Home Birding on Broadmeade Birding Articles Top 20 Bird List Challenge
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Tuesday, 09 June 2009 19:52

Have you tried identifying a few birds in the neighborhood but been frustrated by all the possibilities in the bird books? Here's another approach.  Based on my 3 years of neighborhood records, here is a list of the 20 most common birds in our neighborhood that live here year-round, and that can be found in our yards.  If you're trying to identify a bird in your yard, check this list first.  It will help narrow things down and it won't be as overwhelming as an entire bird field guide.  Each bird on the list has a link to Cornell's online bird guide where you can see pictures of it and listen to its song and calls.  And some have links to my past NASWC articles.  I even have pictures of most of them taken in the neighborhood.  But wait, there's more!

I have photos of most of the Top-20 birds located here.

The Challenge

This list is a great starting point for learning our neighborhood birds, so I challenge anyone interested to find and identify every bird on this list!  Start on any date after you read this article and keep a list of each bird you identify with a quick note about where and when you saw it.  You don't have to limit yourself to your yard, but let's limit the challenge to the official NASWC area as defined by the NASWC map.

Fame and Glory

The Challenge is ongoing, so email me your list as you make progress, with your name and the street you live on.  In the upcoming email newsletters we will list all the Challengers who have reported at least 5 out of the 20 birds, along with their street and their current count.  Impress your neighbors with your birding skills!


On my bird walks, the birds you see with me do not count for the Challenge, but please still come!  I can help you learn the Top 20 Birds on my walks, but they only count for the Challenge when you find and identify them on  your own.  It's the best and most satisfying way to learn them!

There are plenty of birds around that are not on this list.  For example, right now we have common summer residents like Barn Swallows, Common Nighthawks, Chimney Swifts, and hummingbirds.  These are neat birds to see and learn (aren't they all?) but they are not part of the Challenge.  If there's interest I'll make a similar list for our new Lake Creek Trail and the Town and Country playing fields.  And I'll make list additions for common summer and winter resident birds.  But for now we just have the NASWC Top 20.  Have fun!

And as always, if you have questions or comments or if you are interested in the neighborhood bird walk, email me!

Mikael Behrens
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The NASWC Top 20 Backyard Birds

1.  Red-shouldered Hawk

This is our most common hawk and it lives, hunts, and nests right in our yards.  The adult's red shoulders are sometimes hidden, but its reddish barred breast and grayish face are better ways to recognize this species.  Juveniles are tricky!


2.  White-winged Dove

This should be the easiest bird to find on the list.  It's probably the most numerous bird in the neighborhood.  It's a large dove with big white wing patches, visible even when the wings are folded as a white crescent leading-edge.

Neighborhood Doves


3.  Mourning Dove

Slightly smaller than the White-winged, this dove has a longer more pointed tail, dark spots on its back, and no white wing patches.  It's more common in the more open areas of the neighborhood like the Town and Country playing fields, but it can still be found among our houses.

Neighborhood Doves


4.  Eastern Screech-Owl

Probably the easiest way to see this small grey owl is to put up an owl box in your yard, or visit a neighbor who already has an occupied owl box.  But hearing one is usually much easier.  In some places in the neighborhood their eerie descending whinny and long single-note whistled trill are common nighttime sounds.  Listen at the second link below.

Neighborhood Owls


5.  Red-bellied Woodpecker

This large woodpecker is about the same size as a Blue Jay.  Its red belly is rarely visible but you can look for the finely barred black-and-white back, gray-tan breast and face, and bright red back-of-the-neck-and-head.  The male's crown is also red.  Listen for its distinctive single notes, and its harsh rattling (often descending) call.  Listen at the link below. 


6.  Downy Woodpecker

This tiny woodpecker is barely bigger than a House Sparrow.  It's mostly black-and-white, with a vertical white stripe going down its back.  The male has a little spot of red on the back of its head.  Its voice is a high pitched, loud, slightly descending whinny: "ki ki ki ki kikikikikikiki!"  Listen at the link below.


7.  Blue Jay

Our only common blue bird, these members of the crow family are large, loud, gregarious, obnoxious, and beautiful.  And they are easy to find.


8.  Carolina Chickadee

This small active bird has a gray back and a black-and-white face that is unmistakeable.  Groups of 1-6 can be found hopping and flying around in the tree canopy, gleaning bugs off the leaves and twigs. It is almost always making a sound of some sort, from its 4 note whistled song to a variety of scolds and call notes.


9.  Black-crested Titmouse

Also known as the Tufted Titmouse, this bird is closely related to the Carolina Chickadee but less common and slightly larger.  It is mostly grey and white, with a black pointed crest and peach-colored sides.  It is also an active and vocal forager in the tree canopy, and is often found with chickadees.


10.  Carolina Wren

This small brown bird with a white stripe over its eye and slightly curved bill is extremely active and usually found near the ground.  It is very similar in appearance to the Bewick's Wren but its voice is very different.  It is often heard easier than seen, and its loud 3-4 syllable whistled song is similar to the Northern Cardinal.  Listen at the second link below.

Neighborhood Wrens


11.  Bewick's Wren

This small brown bird with a white stripe over its eye and slightly curved bill is extremely active and can be found high in the canopy or low near the ground.  It is very similar in appearance to the Carolina Wren but its voice is very different.  Listen at the second link below.

Neighborhood Wrens


12.  American Robin

A few neighbors have told me that they don't know any birds except the "Robin Red-breast".  That's this bird!  It's more common in the winter but a few nest in our neighborhood in the summer too.  You can find them on lawns, looking for bugs and worms, and you can listen for the very distinctive noises they make.


13.  Northern Mockingbird

Our state bird, the Mockingbird is mostly grey with a relatively long tail and large white patches on its wings that you can see when it flies.  Mockingbirds are more common on the Town and Country playing fields and the Lake Creek Trail but there are a few around our houses too.


14.  European Starling

Probably the second most common neighborhood bird after the White-winged Dove, this non-native species is relatively short and squat-looking, and black or dark brown.  Its spring and summer breeding plumage is brilliantly iridescent  and speckled.  The range of sounds it makes is amazing.

Blackbirds on Broadmeade


15.  Northern Cardinal

The bright red male with its raised crest and black face is unmistakeable.  The female is a warm brown color with red highlights, including a red bill.  It also has a crest.  The male's song is very similar to the Carolina Wren's.  Learning to distinguish them is a great way to sharpen your listening skills.


16.  Common Grackle

These are not the grackles you see roosting by the hundred in trees over urban parking lots.  They are slightly smaller, differently colored, and make different sounds.  According to my records, these birds disappear from the neighborhood from mid December until early February -- a mystery!.

Blackbirds on Broadmeade


17.  Great-tailed Grackle

Larger than the Common Grackle, these are the infamous birds that are almost ubiquitous in our urban areas.  They are common in the neighborhood too, but in smaller numbers.  The males are glossy iridescent blue-black, and they make incredible noises.

Blackbirds on Broadmeade


18.  Lesser Goldfinch

Sometimes called "wild canaries", these small yellow-and-black birds can be found at backyard thistle feeders, or hanging onto sunflower plants and eating the seeds.  I usually find them singly or in male-female pairs.  The male's song sounds like a gate swinging on a rusty hinge.  This might be the hardest bird to find on the list.


19.  House Finch

The House Finch and the Northern cardinal are the only common birds we have that are red.  The male House Finch looks like it has been splashed with red paint on its face and breast.  The female is grey-brown with heavy streaking on its breast and belly.


20.  House Sparrow

Like the Starling, the House Sparrow is a non-native species that is extremely common in our neighborhood.  Its name is appropriate since it is so often found around our houses.  The males are an attractive combination of chestnut-brown, tan, black, grey, and white. The females are a more subtle combination of browns, tans, and grays.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 June 2009 16:59