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All sorts of birds can find their way to your backyard in search of food. While they don’t all gravitate toward the bird feeder, you can still find a range of different species foraging in the grass or singing away in the hedgerow.
With many of them having bright colors, interesting patterns, and intriguing behavior, it’s easy to fall into the hobby of birdwatching. Washington has a variety of bird species that stay in the state throughout the year, only appear in summer, or are mostly red or brown in color. There’s even a bunch of songbirds that you can keep an eye out for.
|Scientific Name:||Corvus brachyrhynchos|
One of the most widespread birds in the U.S.A., the American Crow is often mistaken for the Common Raven due to their sleek black feathers. Compared to the Common Raven, however, the American Crow is smaller in size, with a smaller beak, a rounded tail, and a much higher bird call. They’re found in Washington all year round and often gather in winter flocks during the colder seasons.
Though well known for their intelligence and cunning, the American Crow is often considered a pest. They’re happy to reside anywhere, provided that there are plenty of nesting spots, and aren’t scared off by urban environments.
|Scientific Name:||Spinus tristus|
Distinguishable by the bright yellow plumage of the males during the breeding season, the American Goldfinch is the state bird of Washington. They’re most often found in sheltered areas like the edges of fields, rivers, hedgerows, and places with plenty of thistles. You can also find them in suburban gardens, provided that there are plenty of shrubberies for them to hide in.
The American Goldfinch is a sociable bird that often forms flocks with Pine Siskins and Redpolls. While most leave Washington for the winter months, many American Goldfinch flocks remain and wander around searching for food.
|Scientific Name:||Poecile atricapillus|
With their black cap, white cheeks, and black throat, the Black-Capped Chickadee is an easy to recognize sight in many Washington gardens throughout the year. They’ll wander more often during the cold months due to the shortage of food, and some Black-Capped Chickadees do migrate to warmer states for the season.
The Black-Capped Chickadee is most often found in woodland areas, parks, wetlands, willow thickets, and cottonwood groves. They can be territorial, particularly in the breeding season, but have been known to flock with other bird species during the winter. In these mixed flocks, the Black-Capped Chickadee often outnumbers the other species.
|Scientific Name:||Picoides pubescens|
The Downy Woodpecker is almost identical to the Hairy Woodpecker with their white belly, black-and-white spotted wings, striped face, and red patch on the back of their head. They pose a challenge to identify correctly due to the only noticeable difference being their smaller size and bills.
A common sight at backyard bird feeders, Downy Woodpeckers call woodlands and parks home. They often flock with Chickadees and Nuthatches, both species being only slightly smaller.
|Scientific Name:||Regulus satrapa|
Earning their name from the bright yellow patch on the top of their head, the Golden-Crowned Kinglet is barely bigger than a hummingbird. Mostly gray in color, the black-and-yellow markings on their head, wings, and tail make them a striking sight in your backyard.
Despite their tiny size and unassuming appearance, the Golden-Crowned Kinglet can survive temperatures around -40 degrees Fahrenheit. When it gets cold, they’ll huddle together for warmth. Their ability to withstand all sorts of temperatures enables them to stay in Washington all year round.
|Scientific Name:||Zenaida macroura|
Widespread and abundant, the Mourning Dove is a common sight in backyards across the U.S.A., including Washington, and is one of the most commonly hunted birds. Plump and mostly grayish with a pink hue, Mourning Doves aren’t the most spectacular birds that you’ll see at your bird feeder. Their bird call is a drawn-out, mournful sound and the reason for their name.
Despite being a common target of hunting, the Mourning Dove is incredibly long lived, with the oldest recorded being 30 years old.
|Scientific Name:||Colaptes auratus|
One of the largest birds that you can find in your backyard, the Northern Flicker is a woodpecker with the unusual habit of staying on the ground to search for ants and beetles. You’re more likely to find them by scanning the floor during woodland walks than you are by spotting them in trees.
Along with their distinctive long beaks, their backs are brown with black barring, and their underside is a pinkish shade with black spots. Variations in the east and west of the country have either yellow or red feathers in their wings and tails, depending on where they are located.
|Scientific Name:||Pipilo maculatus|
A year-round resident of Washington, the Spotted Towhee is a striking sight in many backyard gardens. While they don’t often eat from bird feeders, they can be seen foraging for fallen seeds in dead leaves and brush. They favor shrubland on the edges of forests and overgrown fields.
Their brown flanks and black back, white-spotted wings, and vivid red eyes help the Spotted Towhee blend in with the leaves that they forage in. They’re more easily found during the springtime, when the males perch in shrubberies to sing.
|Scientific Name:||Cyanocitta stelleri|
The bright-blue feathering on the lower half of the Steller’s Jay makes this species super easy to identify and a striking visitor to your backyard, no matter what time of year it is. Although they’re not found in south-central Washington, the Steller’s Jay is a prominent fixture in forests, campgrounds, parks, and residential yards everywhere else in the state.
They have a scratchy, almost scolding bird call and are fond of stealing what they can from bird feeders and picnic lunches. Steller’s Jays are also excellent mimics and can imitate a variety of other woodland creatures.
|Scientific Name:||Setophaga coronata|
Depending on where you are in Washington, the presence of the Yellow-Rumped Warbler can vary during the year. In the west, many of the birds are present year-round, while in other places, they’re only found during spring and fall as they migrate.
Their appearance also differs across the state, although the most common variety is the “Audubon’s.” The Yellow-Rumped Warbler is recognizable by the yellow patches on their throat, rump, flanks, and sometimes, the top of the head.
|Scientific Name:||Thryomanes bewickii|
Although they’re found in Washington throughout the year, Bewick’s Wrens commonly reside in the western, north-central, and south-central regions of the state. While they’re rarely found in central and eastern Washington, they sometimes visit the southeast in winter.
This bird prefers to hide in sheltered brush piles over open spaces and are always on the move, whether it’s hopping from branch to branch or flicking their tail. You can recognize them by the downward curve of their thin beak, their white eyebrow, and the black barring on their tail and wings.
Despite their unassuming size, they’re adept singers and can remember up to 22 different songs.
|Scientific Name:||Bombycilla cedrorum|
With its brown, gray, and yellow feathers, the Cedar Waxwing is one of the most noticeable birds in Washington. While they’re easily recognized by their distinctive black, mask-like markings that give them an air of banditry — despite their otherwise bright coloring — they gain their name from the small, red, wax-like dots on their wings.
The Cedar Waxwing lives in open woodland in berry bushes, evergreens, or the brush around bodies of water. Although they reside in forested areas, they’re well-known for their flying skill and impressive aerial displays.
|Scientific Name:||Poecile rufescens|
Commonly found in damp, forested areas along the west coast, the Chestnut-Backed Chickadee’s coloring enables them to blend in with the trees in their preferred habitat. One of the smallest birds on this list, they have a black cap and bib, white stripes on their cheeks, and chestnut-brown feathers along their back. Although they prefer wooded areas, you can also find them in suburban areas and ornamental city shrubs.
Unlike many other bird species that migrate for the winter, the Chestnut-Backed Chickadee mostly stays in one place. They’ll often move between high and low elevations in mountainous areas, depending on the snowfall.
|Scientific Name:||Spinus pinus|
A member of the finch family, albeit much smaller than most other finches and sparrows, the Pine Siskin is a nomadic species that spends most of their time in open woodlands. At first glance, they’re relatively plain in appearance with their simple brown coloring. But look for the bright-yellow patches on their wings and tail as they feed or show off their aerial acrobatics.
Although they’re found year-round in most parts of Washington, they often only appear in the southeast during the winter months.
|Scientific Name:||Melospiza melodia|
With their streaky brown feathers, the Song Sparrow is one of the most common birds in North America, including Washington. Despite their wide distribution, their appearance can differ depending on where they reside, which often leads many people to assume that they’re a different species.
Easily startled, these birds favor shrubby, wet areas with plenty of coverage so they can hide. The males sing to defend their territory and attract mates by demonstrating their ability to learn new song components.
|Scientific Name:||Catharus ustulatus|
Swainson’s Thrushes are summer residents of Washington and inhabit forested areas. Although they’re mostly migratory during spring and fall, summer finds many flocks lingering for the breeding season in the west, north, northeast, and southeast of the state. Their bird call is often mistaken to be from frogs due to the bell-like “peeps.” Hermit Thrushes have a similar song.
Both the brown color of their plumage and their habit of darting from perch to perch, making their singing hard to track, can make Swainson’s Thrushes difficult to spot. Many of their territorial disputes are solved through sing-off-style duels.
|Scientific Name:||Calypte anna|
If you live anywhere along the Pacific Coast, Anna’s Hummingbirds are the species of hummingbird that you’re most likely to see. Found in Washington throughout the year, they’re easily recognized by their long, thin beaks, shiny emerald feathers, and the pink coloring on the male’s throat. While the female lacks the distinct bright coloring — except the green along their back — they sometimes have patches of red or pink around their neck.
Since their diet consists of nectar, you’ll find them around brightly colored blossoms and sugar-water feeders. They don’t migrate far, and if you leave a feeder out all year, you’re likely to see them in winter too.
|Scientific Name:||Pheucticus melanocephalus|
As one of the migrating bird species in Washington, the Black-Headed Grosbeak is often only found during the breeding season during summer. They spend the winter in Mexico. Like other species, the female is a typical brown color, while the male has a brighter appearance with orange, black, and white feathers.
Both the females and males share the responsibility of taking care of their nests. The females will also sing “male” songs on occasion. They’re the only bird that preys on monarch butterflies and will eat them in 8-day cycles to give themselves time to fight off the toxins.
|Scientific Name:||Haemorhous mexicanus|
Originally native to Mexico and the western U.S.A., the House Finch was introduced to the eastern states in the 1940s. While they’re one of the species not native to Washington, the bright-red feathers of the male and their cheerful singing have made them a more welcome addition than many other birds that were introduced similarly.
As year-round residents, they’re frequent sights in backyards. They favor urbanized areas over woodlands and can be found in city parks, farms, and residential areas.
The brightness of the male’s red feathers changes depending on their diet.
|Scientific Name:||Turdus migratorius|
One of the most easily recognized birds due to their distinctive red-orange breast and bright voice, the American Robin is also a common species throughout the U.S.A. While they’re often considered to be one of the first signs of spring due to their appearance in late winter, they’re a year-round resident of Washington.
Unlike many other bird species, American Robins don’t have a preference between woodland or urban areas and can be found in both places.
|Scientific Name:||Junco hyemalis|
Of the two varieties of Dark-Eyed Junco, the “Oregon” variety — with a black head, brown back, and pale breast — is the most prevalent in Washington. The female is usually duller in color and grayer in appearance.
As forest birds, they mostly live in woodland areas. They’re found all year round and often prefer woodland areas over more open places, especially during the breeding season. Despite their preference for coniferous forests, the Dark-Eyed Junco prefers open woodland to thick brush.
|Scientific Name:||Sturnus vulgaris|
Although the European Starling’s purple-and-green plumage can be beautiful in the right lighting, they’re considered an invasive species. They were first introduced to the U.S.A. in the 19th century and have since become one of the most common songbirds in the country. Unlike the House Finch, which shares the preference for towns as habitats, the European Starling is considered a menace to other bird species, especially around bird feeders.
In winter, their feathers take on white spots, and summer brings a dark, glossy plumage.
|Scientific Name:||Zonotrichia atricapilla|
While one of the less well-known songbirds in Washington, the Golden-Crowned Sparrow is a frequent visitor to backyard bird feeders. A resident of Washington during winter, the Golden-Crowned Sparrow migrates to the tundra and shrubland areas of British Colombia and Alaska during the summer breeding season. Even in winter, they favor shrublands and weedy fields along the west coast.
The species earned the nickname, “Weary Willie,” from the miners in the Yukon during the turn of the 20th century. They were so called due to the miners’ lack of success in finding gold, paired with the Golden-Crowned Sparrow’s melancholy singing.
|Scientific Name:||Passer domesticus|
Like the European Starling, the House Sparrow was introduced to the U.S.A. in the mid-19th century and has since become one of the most common birds in the country. The species is resented by many people due to their tendency to disrupt native birds and steal their nests.
They earned their name from their preferred nesting spots in the eaves and walls of buildings, streetlights, and nest boxes. With their favored habitats being human made, the House Sparrow is one of the few species that show little to no fear around humans.
|Scientific Name:||Sitta canadensis|
Recognizable by the white-and-black striped head and the orange-red undercarriage, the Red-Breasted Nuthatch is a songbird that can be found across Washington throughout the year. In the southeastern side of the state, you may only see them in winter.
As a forest dweller, the Red-Breasted Nuthatch nests in tree cavities and often wander up, down, and around tree trunks in search of insects and resin globules to protect their nests with. They often join Chickadees, Kinglets, and Woodpecker flocks.
|Scientific Name:||Corthylio calendula|
Packed with energy, the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet is an excitable and almost nervous visitor to backyards. Mostly gray with a subtle green hue, the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet has a white eye ring, white barring on the wings, and patches of yellow on the tail. The males have a bright-red crown that usually stays hidden until they’re singing. More than the colors that they bear, though, the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet’s key identification feature is the constant flick of their wings as they forage.
Due to their quiet nature and quick, darting movements, they can easily be missed while birdwatching. When they do sing, the males are loud, with a distinctive, double-noted call.
|Scientific Name:||Agelaius phoeniceus|
Found in Washington marshlands — or anywhere with standing water — throughout the year, the Red-Winged Blackbird often finds their way to backyard bird feeders during winter. They’re one of the most common species throughout Washington.
Despite their name, the males and females of the species have different appearances. The males have sleek black feathers with red-and-yellow shoulder patches, while the females have a brown, streaky patterning similar to that of a sparrow.
|Scientific Name:||Zonotrichia leucophrys|
In most of Washington, the White-Crowned Sparrow is only a fleeting guest during the winter before they migrate north for the breeding season. Along the coast, though, especially in scrubland, the species can be found throughout the year. The black-and-white head and gray breast make the White-Crowned Sparrow one of the easiest sparrows to identify. In spring, they announce their presence with a sweet-sounding whistle.
Male White-Crowned Sparrows learn songs from around their nests when they’re young. The differences in learned songs from different areas form a type of dialect, and males raised on the borders of two areas can become bilingual, with the ability to sing both styles.
|Scientific Name:||Tachycineta thalassina|
A common sight in Washington during the summer months, the Violet-Green Swallow often migrates to Central America for the winter. At first glance, they look similar to darker birds. Sunny days illuminate the metallic green feathers on their backs and their purple rears. Males and females have similar coloring, although the females have brown heads without the white cheeks.
While they’re similar in appearance to the Tree Swallow, they’re closer relations with the Golden Swallow and Bahama Swallow in the Caribbean.
|Scientific Name:||Hirundo rustica|
A permanent resident of Central America, the Barn Swallow migrates north for the summer breeding season. Their deep-blue back, tawny undercarriage, and forked tail make them easy to differentiate from other swallow species. They have the same aerial abilities as other swallows but often stay low to the ground while flying.
The Barn Swallow inhabits grasslands, along with human-made structures, such as the eaves of barns and stables, near playing fields, and under bridges. They mostly build their nests out of mud and grass.
If you’re new to Washington and want to learn about the species that you can find here, it can be interesting to see all the different varieties that you might not find somewhere else. Even if you’re only curious about the dashing red visitor soaring through your yard to visit your bird feeder, we hope that this list has helped you identify the species that you’re likely to spot in your backyard.
Featured Image Credit: SteveCrowhurst, Pixabay
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Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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