also frequents open woodland, but avoids large forests.
Scientific name: Cyanocitta cristata
A common blue-colored bird, the Blue Jay prefers open areas with scattered trees, shrubs, and other vegetation with dense undergrowth.
These medium-sized birds are grayish blue on top, with bright arctic blue wing feathers and tail feathers. Their underparts are light gray.
They are social birds that live in small groups called colonies, with each colony containing one dominant pair and several subordinate members.
Dominant male birds defend their territory against intruders and aggressively chase away subordinates. Subordinate females and young birds are tolerated but not protected.
These blue backyard birds are opportunistic feeders. They eat fruit, invertebrates, small vertebrates, and carrion, and also steal food from other animals.
During the summer, insects make up the largest part of their diet. They sometimes catch insects in flight, while at other times, they catch insects at ground level using a variety of techniques.
These blue birds of Illinois often use man made structures such as buildings, bridges, and telephone poles for foraging.
When hunting for food, jays often run along branches or wires before swooping down to capture prey.
They are partially migratory birds, but can be seen in Illinois all year round. During the cold season they sometimes move around to areas with a more plentiful supply of food.
If you want to attract these birds to your feeder, it’s best to offer them peanuts or sunflower seeds.
Scientific name: Corvus brachyrhynchos
American Crows are relatively large Illinois birds that are entirely black, including their beaks, legs, and eyes.
Both adults and immature crows are completely black, and are hard to distinguish from each other.
This is one of the most intelligent birds in the world. It also happens to be one of the most sociable, and it likes to pass the time by harassing other birds.
Similar to vultures and other Illinois birds of prey, American Crows like to feed on roadkill, but rarely get hit by cars themselves.
The American Crow builds a big stick nest in trees, which it likes to reuse for many years. Old crows nests are also used by many other birds, including raptors and Illinois owls.
American Crows are common in Illinois in open forests and woodlands, as well as farmland and urban areas such as parks, golf courses, and large gardens.
This is a common and easily recognizable black-colored bird in Illinois. Family groups of crows sleep together at night but split off during the day to go foraging.
Outside of the breeding season, American Crows form massive flocks, sometimes topping out at thousands of birds.
Scientific name: Haemorhous mexicanus
The House Finch is a common small bird in Illinois, and is mostly found in settled areas, ranging from small towns to large metropolitan centers.
Adult male House Finches can be identified by the bright red feathers on the head and upper breast, although in some cases they are slightly more orange or yellowish in color.
The females lack any red coloration, and instead have grayish streaks on a brown background.
The House Finch was originally a western bird, and it wasn’t until the 1940s that this bird was discovered in New York and other places on the east coast of the US.
The eastern House Finch population began to grow in the 1950s and 60s, and by the year 2000, it had expanded so far west that it connected with the original western population.
The House Finch is entirely herbivorous, and feeds on seeds, buds, and fruits.
If you set up a tray feeder in your backyard, you can expect House Finches to be among the first birds to visit it.
The House Finch is found in Illinois all year round, and while it is not a migratory bird, it does move to areas with more food outside of the breeding season.
European Starling (Common Starling)
Scientific name: Sturnus vulgaris
The Common Starling (also known as European Starling) is a common backyard bird in the Prairie State. Adult Common Starlings are uniformly black with a glossy sheen.
Winter birds are covered with light spots, which can be a great characteristic to identify them.
This species is originally from Europe, Asia, and North Africa, but it was introduced to North America and many other parts of the world, where this bird has established itself as a successful breeding species within a short period of time.
Common Starlings inhabit open country with few trees as their original habitat, but they are also among the most successful urban birds, and are especially common in parks and gardens.
While Common Starlings nest in tree holes in the wild, they are also known to nest inside buildings and nest boxes in urban settings.
Unfortunately, native birds in Illinois are sometimes driven out of their nesting sites by competing Starlings.
Similar to grackles and other blackbirds, Common Starlings form large flocks outside of the nesting season.
These flocks can contain more than a million individuals, and can be seen performing amazing aerial acrobatics.
Scientific name: Agelaius phoeniceus
The Red-winged Blackbird is one the most abundant birds in Illinois, and it is definitely the most common black-colored bird in Illinois during the summer.
The great thing about these blackbirds is that you can easily distinguish males from females.
Male Red-winged Blackbirds are largely black except for the bright red patches on their wings. In contrast, females (and juvenile birds) are a blackish brown color with white streaks.
Generally speaking, this blackbird lives in open fields and near water. In Illinois, it is often found in marshes, wetlands, and around lakes.
To find food, the Red-winged Blackbird travels many miles a day, especially outside of the nesting season.
While this blackbird is primarily a seed-eater during fall and spring, it switches to feeding almost exclusively on insects during summer.
Depending on where this bird is found, the Red-winged Blackbird is either a seasonal migrant (in the north of its range), or a resident (in the south of its range).
Red-winged Blackbirds roost in flocks up to millions of individuals strong, creating a deafening noise with their rapidly beating wings.
In spring, males are usually the first ones to arrive in order to claim a desirable territory before the females arrive.
During the mating season, the male will sing from a conspicuous perch and display the red shoulder patches on his feathers in order to attract the attention of females.
After a female chooses a mate, she builds her nest over shallow water in a thick stand of vegetation. Her chosen mate then aggressively defends the nest against other blackbirds.
The most successful males are bigamous, and can mate with multiple females at the same time.
Scientific name: Quiscalus quiscula
From a distance, a Common grackle seems to be an entirely black-colored bird, making it easy to confuse it with a crow, which is also entirely black.
But in contrast to a crow, the Common Grackle has a pointed beak that is formed like a cone, as well as eyes that are bright yellow, and a long tail that is shaped like a wedge.
This bird lives in open spaces such as meadows, parks, and fields, as well as suburban and residential regions
Male Common Grackles have shimmering purple coloration on the black feathers of their heads, breasts, and necks, as well as other parts of their bodies.
During the nesting season, the females construct large nests in which they will lay a clutch of about five eggs.
In most of Illinois, the Common Grackle is a migratory summer visitor, although it can be found year-round in southernIllinois.
This bird is a member of the New World family of blackbirds, which contains some of the most common birds in North America, many of which like to gather in large flocks and make a lot of noise.
On farms, Common Grackles can congregate in huge flocks to feed on crops and grain, and to roost, which can cause a problem to Illinois farmers.
Because this bird is such a versatile species, the Common Grackle can thrive in many different environments.
Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus
The Red-bellied Woodpecker has a black-and-white “Zebra” pattern on its back, as well as a white rump.
Its red crown goes all the way down to the base of the neck. Both sexes look similar, although the female has a partially gray crown.
The Red-bellied Woodpecker favors shady woodlands, forest edges and backyards with old trees.
This bird excavates holes in rotting wood to locate beetles, centipedes, spiders, and other creatures.
During winter, this bird stores berries and acorns in tree crevices and cracks. Every year, the Red-bellied Woodpecker excavates a new nest below the previous one in the same tree.
While this bird is named for the reddish tinge on its belly, this can be hard to see unless you get a close up view.
Fortunately, this beautiful red headed bird is steadily expanding its range across the whole country.
Scientific name: Picoides pubescens
The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker found in Illinois.
While males are black and white with a small red patch on their nape, females are entirely black and white.
The wings of both sexes are black with white bars, which look like spots when the wings are folded.
Downy Woodpeckers are non-migratory, and can be seen all year round throughout North America, except for the arid regions in southern states.
You can tell this woodpecker apart from the Hairy Woodpecker by its smaller size and short bill.
While Downy Woodpeckers don’t migrate, they like to move around outside of the breeding season, in search of areas with plentiful food.
Their preferred habitat is deciduous or mixed forest, where they feed on insects and insect larvae found under the bark of trees. During winter they also eat berries and seeds.
Scientific name: Picoides villosus
The Hairy Woodpecker looks similar to the Downy Woodpecker, but has a longer, thicker bill, and is a much larger bird overall.
Both the male and the female have black upperparts with white bars on the wing feathers, which look like spots when the wings are folded.
The male has a very small red patch on the back of its head, which is considerably smaller than the red patches on other woodpecker species.
The Hairy Woodpecker is a common breeding bird found throughout North America, and can be seen in Illinois year-round.
This woodpecker breeds in both coniferous and deciduous forests, and is even found in parks and other urban areas with trees.
Scientific name: Thryothorus ludovicianus
The Carolina Wren is a common little garden bird with chestnut brown upperparts and creamy white underparts. Wings and tails have dark brown barring.
Males and females look alike, as do young individuals. The Carolina Wren is a non-migratory species, and can be spotted all year round in the southern parts of Illinois.
It is a familiar small bird, which can be found in Illinois backyards, scrubland, and forests. It feeds mostly on insects and other small invertebrates.
Scientific name: Archilochus colubris
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the smallest bird in Illinois. Weighing just 0.1 ounces, it is truly a tiny songbird compared to other species of birds.
The male has a black throat that reflects flashes of ruby red when it catches the sunlight.
Similar to other Hummingbirds, this bird can fly straight up, down, or backwards, and can also hover in mid air, with its wings generating a humming sound like a tiny generator.
Hummingbirds are fascinating creatures that breathe up to 250 times per minute and have a heartbeat of over 1,200 times per minute.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is attracted to gardens and backyards in Illinois with tubular flowers that produce a lot of nectar.
In addition to flower nectar, this bird also feeds on insects. It is a long-distance migrant, and spends its winter in Central America.
Scientific name: Troglodytes aedon
The House Wren is a small songbird with a relatively long beak. Compared to other wrens, this bird has a long tail, which it likes to cock up.
At a distance, House Wrens resemble uniformly brown birds, but when viewed close up, you can discern subtle barring on their wings and tail.
In contrast to the Carolina Wren, which is a year-round resident in Illinois, the House Wren is a summer visitor in Illinois, where it can be seen from May through September.
Scientific name: Dumetella carolinensis
The Gray Catbird is easily recognizable due to its long tail. Both sexes and juvenile birds look alike and have dark gray body coloration, a black cap and a rufous red undertail.
The Gray Catbird is a summer visitor and breeding bird in Illinois, and flies south to winter in the Gulf Coast and Central America.
They like to forage for insects and berries on the ground, and can be found in forests and scrubland.
They are secretive small birds that are hard to observe.
Scientific name: Baeolophus bicolor
The Tufted Titmouse is a common and easily recognizable small songbird thanks to the distinctive crest on its head.
The sexes resemble each other, and have grayish-blue upperparts with a black forehead and a crest on the back of their head. The underparts are pale gray, but the flanks are tinged with buff orange.
These birds live in Illinois all year, and are readily observed, since they aren’t very shy. They are common visitors at backyard feeders, and also breed in nestboxes.
This bird prefers deciduous forests, as well as parks and backyards, where this bird feeds on small invertebrates and seeds.
Scientific name: Tachycineta bicolor
The Tree Swallow is relatively common in Illinois, and is most often found close to lakes, marshes, and ponds.
Adult Tree Swallows are greenish blue on top, and have buff white underparts. Their feathers are iridescent, and change color when viewed in direct sunlight.
While adult females look similar to adult males, young individuals are more grayish brown with a white underside.
This swallow readily accepts suitable nesting boxes, which gives you an opportunity to attract birds to your yard by hanging up nest boxes..
This bird feeds exclusively on insects that it catches in the air, and as a strict insectivore it is a long distance migrant that only spends the summer in Illinois.
Tree Swallows winter around the Gulf of Mexico, as well as in Central America.
Scientific name: Geothlypis trichas
The Common Yellowthroat is a brightly colored small wood warbler. Adult males have a bright yellow throat and chest, as well as a broad black mask that covers the forehead and cheeks.
The black face mask is bordered on top by a grayish white band, which transitions into the olive brown nape and back. Females are similar, but lack the black face mask.
The Common Yellowthroat is a common breeding bird and summer visitor in Illinois. It winters in the southern USA and Central America.
This bird prefers shrubland and grassy habitats in Illinois, and feeds on insects and other invertebrates.
Scientific name: Sialia sialis
The Eastern Bluebird is a brightly colored and widespread backyard bird in Illinois.
The upperparts of adult males are a rich shade of admiral blue. Their blue coloration also extends to their wings, tail, and the back of their heads.
The partial orange collar of males creates the impression of having a cap on their head. Males have a prominent orange chest, with shades of warm-toned rufous brown.
The upperparts of adult females have a more grayish-brown color. However, females also have blue tail feathers and wing feathers, as well as a rufous-orange chest and flanks.
It is a migratory bird in the northern part of its range, but can be seen year-round in the southern part of the United States. Northern populations winter in Mexico.
The Eastern Bluebird nests in holes, and competes with House Sparrows and European Starlings for nesting sites.
During their fall migration, they can be seen in flocks that like to feed on fruits and berries.
The population of Eastern Bluebirds underwent a dramatic decline at the end of last century, due to lack of nesting holes and competition with European Starlings.
But largely thanks to the efforts of numerous Illinois citizens providing nest boxes for Eastern Bluebirds, these beautiful birds are a common sight once more.
Scientific name: Passerina cyanea
The Indigo Bunting is a brightly colored small finch. During the summer, the male is almost entirely indigo blue, except for darker brownish wingtips and tail feathers.
Females and juvenile birds are more inconspicuous, with light brown upperparts, and creamy white underparts.
The Indigo Bunting is relatively common in Illinois at forest edges, gardens, and parks, and will readily visit feeders that offer seeds.
This blue bird is most commonly seen at bird feeding stations in spring, as it switches over from seeds to eating mostly insects during the summer.
During the breeding season, males can often be observed singing from a treetop perch.
This blue bird is strictly migratory, and is only found in Illinois during the summer. It winters in Central and South America, and flies south in small flocks during the fall migration.
Scientific name: Setophaga petechia
Also known as the American Yellow Warbler, this songbird lives up to its name.
Adult males have a brilliant yellow color, except for their wings, which are just slightly darker and have two pale wingbars.
They also have reddish stripes on the breast and the sides. Adult females are very similar to the males, but have less streaking and are thus more uniformly yellow.
These yellow birds of Illinois are present as summer visitors in the Prairie State from April through August. They spend the rest of the year in Central America and South America.
It favors open habitat with low thickets and scrubland in Illinois, which makes it easy to observe.
Scientific name: Icterus galbula
The Baltimore Oriole is a wonderful singer that is more frequently heard than seen.
Adult males are very conspicuous due to their flaming orange underside, paired with a completely black back and head, as well as a single white band on their otherwise black wings.
Females and immatures are much more drab, and have a brownish yellow coloration.
Baltimore Orioles are readily attracted to feeders that contain orange halves, grape jelly, or nectar.
And similar to Orchard Orioles, parents bring their recently fledged young to a nearby feeder.
This orange Illinois bird favors open spaces such as yards, parks, and woods, and frequently comes back to the same location year after year.
Keep an eye out for Baltimore Orioles in deciduous forests, but not in dense woods. You may encounter them in places like open forests, forest margins, orchards and even Illinois backyards.
Due to the fact that they forage high in trees in search of insects, fruit, and flowers, most orioles are more frequently heard than seen.
The Baltimore Oriole is a summer visitor to Illinois, and is one of the latest migratory birds to arrive in spring, and one of the earliest to leave in fall.
Scientific name: Poecile atricapillus
The Black-capped Chickadee is a common bird species in North America. Both sexes look similar, and have gray backs with buff underparts.
Their most distinguishing feature is the black cap and the black throat, which contrasts with the bright white cheeks.
This chickadee is present year-round in Illinois, where it favors a variety of woodland habitats as well as backyards.
These common birds are regular visitors at bird feeders, and also readily accept nestboxes.
Scientific name: Sitta carolinensis
This is the largest Nuthatch species in North America, and is a common year-round resident in Illinois.
Adults have a grayish blue back and wings, as well as a white face, throat, and breast.
These birds favor deciduous or mixed forests, and are common visitors at tube feeders in Illinois offering sunflower seeds.
Outside of the breeding season White-breasted Nuthatches form small flocks with other species of songbirds, which rove around in Illinois and forage together.
Scientific name: Melospiza melodia
The Song Sparrow is an inconspicuous little brown bird, but can be recognized by its dark breast markings that merge into a central black spot.
The back is reddish brown with dark brown streaks, and the reddish wings have two white wingbars.
The Song Sparrow is a common summer visitor in Illinois, where it can be seen from April to October.
It spends the winter in more southern states, and also in Mexico. Song Sparrows prefer fields and meadows with scrubs and dense bushes.
Scientific name: Spizella passerina
The Chipping Sparrow is a common bird in many man made habitats, including backyards, gardens, and parks.
Adult birds can be recognized by their chestnut crown, which contrasts with a white supercilium (or eyebrow stripe) and black eye stripe.
The Chipping Sparrow is a widespread and common breeding bird in Illinois, where it can be seen as a summer visitor from May through October.
These birds migrate south and spend the winter in the southern USA, as well as Mexico and Central America.
What are the top 5 most common birds in Illinois?
The top 5 most common birds found in Illinois are:
- American Robin
- Northern Cardinal
- Black-capped Chickadee
- Mourning Dove
- Blue Jay
Out of these 5 species, the Northern Cardinal is the most frequently seen bird in Illinois, and is reported in 49% of eBird checklists submitted for Illinois.
While all of these birds are familiar backyard birds of Illinois, many of them can also be seen in more remote areas.
How can you attract common backyard birds in Illinois?
The top 5 things you can do to get birds to visit your backyard in Illinois are as follows:
- Set up a feeder with sunflower seeds, or a seed mix
- Set up a bird bath
- Plant shrubs to provide nesting and opportunities and shelter
- Plant native fruiting plants to provide foraging opportunities
- Create brush piles in several areas as foraging opportunities
Tip: If you want to attract Eastern Bluebirds to your backyard feeder, it’s best to offer mealworms, since they’re not interested in seeds.
And if you want to attract American Robins to your feeder, offer apple slices (or other fruits), since they also don’t eat seeds.