Common Texas Backyard Birds & How to Tell Them Apart

Common Texas Backyard Birds & How to Tell Them Apart

You’ve put up bird feeders, filled them with food, and now birds are visiting your yard more than ever. Congratulations! But.. what are they?

To help you narrow things down, species are categorized by season. Select a bird to jump to it.

Year-round Residents

Winter Backyard Birds in Texas

Present from November through March.

Summer Backyard Birds in Texas

Present from April through September.

Spring/Fall Migration Birds

Present April and May, plus September and October.

Year-round Backyard Birds in Texas

Northern Cardinal

  • Male and females look different
  • Often seen in pairs or small groups
Northern Cardinal Male
Male
Northern Cardinal Female
Female

How to Attract More: Blackoil sunflower and Safflower seeds are a Cardinal’s favorite food. Shelled or unshelled, it doesn’t matter, they’ll love it either way!

Cardinals are one of the most common bird species in Texan’s backyard. They add a wonderful splash of bright red, and are easy to attract with the right type of food.

Carolina Chickadee

  • Tiny black and white bird
  • Swoops in, grabs food, then flies away
Carolina Chickadee

How to Attract More: Blackoil sunflower seeds and suet are a Chickadees two favorites. They enjoy Safflower seed as well. Be sure to place feeders near or under a tree – chickadees don’t like feeling exposed out in the open.

Carolina Wren

  • Chestnut red-brown bird with a white stripe over the eye
  • Very active, usually low near the ground
  • Very loud for such small bird
Carolina Wren

How to Attract More: Wrens love mealworms. They won’t eat seeds, no matter how many you put out. Try to use live mealworms, since dead dried mealworms can dehydrate birds and cause them digestive problems. Suet can also attract wrens.

Bewick’s Wren

  • Light brown with a white stripe over the eye
  • Common in the western two-thirds of Texas
Bewick's Wren

How to Attract More: They love mealworms just like the Carolina Wren, and will also feed on suet. Wrens like to forage down low, so place food low to the ground for best success.

The name is most often pronounced “buick”, like the car brand.

These little birds are especially common in central Texas and south Texas, with moderate numbers in western Texas as well.

Tufted Titmouse and Black-crested Titmouse

  • Tufted Titmouse is common in the eastern third of Texas. They have a black spot on the forehead with a gray head crest.
  • Black-crested Titmouse is common in the western two-thrids of Texas. They have dark feathers at the front of the head crest.
Tufted Titmouse
Tufted Titmouse
Black-crested Titmouse
Black-crested Titmouse

How to Attract More: Titmice love blackoil sunflower seeds and suet. They’ll also eat shelled nuts like peanuts, almonds, and pecans.

Blue Jay

  • Often travels in family groups
Blue Jay

How to Attract More: Jays love nuts! Peanuts are always a great option, but beware – jays can be bullies and will take over feeders when they show up. Place your peanuts away from your other feeders so the smaller birds can have a turn too.

Northern Mockingbird

  • Overall light gray with black on the wings
Northern Mockingbird

How to Attract More: The easiest way is to provide water. A bird bath, a water pan, it doesn’t really matter. Just make sure the water isn’t more than about an inch deep. Mockingbirds will sometimes eat grapes, raisins, crushed peanuts, and suet.

The official Texas state bird, Northern Mockingbirds don’t always play nice with other common species. They may bully other smaller birds, usually chasing them away from a water feature.

Mockingbirds usually don’t cause problems, but if you have a bully in your yard, taking away the water for a few days usually convinces them to go elsewhere.

House Finch

  • Males show red on face and breast, light streaking on their sides
  • Females lack red, show streaking along their sides.
House Finch
Photo Credit: John Benson

How to Attract More: Blackoil sunflower seeds are best for House Finches. They’ll also eat millet, and seed mixes with millet in them.

Note that females also have streaking on the sides and breast, but lack the red color.

House Sparrow

  • Very common in urban and suburban areas
  • Usually seen in groups
  • Males have black on the chin, females have streaky back and wings
House Finch Male
Male
House Finch Female
Female

How to (Not) Attract More: House sparrows will eat almost anything. Most people actually try to keep them away from feeders because they can really swarm an area and take over, pushing out all the other birds. Feeders that force birds to eat one at a time are good deterrents. Avoid platform feeders or ground feeders if you want fewer House Sparrows.

European Starling

  • Black with yellow beak
  • Beautiful iridescent feathers when the light hits just right
European Starling

How to (Not) Attract More: Starlings are bullies are feeders, sometimes even attacking other birds so they can hog all the food. They tend to target suet. If you have a problem with starlings, use an upside down suet feeder for woodpeckers (Amazon Link), or a hanging suet feeder that’s difficult for them to perch on (Amazon Link).

Red-bellied & Golden-fronted Woodpecker

  • Red-bellied Woodpeckers only show red on the head and belly.
  • Golden-fronted Woodpeckers show yellow on the head and belly.
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Golden-fronted Woodpecker

How to Attract More: Woodpeckers go crazy for suet . Nuts are also great, like peanuts, almonds, and pecans. They’ll also go for mealworms if you supply them.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are common in the eastern third of the state, east of Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, and Corpus Christi.

Golden-fronted Woodpeckers are common in the western two-thirds of the state, west of Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, and Corpus Christi.

Downy Woodpecker & Ladder-backed Woodpecker

  • Downy Woodpeckers have a little white backpack
  • Ladder-backed Woodpeckers show horizontal barring all down the back
Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker

How to Attract More: Suet is the most sure-fire way to attract these guys to your yard. If other birds keep hogging your suet and push out the smaller woodpeckers, consider an upside down suet hanger (Amazon link). Other birds can’t use them, but woodpeckers have no problem feeding from them.

Downy Woodpeckers are common in the eastern third of Texas.
Ladder-backed Woodpeckers are common in the western two-thirds of Texas.

Morning Dove

  • Several black dots on the wings
  • Tail feathers are longer and more pointed than other doves
Mourning Dove

How to Attract More: Mourning Doves prefer to feed directly on the ground, although they’ll also visit open platform feeders. They like blackoil sunflower seeds and millet.

Those living in rural areas are more likely to see Mourning Doves, versus the White-winged Dove common in urban areas.

Doves tend to quickly attract more doves, so feed them in moderation and ration their food. Otherwise you may find your yard overrun by them!

White-winged Dove

  • White on the underside of the wing
  • No black dots on the wings
White-winged Dove

How to Attract More: White-winged Doves will happily eat blackoil sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, millet, and suet if they can get to it.

Be careful not to make food too easy for them to get, otherwise they’ll overrun your feeders and push other birds out. If necessary, avoid open platform and ground feeders. Perching feeders made for smaller birds will keep doves out.

White-winged Doves are very similar to Mourning Doves, except them tend to prefer more urban and suburban areas. They’re much less numerous in rural areas.

Lesser Goldfinch

  • Males show bright yellow underside with black back and head
  • Common in the southern and western half of Texas
Lesser Goldfinch Male
Male (credit: Francesco Veronesi)
Lesser Goldfinch Female
Female (credit: Brandon Trentler)

How to Attract More: Typical of finches, Lesser Goldfinches love nyjer seed, which is a type of thistle seed. Try to buy fresh nyjer at specialty stores, like Wild Birds Unlimited. Big box stores will often sell old nyjer seed that is dried out and the finches may avoid it.

If you’ve never fed finches before, be sure to get the right feeder. Thistle socks are a cheap option, but they don’t last long. Consider buying a feeder made specifically for finches and nyjer seed (Amazon link). Try not to let the seed get wet, otherwise it can quickly mold and go bad.

Winter Backyard Birds in Texas

American Robin

  • Orange breast, dark back, and a white eye ring
American Robin

How to Attract More: American Robins are primarily insect eaters. Mealworms are a great food to offer them, especially live mealworms. Robins love earthworms when they can find them, so you could try offering those as well.

The most simple way to attract American Robins is by having a consistent source of clean water, like a bird bath.

If you have trees that produce berries during winter months then robins may eat those as well.

Cedar Waxwing

  • Soft yellow and brown wash on the body, with bright yellow tail tips
  • Almost always seen in groups together
Cedar Waxwing

How to Attract More: Waxwings love berries, and will swarm trees that have ripe ones. Good trees to plant would include Eastern Red Cedar, Ashe Juniper, and Hawthorn.

Cedar Waxwings will also congregate around a good drinking water source, like a bird bath.

Waxwings are named after the spots of red and yellow on their wings and tails, which look like they’ve been dipped in brightly colored melted wax.

American Goldfinch

  • Light yellow in the face, wings are darker than the body
  • Only show their more dull winter plumage in Texas
American Goldfinch

How to Attract More: Like all finches they love nyjer, a type of thistle seed. Try to buy fresh seeds from a specialty store like Wild Birds Unlimited, or risk getting old and dried out seed from big box stores.

While American Goldfinches are brightly colored birds, unfortunately Texans only get to see their more muted winter colors.

Pine Siskin

  • Streaky body with yellow in the wings
Pine Siskin

How to Attract More: Pine Siskins are a type of finch, which should clue you in to the fact that nyjer seed is the perfect food for them. Some winters show great numbers of Pine Siskins in Texas, while other years they can be harder to find.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

  • Light colored streaky breast with a darker back and head
  • Bright yellow rump (top of tail feathers)
Yellow-rumped Warbler

How to Attract More: Suet and water are the easiest things to offer. Fresh, quality suet with clean water will usually bring in one or two individuals, and keep them around for several months.

This common winter warbler is often seen around large trees, especially oaks and pecans. So if you have big trees in your yard you may see these warblers without putting out food.

Orange-crowned Warbler

  • Dull yellowish bird with no obvious markings
Orange-crowned Warbler

How to Attract More: Orange-crowned Warblers enjoy suet, especially when they can have it all to themselves without competing with other birds. They will sometimes fly to water for a quick drink, so suet and water is the perfect combination.

Common Grackle

  • Blackbird with obvious hues of blue, green, and purple
Common Grackle

How to (Not) Attract More: They’re not picky when it comes to food, and will eat most types of seeds, nuts, and suet. To thin their numbers and keep them away, try using more safflower seed. Put all other types of food in perching feeders designed for small birds like chickadees. Grackles struggle to use those designs.

Dark-eyed Junco

  • Slate gray head and back, light stomach
Dark-eyed Junco

How to Attract More: White proso millet is a favorite of juncos, along with shelled sunflower seeds. Juncos like to feed low to the ground, so ground feeders and trays are perfect for them.

Summer Backyard Birds in Texas

Ruby-thoated & Black-chinned Hummingbird

  • Ruby-throated is common in the eastern third of Texas
  • Black-chinned in common in the western two-thirds of Texas
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird

How to Attract More: Hang multiple hummingbird feeders, and plant native flowers that hummingbirds love. Check out The Best Plants for Attracting Hummingbirds in Texas

Male hummingbird species are easy to tell apart, but the females look nearly identical. Separating them takes practice, but here’s a few ways to separate these two species.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

  • Shorter, very straight bill
  • Bright shiny green back feathers
  • More calm hovering behavior, only bobs tail occasionally

Female Black-chinned Hummingbirds:

  • Longer, very slightly down curved bill
  • More dull green color on the back
  • Bobs tail up and down constantly

Spring & Fall Migration Backyard Birds in Texas

Baltimore Oriole

  • Bright orange breast with black head and back
Baltimore Oriole

How to Attract More: Orioles love sugar and sweet things. You can try to bring mitigating orioles to your yard by providing fruit and jelly. Orange halves are good when secured or nailed to a tree. Grape jelly is a good option, and it will double as food for woodpeckers too.

Baltimore Orioles travel through Texas during migration periods. Middle of April through middle of May is when their numbers are highest, but they also come through Texas during September and October.

Nashville Warbler

  • Yellow breast, gray head, sometimes red on top of head
Nashville Warbler

How to Attract More: Nashville Warblers are insectivores, and can’t be attracted with seeds or suet. But they love shallow water.

Bird baths can be perfect for warblers, or even just a pan with water in it. Be sure to elevate it off the ground, and don’t make it more than about an inch deep.

Yellow Warbler

  • Solid yellow all over, males show orange streaks on the breast
Yellow Warbler

How to Attract More: Provide shallow water elevated off the ground, and keep and eye on it during late April through middle of May, and during September.

Another seasonal migrant, these beautiful bright yellow birds will sometimes fly down to water for drinking and bathing.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

  • Black back and head, pale belly, red breast
Rose-breasted Grosbeak

How to Attract More: Grosbeaks are in the same family as cardinals, and they will eat the same things. Plenty of blackoil sunflower seeds are the perfect choice, although grosbeaks will also eat safflower seeds and nuts like peanuts.

Remember grosbeaks are migratory birds, so they don’t stick around for long. Look for them mid-April through mid-May, and again in September through October.