A Brief Guide to Common Birds

The 28 bird species selected for this guide were chosen because they are some of the most widespread and common birds in North America and are found in a wide variety of habitats. They are presented in roughly the same order in which they are found in standard field guides. The description of the bird is given, followed by a call to a recording the voice of the bird. For example, the first bird is Common Loon. The description of the bird is followed by a clickable link to a recording of a frequently heard call of the Common Loon. Descriptions and habitat listings are adapted from the NHEST Interactive Guide to the Birds.

The sounds given below are some of the more common sounds made by the 
various birds.  All bird voice  files were obtained from MIST Software Assoc. They are shortened 
and condensed from the original recordings made by MIST Software in order to 
make them more manageable over the internet.   Remember, some birdsongs go 
on for a long time.  The Mockingbird often sings for extended periods, and the 
Red-eyed Vireo seems to sing constantly while feeding in the treetops.  The 
Whip-poor-will's loud song can also go on and on.  And these nocturnal birds 
seem to choose singing spots near the windows of sleeping humans.  At first, the 
bird enthusiast feels fortunate to be able to hear the Whip-poor-will without 
even getting out of bed.  But before long, he or she begins to wonder if the bird 
has an 'off' switch.  Some birds make many different calls.  

Following the list of birds is a list of general habitat types and the birds from this 
guide often found in the various habitat types.  Remember, many birds may be 
seen in a variety of habitats.

The Birds

bulletThe Common Loon (Gavia immer) 
is a black and white waterbird longer than the arm of a big man.  It's wild, ringing calls are 
often regarded as the voice of the north woods. Loons are found on wooded lakes and 
rivers in Canada and northern United States in the summer and in the ocean as far south as 
the gulf coast in winter.  Loons feed by catching fish under water.  The loon is the state 
bird of Minnesota. 
bulletVoice of the loon

bulletThe Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) is 
a gray-backed bird of coasts, bays, beaches, lakes, piers, farmlands, and dumps.  It is 
found throughout the northern parts of the northern hemisphere.  These are noisy, 
gregarious birds which will eat almost anything.  They are about the length of a man's 
bulletHerring Gull voice

bulletThe Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) 
is a heavy bodied, black, white, and gray water bird ranging in size from much shorter than 
a person's arm to much longer.  It is found in Canada and northern US in summer.  The 
birds winter from the northern states south.  The voice is a honking sound, often heard 
overhead during spring and fall migrations.
Canada Goose voice

bulletThe Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) is 
the common duck from which many barnyard ducks are descended.  A little longer than an 
adult's forearm, the male has a green head, chestnut breast, and a mixture of gray, brown, 
and white behind.  The female is mainly brown except for blue and white wing patches.  
Females quack, males squeak.  The Mallard is found throughout the northern hemisphere 
in marshes, swamps, ponds, grainfields, rivers, lakes, and bays.  It typically feeds by 
tipping up so that its head is below the surface but its tail is pointed skyward.
bulletVoice of the Mallard

bulletThe Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)is 
slightly larger than a human's handspan, brown and white with black rings on the neck.  Its 
name derives from its loud repetition of its call.  Though technically a shorebird of the 
plover group, it is found in fields, airports, and lawns as well as shorelands.  It is found 
from Canada to Mexico in the summer with some migration from northern areas in 
bulletVoice of the Killdeer

bulletThe Redtailed Hawk (Buteo 
jamaicensis) is one of the commonest hawks of North America as far south as 
Panama.  It is variably brown and white with a striking red tail in adults.  A bird of the 
open country, the Redtail feeds primarily on small rodents.  Its call is often described as a 
high, asthmatic scream.  The birds wingspan is about the same as a 12-year-old child's 
bulletRed-tailed Hawk voice

bulletThe 'mourning' in the name, 'Mourning Dove' refers 
to the sad quality of its call.  A primarily brown (with mixes of pink, black, and white) 
bird, the Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)is the size of  man's hand, but 
with a long tail. It is found in a wide variety of habitats from southern Canada to 
bulletMourning Dove voice

bulletThe Rock Dove (Columba livia), or 
Domestic Pigeon, is a Eurasian import found primarily in urban areas and farmlands.  The 
color schemes are widely variable. Its voice is a gurgling cooo.
bulletRock Dove voice

bulletThe Whip-poor-will (Caprimulgus 
vociferus)was named for its voice, though some think the call sounds more like, 
'Purple Rib.'  This large-headed night bird the size of a man's hand is brownish in color and 
nests from Canada to Central America where it chases insects in leafy woodlands.  It 
winters from the gulf states southward.  The accent on the first and last syllables of the 
often-repeated call distinguish it from near relative Chuck-will's-widow which accents the 
middle syllables of its call.
bulletVoice of Whip-poor- will

bulletThe Great Horned Owl (Bubo 
virginianus) is a large -- longer than the forearm of a large man -- brownish mottled 
owl with ear tufts.  It ranges from tree-line in the north to Tierra del Fuego and is found in 
a wide variety of habitats.  Its call is distinguished from that of other species by the 
distinctive cadence.  Great Horned Owls eat a variety of birds and mammals, including, 
reportedly, skunks.
bulletGreat Horned Owl voice

bulletThe Barred Owl (Strix varia) is a 
tuftless, mottled gray-brown bird of deciduous forests from Canada to Central America.  
It's call is often rendered as 'Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?'  Most northern 
birds don't seem to say 'you-all', while southern birds do.  Caution should be used in 
interpreting this bit of trivia.
bulletBarred Owl voice

bulletThe Common Flicker (Colaptes 
auratus) is a mottled yellow, black, red, and white bird with red or yellow under the 
wings.  It is larger than hand-sized.  Found from as far north as treeline in the summer, it 
migrates from these northerly areas in winter.  Flickers are the woodpecker most likely to 
be found on the ground where they feed on ants.  The call is like the Pileated 
Woodpeckers, but longer and less ringing. Under the name, 'Yellowhammer' it is the state 
bird of Alabama.
bulletThe Flicker's voice

bulletA forearm-length, noisy, gregarious bird of woods 
and farmland, the Common Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) is a familiar figure 
from Canada to southern US.  It feeds on just about anything making it unpopular with 
farmers whose crops it eats and with other birds whose eggs it eats.  The voice is clearer 
and less nasal than that of other crows.
bulletCommon Crow voice

bulletNoisy, agressive, and gregarious, the Bluejay 
(Cyanocitta cristata) is a crested blue, and white bird with a black collar.  It is 
larger than a person's hand.  It is found from Canada to the gulf states where its variety of 
calls are familiar in forest and town.  It often mimics hawks, scaring other birds from 
feeders.  Bluejays eat just about anything organic.
bulletBluejay voice

bulletThe Black-capped Chickadee (Parus 
attricapillus) is a thumb-sized, omniverous black, white, and gray bird of woodlands 
and feeders of northern US and Canada.  The familiar chickadee call is an alarm note.  It's 
song is a two note 'fee-bee'.  The other chickadees of the country have either higher 
pitched, harsher, or no chickadee calls.  The almost indistinguishable Carolina Chickadee 
has a higher pitched call and a four-note song.  The Black-capped Chickadee is the state 
bird of Maine and Massachussetts.
bulletBlack-capped Chickadee voice

bulletThe Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta 
canadensis) is found in coniferous and mixed woods in Canada and northern US in 
the summer, wintering in the southeast.  It is a chubby bird not much larger than a man's 
thumb and is found crawling down tree trunks headfirst in search of insects.  Its calls are 
similar to those of the White-breasted Nuthatch with which it may be found at feeders or 
in mixed woods.
bulletRed-breasted Nuthatch voice

bulletThe Northern Mockingbird (Mimus 
polyglottos) is a slender, gray and white bird longer than a man's hand.  It is found 
from southern Canada to southern Mexico, though it is scattered in the northern part of its 
range.  It is found in towns, farms, roadsides, and thickets where it eats fruits and insects.  
The mockingbird is the famous mimic of other birds.  It usually repreats phrases in its song 
three or more times which distinguishes it from near relatives such as the Brown Thrasher 
and Catbird which use less repitition.
bulletVoice of the Mockingbird

bulletThe American Robin (Turdus 
migratorius) is a heavy-bodied gray bird with a brick-red breast.  It is the length of a 
large man's span.  The Robin is found from Alaska and Canada to southern Mexico and 
winters, often in large flocks, generally south of Canada.  It is found in urban and 
suburban areas, farmlands, and forests.  The song is cheerful sounding, consisting of a 
succession of short phrases.
bulletAmerican Robin's voice

bulletThe Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) 
is a small handsized bird of coniferous or mixed woods from Alaska and Canada to 
western and northeastern US.  It winters in southern US and southward.  It is brown and 
white with a spotted breast and a reddish tail.  The Hermit Thrush is often considered the 
best singer -- at least to human ears -- of all the birds.  Each phrase of its song is clear and 
flutelike, variable in pitch.  It is introduced by a single clear note.  Other thrushes have 
similar, though distinctive songs.
bulletSong of the Hermit Thrush

bulletThe Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) 
is a chubby, slow-moving olive and white bird the size of a child's span.  It is found in 
deciduous forests in eastern US and Canada.  The bird winters in South America.  The 
Red-eyed Vireo's song is a long monotonous string of short phrases that seem to go on 
forever.  It can be rendered as: 'Im-a vireo. And-what are-you? Not-that I-really care-
much as-long-as I-find bugs-on this-leaf...' and on and on.
bulletRed-eyed Vireo voice

bulletYellow Warblers (Dendroica petechia) 
are just that -- yellow.  The males add red streaking beneath. Found eating insects in 
thickets, wetlands, and gardens throughout North America it is one of our most widely 
spread and well-known members of the Wood Warbler group.  The song is rendered by 
some listeners as: 'Sweet-sweet-sweet; I'm so sweet.'  It can be a good memory aid to put 
words like that to bird songs as long as you remember that what he is REALLY saying is 
'I'm the biggest, toughest yellow warbler in the world and you better keep out of my 
territory -- except for you ladies, of course.
bulletYellow Warbler song

bulletThe Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis 
trichas) is a thumb-sized yellow and brown bird with a distinctive black burglar's 
mask in the males.  Found in wet brushlands throughout most of North America in the 
summer, it winters in southern US and the West Indes.  Its song is distinctive, consisting 
of a short repitition of two or three note phrases.
bulletCommon Yellowthroat song

bulletThis hand-sized marsh and field bird has a loud, 
harsh, familiar voice.  The Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) is 
heard from Canada to the West Indes.  The males are black with red and yellow shoulder 
patches, females are brown and white with heavy streaking.
bulletRed-winged Blackbird voice

bulletThe European Starling (Sturnus 
vulgaris) is a black speckled bird introduced in this area and now found wherever 
people are found.  It's squeeking and squawking can make one bird sound like a whole 
treefull.  In winter, the Starling gathers in huge flocks with other blackbirds.
bulletEuropean Starling voice

bulletThe House Sparrow (Passer 
domesticus) is a brown, gray, and black bird the length of a child's span.  This 
Eurasian import is now found in cities and farms throughout most of the world.  It is an 
aggressive bird whose song is little more than a frequent repetition of its call note.
bulletHouse Sparrow voice

bulletThe Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis 
cardinalis) is a crested, hand-sized red bird, very striking in the male.  It is the state 
bird of seven different states.  Cardinals are found in urban and suburban areas and 
margins of woodlands from southern Canada to the gulf states and across the south to 
Mexico and Central America.  The song is a variable series of clear whistles, one common 
version being rendered by some listeners as; 'birdy, birdy, birdy'.
bulletCardinal voice

bulletThe Chipping Sparrow (Spizella 
passerina) is between thumb-size and child's hand-size.  It is rusty and brown 
streaked above, gray beneath.  It is found in open coniferous woods, farms, and gardens 
from Canada to Central America.  It winters from southern US south.  The song is a 
weak, dry trill that can in some cases be mistaken for other trilling birds such as Junco, 
Pine Warbler, or Swamp Sparrow.
bulletChipping Sparrow song

bulletThe Song Sparrow (Melospiza 
melodia) is a brown and white streaked bird with a spot in the breast.  The length of 
a child's span, it is found in brushy areas and gardens throughout most of North America.  
The song usually starts with three or four sharp, musical notes, and is variable after 
bulletSong Sparrow voice

Habitat Types

Birds found in cities, towns, and suburbs include; Herring Gull, Mourning Dove, Rock 
Dove, Common Crow,  Bluejay, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, 
Northern Mockingbird, American Robin, Yellow Warbler, European Starling, House 
Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Chipping Sparrow, and Song Sparrow. 

bulletBIRDS OVERHEAD: Birds often heard flying 
overhead include;  Herring Gull, Canada Goose, Killdeer, and Red-tailed Hawk.

bulletBIRDS OF WET AREAS: Birds heard in wet areas 
include; Common Loon, Herring Gull, Canada Goose, Mallard Duck, Killdeer, Common 
Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, and Red-winged Blackbird. 

bulletFOREST BIRDS: Birds commonly heard in and 
around forests include; Mourning Dove, Whip-poor-will, Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, 
Common Flicker, Common Crow, Bluejay, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted 
Nuthatch, American Robin, Hermit Thrush, Red-eyed Vireo, and Northern Cardinal. 

commonly heard in farming  and open areas include; Herring Gull, Canada Goose, Mallard 
Duck, Killdeer, Redtailed Hawk, Mourning Dove, Rock Dove, Whip-poor-will, Great 
Horned Owl, Common Flicker, Common Crow, Bluejay, American Robin,  Yellow 
Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Red-winged Blackbird, European Starling, House 
Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, and Song Sparrow. 

bulletNIGHTBIRDS: Birds often or usually heard at night 
or late evening include; "Common Loon, Whip-poor-will, Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, 
Northern Mockingbird, and Hermit Thrush.

Main Index

Index of Birds