27 Types Of SMALL Birds In Colorado (ID Guide With Photos)
Did you recently come across a small bird in Colorado, and want to know what species it was?
Identifying small backyard birds in Colorado is not as easy as it might seem, since there are many species of birds in the Centennial State that are on the small side.
To help you identify the bird you saw, we’ll cover the most common small birds of Colorado in this article.
What are the types of small Colorado birds?
The 27 types of small birds commonly found in Colorado are:
- House Wren
- Rock Wren
- Lesser Goldfinch
- Lark Bunting
- Western Bluebird
- Mountain Bluebird
- Black-chinned Hummingbird
- Yellow Warbler
- Yellow-rumped Warbler
- Lazuli Bunting
- Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
- Barn Swallow
- Tree Swallow
- Ruby-crowned Kinglet
- Downy Woodpecker
- Common Yellowthroat
- Hepatic Tanager
- Western Tanager
- European Starling
- House Finch
- Cassin’s Finch
- Red-winged Blackbird
- Western Meadowlark
- Northern Cardinal
- Blue Grosbeak
- American Goldfinch
- Gray Catbird
- Brown-capped Rosy Finch
While many of these birds are found year-round in Colorado, a number of birds only occur in the state during the nesting season in summer.
Yet other species are winter visitors in Colorado, and some are vagrants that only rarely occur in the state.
Now let’s dive into the details, and take a closer look at each of these bird species in order to get the full scoop:
Scientific name: Troglodytes aedon
The House Wren is a small songbird with a surprisingly long beak. Compared to other wrens, it 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.
This small bird has a surprisingly loud voice, and if you hear one singing next to you, it appears almost deafeningly loud, drowning out all other birdsong in the vicinity.
In contrast to the Rock Wren, which is a year-round resident in Colorado, the House Wren is a summer visitor in Colorado, where it can be found from May to August.
Scientific name: Salpinctes obsoletus
The Rock Wren is a compact little songbird with a powerful singing voice, and is most often observed perched on an exposed rock while flicking its tail energetically.
These small wrens are inconspicuously colored, and are largely gray-brown with white speckles, plus a slight tint of reddish orange on their rump and white speckles on their crown and back.
While northern populations of Rock Wrens are migratory, Colorado birds are resident, and can be seen in the Centennial State year-round. However, they sometimes move to lower altitudes in cold weather.
When foraging for insects on the ground, they move around with a bouncy gait while flicking their tail.
Scientific name: Spinus psaltria
The Lesser Goldfinch is a common bird in Colorado, and occurs in a broad swath across the southern half of the state.
Adult males have a black cap and black wings, which contrast with bright yellow underparts. Their black wings have a white stripe, which is most obvious in flight.
Females and juveniles are olive green, with lighter underparts and dark wings with a white wing bar.
The Lesser Goldfinch is a year-round resident in Colorado, and outside of the breeding season it likes to forage in flocks, mainly feeding on thistles.
Scientific name: Calamospiza melanocorys
The Lark Bunting, a small songbird with striking black-and-white coloration, is the state bird of Colorado.
Male Lark Buntings are entirely black birds with a bright white stripe on their wings. The females and juveniles, on the other hand, are pale brown with white streaks.
The Lark Bunting is a summer visitor in eastern and northern Colorado, and can be seen in the rest of the state during migration, especially in fall.
During the fall, it forms large flocks that migrate south together. It winters in Mexico and the southern United States.
The preferred habitat of the Lark Bunting are prairies and grassland, where it forages for seeds and small invertebrates during summer.
Scientific name: Sialia mexicana
The Western Bluebird is the most widespread bluebird species found in Colorado.
It is a breeding bird and year-round resident in the northern half of Colorado, and also occurs in southern parts of the state during the winter season.
Male Western Bluebirds have a deep shade of blue on their heads and backs, which contrasts with reddish orange feathers on the chest.
Female and juvenile birds on the other hand, have more subdued hues, with gray-brown upperparts and a lighter gray underside.
While these small birds are migratory in northern parts of their range, they are permanent residents in southern parts of the Centennial state.
These birds nest in treeholes or nestboxes, but have suffered from the competition with House Sparrows and European Starlings, which are more aggressive and chase bluebirds away from their nest sites.
The population of Western Bluebirds underwent a dramatic decline at the end of last century, due to lack of nesting holes and competition with European Starlings.
However, thanks to the efforts of numerous Colorado citizens providing nest boxes for Western Bluebirds, these birds are a common sight in Colorado once more.
Scientific name: Sialia currucoides
The Mountain Bluebird is generally found in more montane habitats than the former species, but the two types of bluebirds sometimes overlap in their distribution.
Adult males are almost entirely cerulean blue, except for their pale cream colored belly. The blue plumage is darker on the back, and lighter on the chest.
Females are buff gray, except for a light blue rump and wing feathers.
These blue colored birds breed in western Colorado, and can be found there throughout the year.
During winter they occur throughout the state, and sometimes visit bird feeders offering berries or mealworms.
Mountain Bluebirds readily accept nestboxes, and so can be attracted to nest in your backyard.
However, you may need to put up several boxes, as they are often displaced by more aggressive bird species.
Scientific name: Archilochus alexandri
The Black-chinned Hummingbird is native to western Colorado, and together with the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, it is one of the smallest Colorado birds.
It is a widespread and adaptable species that does well in a wide variety of natural and man-made habitats.
This hummingbird species is a generalist, which explains why it thrives in so many different habitats, ranging from remote mountains to parks and backyard gardens.
Males can be recognized by their dark head and black throat, while females and immature birds are more drably colored.
Black-chinned Hummingbirds are not as aggressive as other species of Hummingbirds, and are thus often dominated by other Hummingbirds.
This tiny Colorado bird favors a wide variety of woodland and shrubland habitats, as well as urban areas. It is largely migratory, and spends the winter in the western part of Mexico.
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 yellow sides. Adult females are very similar to the males, but have less black streaking and are thus more uniformly yellow.
These bright yellow Colorado birds are summer visitors in the state during the months from May to late August.
This species is found in open habitat with low thickets and scrubland, which makes it easy to observe.
Scientific name: Setophaga coronata
While the sexes of the Yellow-rumped Warbler are dissimilar, they both have a yellow rump.
This small warbler exists in several variations, and the population in east Colorado are also called “Myrtle Warblers”.
These small birds have blueish-gray upperparts with dark streaks, as well as a yellow rump and yellow flanks.
The Yellow-rumped Warbler is a summer breeding bird in northern Colorado, and a winter visitor in the southern parts of the state, where it can be seen from August through April.
Scientific name: Passerina amoena
The Lazuli Bunting is a gorgeous little songbird of the western United States that visits and breeds in northern Colorado during the summer.
The hood, neck, and rump of adult males are light blue, while the wings are dark gray with a white wingbar. Males also have a chestnut orange chest and a white belly throughout the summer months.
Females are buff-brown in color with black wings and a pale blue rump.
The Lazuli Bunting may be found in Colorado during the breeding season, which runs from May to August, before migrating to Mexico for the winter.
Scientific name: Polioptila caerulea
Except for its long tail, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher looks a lot like a warbler.
The upperparts of adult males are blue-gray, while their underparts are a lighter gray. The tail is black with a white stripe at the margins.
Adult females and immature birds are rayish on top, and light gray underparts. The eye of both sexes has a white eyering.
It may be encountered as a breeding bird in the temperate regions of North America, predominantly from early May through August.
It is a partial migratory bird, with southeastern populations being year-round residents. Northern populations, however, spend the winter in the southern USA and Central America.
A great way to identify this tiny bird is by its long tail that is often cocked upwards.
Scientific name: Hirundo rustica
The Barn Swallow inhabits nearly all of North America south of the Arctic circle and may be found in a wide variety of habitats.
It has iridescent blue upperparts that shimmer in various shades of dark blue when the sunlight hits them.
Its underside is reddish-orange, including a chestnut orange forehead and throat, as well as a light reddish-orange belly.
The deeply forked tail of Barn Swallows is another great feature you can use to identify this bird.
However, keep in mind that immature barn swallows have a duller plumage than adults, as well as a shorter tail that is less forked.
The Barn Swallow used to nest in caves and hollow trees, but nowadays it prefers to do so beneath the overhangs of buildings and bridges, as well as inside barns (which explains how it got its name).
These Colorado swallows are still a reasonably common sight in most areas. However, the overall numbers of Barn Swallows have been steadily decreasing, especially in the northern section of their range.
This decline is likely a result of the loss of foraging areas and nesting opportunities.
The Barn Swallow feeds on flying insects, such as mosquitoes and flies, and catches them closer to the ground than other species of swallows. In its winter quarters it also feeds on termites.
It is a strictly migratory bird, and spends the winter in Central and Southern America.
Scientific name: Tachycineta bicolor
The Tree Swallow is relatively widespread in Colorado, 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 birds are more grayish brown with a white underside.
This swallow readily accepts suitable nesting boxes, which gives you an opportunity to attract this attractive blue-colored bird in Colorado to your backyard.
This blue bird feeds exclusively on insects that it catches in the air, and as a strict insectivore this bird is a long distance migrant that only spends the summer in Colorado.
Tree Swallows winter around the Gulf of Mexico, as well as in Central America.
Scientific name: Regulus calendula
The Ruby-crowned Kinglet is a tiny bird that is best identified by its ruby-red crown on its head, although this is only present in adult males.
Females and juveniles look similar to males, but lack the red crown patch. They are regular breeding birds in Colorado, where they can be found in a range of woodland habitats.
Outside of the breeding season, there is a large influx of Ruby-crowned Kinglets that winter in Colorado, and at this time of the year they can be encountered throughout the state.
Kinglets are “hyperactive” birds that are always on the go, looking out for insects in the leaves of shrubs and trees.
Scientific name: Picoides pubescens
The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker found in Colorado.
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 in east Colorado, but they don’t occur in the arid regions in the southwest.
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: Geothlypis trichas
Common Yellowthroats are small songbirds with a brightly colored plumage. Adult males have a vivid yellow throat and breast, as well as a broad black mask that covers the forehead and cheeks.
Their 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.
This warbler breeds in a small area of eastern Colorado, and is also a visitor in the rest of the state during fall migration.
The Common Yellowthroat is a migratory bird that spends the winter in the southern United States and Central America. It prefers shrubland and grassy habitats, and feeds on insects and other invertebrates.
Scientific name: Piranga flava
The Hepatic Tanager is a brightly colored songbird that resembles the Summer Tanager.
Adult males are mostly red, with gray undertones behind their eyes and on their back, and this gray coloration distinguishes them from males of the Summer Tanager.
Females, immature males, and juveniles, on the other hand, are dull yellow birds, with tinges of grayish color on their ear coverts and back.
If you’re lucky, you might be able to glimpse them in southern Colorado from May through August. They spend the remainder of the year in Mexico or Central America.
And although these birds are not particularly shy, their colors mix in so perfectly with the foliage that they can be difficult to spot.
Scientific name: Piranga ludoviciana
With its brilliant hues, male Western Tanagers are difficult to overlook.
Adult males have a black back, tail, and wings in the summer, with two yellow and white wingbars. Their bodies are yellow, while their head and throat are orange-red.
Females and juvenile birds have a similar appearance, but the yellow is duller and the red color is almost absent, with the exception of a speck near the base of the beak.
The Western Tanager may be seen in northern Colorado during the breeding season from May to August. These exotically colored birds spend the remainder of the year in Central America.
Scientific name: Sturnus vulgaris
The European Starling is a common backyard bird in Colorado. Adult European Starlings are uniformly black with a glossy sheen.
During winter, the black feathers of European Starlings 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 it has established itself as a successful breeding species within a short period of time.
European Starlings inhabit open country with few trees as their original habitat, but they are also among the most successful urban birds, and are especially widespread in parks and gardens.
While European 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 are sometimes driven out of their nesting sites by competing Starlings.
Similar to grackles and other blackbirds, European 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: Haemorhous mexicanus
The House Finch is one of the most common small birds found in Colorado, and is usually 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 more orangeish or yellowish in color.
The females lack any red coloration, and instead have grayish streaks on a brown background.
This small finch was originally a western bird, and it wasn’t until the 1940s that it 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 bird feeder in your backyard, you can expect House Finches to be among the first birds to visit it.
The House Finch is found in Colorado all year round. And while it is not a migratory bird, it does move to areas with the most plentiful food supply outside of the breeding season.
Scientific name: Haemorhous cassinii
The Cassin’s Finch looks a lot like the Purple Finch, but is mostly found at higher altitudes than the latter.
Adult males have a raspberry red crown, chest, throat, and rump. Their neck and back are streaked brown, and their wings are somewhat darker with two pink wingbars and pale margins.
Adult females and juveniles lack the reddish color and instead are brown with dark streaks on top and slightly darker wings with two pale wingbars.
The Cassin’s Finch prefers coniferous forests and can be seen all year in the mountainous habitat of northern Colorado.
Outside of the breeding season, it forms flocks and sometimes visits lower elevations and more southern latitudes, especially in cold winters.
Scientific name: Agelaius phoeniceus
The Red-winged Blackbird is one the most abundant birds in Colorado, and it is one of the most widespread blackbirds in Colorado during the summer.
The great thing about these Colorado blackbirds is that you can easily distinguish males from females.
Male Red-winged Blackbirds are completely black except for the bright red patches on their wings. In contrast, females (and juveniles) are a blackish brown color with white streaks.
Generally speaking, this blackbird lives in open fields and near water. 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 it 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: Sturnella neglecta
The Western Meadowlark closely resembles the Eastern Meadowlark, but is found in more western areas of North America. It occurs throughout Colorado as a breeding bird.
Male Western Meadowlarks have an underside that is yellow with a black necklace across the upper chest.
Although the two meadowlark species closely resemble each other, and their ranges overlap considerably, they almost never form hybrids.
This species is a favorite among birdwatchers, due to the fact that the male likes to sing loudly from a conspicuous perch, or while flying over its territory.
Combined with its striking black and yellow coloration, this makes the Western Meadowlark a pure joy to observe.
The very distinct songs of the two species of meadowlark allow for easy differentiation between them.
Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis
While the Northern Cardinal is one of the most well known red birds in North America, it is a rare breeding bird in Colorado and only occurs in a small part of the easternmost edge of the state.
Male Northern Cardinals have a bright crimson red color almost all over, with a 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. This bird is a regular visitor at bird feeders.
Scientific name: Passerina caerulea
The Blue Grosbeak is a beautiful songbird that has a large beak that is shaped like a cone.
The adult males are almost entirely dark blue in color, except for two chestnut-brown wingbars and black feathers on their face.
Females, on the other hand, are brownish gray with pale underparts. This grosbeak is a breeding visitor throughout Colorado, but migrates to Central America to spend the winter.
The preferred habitat of this bird is shrubland and grassland interspersed with dense bushes.
Scientific name: Spinus tristis
The American Goldfinch is a winter visitor in Colorado, and can be seen between October and April in many parts of the state.
It has a dazzling, bright yellow color with a black forehead.
Their wings are black and decorated with white markings. The females are a bit quite different though, having a primary olive color and dull yellow underparts that are a lot paler than the male’s.
The American Goldfinch is usually found in weedy fields and floodplains, but can also be found in orchards, roadsides, and as backyard birds.
It generally likes to eat seeds and grains, and is readily attracted to bird feeders that offer black oil sunflower seeds.
Scientific name: Dumetella carolinensis
The Gray Catbird is easily recognizable due to its long tail. Both sexes and juveniles look alike and have dark gray body coloration, a black cap and a rufous red undertail.
The Gray Catbird is a scarce breeding bird in northeastern Colorado, where it can be seen year-round.
These small birds 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: Leucosticte australis
The Brown-capped Rosy-Finch is a tough bird found in high-altitude mountainous environments of eastern Colorado.
Male birds have a black crown, and are cinnamon-brown on their back and head, contrasting with reddish pink feathers on their wings, back, and belly.
Female and juvenile birds have more uniform grayish brown feathers with very little pink.
The Brown-capped Rosy-Finch is an alpine specialist in Colorado, and spends the entire year in the eastern Rocky Mountains, and outside of the Centennial State it only occurs in New Mexico.
During the cold season this bird forms small flocks that perform altitude migrations to lower heights in response to heavy snowfall in the Rockies.
What are the small brown birds found in Colorado?
The small brown birds that can be regularly seen in Colorado backyards are wrens, which are tiny birds with a loud voice.
The most common wren species in Colorado is the House Wren, which is found throughout the state in summer, while the Rock Wren replaces it in more remote mountainous areas.
In addition to wrens, female House Finches are also small birds that are brownish gray, and are commonly found in backyard gardens all over Colorado.
How can you attract Colorado birds to your backyard?
The top 5 things you can do to get these birds to visit your backyard are as follows:
- Set up a feeder with sunflower seeds, or a bird seed mix
- Set up a bird bath
- Plant shrubs to provide nesting opportunities
- Plant native fruiting plants to provide foraging opportunities
Tip: If you want to attract Western Bluebirds to your backyard feeder, it’s best to offer berries or mealworms, since they’re not interested in seeds.
If you enjoyed this article, check out our guide to the large birds of Colorado.