The purpose of this article is to reveal Illinois backyard bird migration facts so you know what to expect when they’re on the move in spring and fall. Also, since migration patterns vary from one species to another, you’ll learn which ones migrate out of Illinois for a season or two, which ones are just passing through, and which Illinois birds don’t migrate at all.
I’ve been a backyard birdwatcher for more than 25 years in my home state of Wisconsin – just a hop, skip, and jump north of Illinois – so I know my birds! For any species, I’m not familiar with I turn my attention to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society, and a variety of other expert bird references to fill in the gaps.
Illinois Backyard Birds
While Illinois is home to hundreds of wild bird species, the focus of this article is on common backyard birds. The table below lists the common Illinois backyard birds along with their migration status.
Then shortly, I’ll share photos & appearance descriptions of each species for easy identification, diet & habitat information to determine if they’d find your backyard appealing, and range maps showing where in the state you can expect to see them.
|American Tree Sparrow
|Black Capped Chickadee
|Dark Eyed Junco
Illinois Backyard Birds that Don’t Migrate
Like it or not, the following backyard birds do not migrate. This means you can enjoy the ones that you love year-round! They remain in Illinois (or a part of the state) to breed, raise young, winter, etc. They do not leave.
While this may be great for some species – it also means the ones you don’t favor never leave. House sparrows anyone?
- Black Capped Chickadee
- Blue Jay
- Carolina Chickadee
- Downy Woodpecker
- Eurasian Collared-Dove
- European Starling
- Hairy Woodpecker
- House Finch
- House Sparrow
- Northern Cardinal
- Northern Mockingbird
- Pileated Woodpecker
- Red-Bellied Woodpecker
- Rock Pigeon
- White-Breasted Nuthatch
Appearance: Black-capped chickadees are small birds about 5 1/4″ long. They have a black cap – as well as a black throat and cheek. They have a white breast and belly, the body and wings are a gray-olive color with edges of white and the wing/belly edge is a soft “buff” tan.
During the summer, the buff area is more faded.
Diet: Insects & spiders (including their eggs & pupae), seeds, and small fruits, and berries. Feeder food: Black-oil sunflower & safflower seeds (They peck a hole in the shell to get at the tiny seed bits inside), suet, peanut butter, and hulled peanuts.
Habitat: You’ll find this bird along the edges of forests and open wooded areas – including your backyard or even tree-lined parks in the city. They will also hang out in shrubs and willow thickets. Trees are still important for this bird because they are cavity nesters.
Migration: Black-capped chickadees are not migrators. They remain in Illinois year-round range all seasons of the year.
Appearance: Large bird 12″ long, medium blue & white body, blue crest (which he flattens at will), gray belly, and white face. White & blue wings with black spots. Females look the same.
Diet: Insects, fruit, seeds, nuts, other birds’ eggs, and nestlings. Feeder food: Whole peanuts, sunflower seeds, and cracked corn.
Habitat: Forested areas with mixed tree types. Also common in suburbs and urban areas.
Migration: Blue jays are not migrators. They remain in Illinois for all 4 seasons. In rare cases, some will head west of the great plains for the winter, but the majority remain in Illinois and the other states within their year-round range.
Wouldn’t you love to have blue jays in your yard? Check out: 7 Proven Ways to Attract Blue Jays to Your Yard.
Appearance: The Carolina chickadee is a small bird about 5″ long. They’re primarily gray on top and white underneath. They have a black cap & throat, white cheeks that fade to gray in the back, and buffy tan flanks.
Diet: Insects, spiders, seeds, and small fruits.
Feeder food: Sunflower seeds, peanut chips, and suet.
Habitat: Woodlands and wooded edges, suburbs, and city parks.
Nesting: Carolina chickadees are cavity nesters – usually in an old woodpecker hole. They have 1 brood/season with 5-8 eggs/brood. Incubation lasts for 12-15 days and fledglings leave the nest at about 16-19 days post-hatch.
Migration: Carolina chickadees are not migrators. They remain in their year-round range for all 4 seasons of the year.
Year-round range: Southeastern US states.
Appearance: Downy woodpeckers are small birds 6″ – 7″ long. Males are tuxedo-black with a white stripe on the back, white belly, white outer tail feathers, some spotted areas of white on the wings, a yellow/tan spot above the beak, and the infamous red patch on his head at the back of the crown. Females are nearly identical without red coloring.
Diet: Insects, and fruit from trees/shrubs. Feeder food: Suet, peanut butter spread, Sunflower seeds, Safflower seeds, hulled peanuts, corn, fruits, nectar (sugar water).
Habitat: Anywhere there are trees.
Migration: Downy woodpeckers are not migrators. They remain in Illinois for all four seasons.
Eurasian Collared Dove
Appearance: The Eurasian collared dove is a large bird about 12 1/2″ long, gray/tan with a black collar on the back of its neck. Eyes are large and black, bill long and slightly curved down. They have a long, squared-off tail with a white tip best seen from underneath.
Diet: Seeds, grain, berries, and insects.
Feeder food: Millet on the ground or platform feeder.
Habitat: They live in towns, suburbs, and farms.
Migration: Eurasian-collared doves do not migrate. They remain in Illinois for all seasons of the year.
Appearance: Medium-sized bird about 7 1/2″ long with iridescent shades of purple and black with white speckles throughout. They have a long pointed gray bill in fall and yellow in spring. The tail is short. The Female looks the same.
Diet: Insects, seeds, fruit.
Feeder food: Everything and anything you could offer at the feeder.
Habitat: Urban and residential areas throughout the US and Canada including backyard lawns, parks, and fields.
Migration: North American European starlings are not migrators. They remain in Illinois all seasons of the year.
Appearance: A medium-sized black-and-white bird about 9″ long with a white belly, and black wings with white spots. A white stripe runs down the back. They have a red mark on the back of the head and a long black bill. The Female is the same except with no red mar
Diet: Insects, seeds, nuts.
Feeder food: Suet, hulled peanuts.
Habitat: Mature forested areas, urban and suburban areas where dense trees are found.
Migration: Hairy woodpeckers are not migrators. They remain in Illinois all seasons of the year.
|House finches are a small bird about 5″ long, orange/red face chest, and rump. Brown wings streaked with white. White belly with brown streaks. The Female and juvenile are brown with streaks of white.
|Seeds, fruit, tree buds.
|Black oil sunflower seed is their favorite.
|House finches are found in the western and eastern parts of the US. They prefer to live around human dwellings (buildings, backyard trees, and shrubs, barns. Also are found in parks and other urban areas.
|House finches are not migrators They remain in Illinois throughout all seasons of the year.
Appearance: The house sparrow is a small bird about 6″ long. They’re brown with a large black spot on the chin down to the chest. They have white wing bars, a gray belly & crown. The female is a bit smaller, all light brown and no black.
Diet: Seeds, insects, fruit.
Feeder food: Black oil sunflower seed, cracked corn, peanut hearts, millet, and milo.
Habitat: Around people and buildings in the city, towns, villages, suburbs, and farms.
Migration: House sparrows are not migrators. They remain in Illinois year-round.
Appearance: Northern cardinals are medium-sized bright red birds about 8 1/2″ long with a black mask, red crown, orange beak, and black areas on wings and tail. The female also has an orange beak but
Diet: Insects, spiders, centipedes, snails, and slugs. Fruit and seeds from plants.
Feeder food: Black-oil sunflower seed, safflower seed, mealworms, striped Sunflower seed, hulled peanuts, and cracked corn.
Habitat: Edges of wooded areas to thickets, tangled vines, city parks, and our backyard gardens.
In the southwest live around desert washes, areas thick with mesquite, and along the riverbanks of wooded areas.
Migration: Cardinals do not leave Illinois for the winter. They remain in the state all seasons of the year.
Appearance: Northern mockingbirds are about 10″ long. They have gray above and white below. Wings are dark gray with patches of white. They have long beaks and yellow eyes.
Diet: Insects and berries.
Feeder food: Suet
Habitat: Northern mockingbirds prefer thickets and brushy areas with open areas nearby.
Migration: Northern mockingbirds do not migrate. They remain in Illinois year-round.
Did you know the Mockingbird is a symbol of adaptability and creativity? When you encounter one it may be trying to encourage you to be open to new ideas or explore your creative potential.
Appearance: The pileated woodpecker is a large bird about 19″ in length. They’re mostly black with white stripes on their face and neck with white underwings. The flaming red triangle-shaped crest is unmistakable and the male also has a red stripe on his cheek. The female is the same except her crest does not go all the way to her bill. And, she does not have a red stripe on her cheek.
Diet: Insects, especially carpenter ants.
Feeder food: Suet, shelled peanuts, safflower seed, sunflower seed, and
songbird fruit & nut seed mix.
Habitat: Forests and wooded areas that offer tall deciduous (leafy trees like maple & beech), coniferous trees (like evergreen & pine), and lower fruit & nut-bearing trees & shrubs.
Nesting: They excavate their own cavity in a tree. They have 3-6 white eggs per brood and incubate them for 15-18 days.
Migration: Pileated woodpeckers are not migrators. They remain in Ilinois year-round.
Appearance: The red-bellied woodpecker is a medium-sized bird about 9 1/4″ long. They have a zebra-like striped back with a white rump. The red crown extends down the nape of the neck. The chest is tan with just a tinge of red on the belly. The females are the same except they don’t have a red crown.
Diet: Insects, nuts, fruit.
Feeder food: Suet, hulled peanuts.
Habitat: In or near forests and woodlands.
Migration: Red-bellied woodpeckers are not migrators. They remain in Illinois year-round.
Appearance: Large bird 12-14″ long, chubby with blue/gray wings with black pointy tips, short red legs, black, round wide tail, and iridescent neck.
Diet: Grains, seeds, and fruit. Commonly seen scavenging trash cans for food.
Feeder food: Millet, cracked corn, black-oil sunflower seed, safflower, peanut hearts.
Habitat: Common around cities and towns as well as farmlands
Migration: Rock pigeons are not migrators. They remain in Illinois year-round.
Appearance: The white-breasted nuthatch is a small bird about 5-6″ long, gray/blue back, a white head with a black cap, chestnut under the tail, and a long thin pick-like beak. Females look similar except their cap and neck are gray. Usually spotted climbing upside-down on a deciduous tree foraging for insects beneath the bark.
Diet: Insects & seeds.
Feeder food: Suet, sunflower seed, shelled peanuts.
Habitat: Near mature deciduous and mixed forests; wooded suburban areas such as orchards, parks, and backyards.
Migration: White-breasted nuthatches are not migrators. They remain in Illinois year-round.
Illinois Backyard Birds That Migrate
Illinois is host to many backyard birds that are migrators. However, just because they are migrators doesn’t necessarily mean that every bird of a particular species migrates out of the state. In fact, many Illinois backyard birds are considered partial migrators, which means some but not all of the species leave the state for a season or two.
Below is a list of Illinois backyard birds that migrate along with details about their migration behavior. More specifically, when you’re likely to see them in Illinois.
- American Crow
- American Goldfinch
- American Robin
- American Tree Sparrow
- Barn Swallow
- Blue Grosbeak
- Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
- Brewer’s Blackbird
- Chipping Sparrow
- Common Grackle
- Dark Eyed Junco
- Eastern Bluebird
- Golden-Crowned Kinglet
- Lark Sparrow
- Northern Flicker
- Orange-Crowned Warbler
- Pine Siskin
- Pine Warbler
- Purple Finch
- Purple Martin
- Red Crossbill
- Red-Breasted Nuthatch
- Red-Shouldered Hawk
- Summer Tanager
- Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
- Yellow Warbler
- Yellow-Rumped Warbler
Appearance: Large all-black bird about 16-20″ long, wide neck with a long straight bill. Males and females have the same appearance.
Diet: Opportunistic scavengers eat just about anything they can find on the ground – especially garbage. Natural living fare includes insects, spiders, frogs, snakes, and other birds’ eggs & young.
Feeder food: Not likely to visit a feeder.
Habitat: American crows are common birds found in every contiguous US state and most of Canada. Types of habitat include fields, open wooded and forested areas, river edges, shores, towns, cities, parks, and more. The only place you won’t find them is in the hot desert.
Migration: American crows are migrators that also maintain a year-round range. Illinois is part of their year-round range so while some migrate north in spring to breed & raise their young, most remain in Illinois for all seasons.
Appearance: The American goldfinch is a small bird about 4.5″ long, bright yellow body, black wings with white stripes, a black forehead, short orange beak. During winter has a dingy brown body, duller yellow head, and thicker white stripes on its wings. Breeding females are similar to males except their bodies are lemon yellow and their wings have more white tips
Diet: Seeds from flowers, weeds, grasses, and small trees. Some insects.
Feeder food: Thistle seed (Nyjer)
Habitat: American goldfinch is a common bird that prefers weedy fields, roadsides, orchards, and backyards.
Migration: American goldfinches are partial migrators. This means most of them remain in Illinois year-round while a population of them migrates north for spring and south for winter.
Appearance: The American robin is a medium-sized bird about 10″ long, with gray/brown upper, brown/orange underparts, yellow beak, white chin, and white surrounding eyes. orange beak. The Female has a lighter head and underparts.
Diet: Earthworms, insects, and fruit.
Feeder food: Not a feeder visitor.
Habitat: Common and pervasive throughout US and Canada. Found in fields, parks, wooded and forested areas, mountains, and backyards.
Migration: American robins are migrators. However, a significant population of them remain in Illinois, and the other parts of their year-round range, all seasons of the year.
American Tree Sparrow
Appearance: The American tree sparrow is a small bird about 6″ long. It’s brown with a tan breast and rust-colored crown. They have a single black spot in the center of the chest, a dark upper bill, and a yellow lower bill. Eyes are accented with gray eyebrows. The female looks the same.
Diet: Insects, seeds. Feeder food: Black-oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, nyjer, cracked corn, and peanut hearts.
Habitat: Wooded areas, especially on edges.
Migration: American tree sparrows are migrators. While they head north into Canada and Alaska in spring, they head into Illinois and other southern states for the winter. When the snow’s flying, what a welcome surprise to see this gorgeous sparrow in the yard against a backdrop of snow!
Appearance: 7″ long, steel blue glossy on top, chestnut forehead and throat, and rust-orange underparts. Long forked tail with a white base. The female’s coloring is lighter and the tail is shorter.
Diet: Insects, preferably beetles, wasps, and flies. Drinks by skimming the surface of the water.
Feeder food: Not likely to visit a feeder.
Habitat: Open fields and pastures.
Migration: Barn swallows are migrators. In spring, they migrate to Illinois, as well as most US states and Canadian provinces, to breed and raise their young. When fall comes, they leave Illinois for warmer temperatures.
Appearance: Blue-gray gnatcatchers are tiny birds 4.25″ long, with soft blue/gray upperparts, white eye-rings, white underparts, and long black long tails with white under. The females are the same. The breeding male is accented with narrow black eyebrows.
Diet: Insects and spiders.
Feeder food: Unlikely to visit the feeder.
Habitat: Deciduous forested areas.
Migration: In spring, blue-gray gnatcatchers migrate to Illinois to breed and raise their young. Then when fall rolls around, they head back south for the winter (to southern California, southwest Arizona, along the Pacific coast of Mexico, the southernmost tip of Florida, and the Caribbean islands).
Appearance: Blue grosbeaks are medium birds about 8″ long, large, bright blue, with large silver bills, and chestnut wingbars. The female’s primary color is light cinnamon with darker-colored wings.
Diet: Insects, seeds, and grains.
Feeder food: Grain and birdseed.
Habitat: Thick shrubbery and areas with tall trees.
Migration: Blue grosbeaks are migrators. In spring, they migrate to the southern part of Illinois to breed and raise their young. Then in the fall, they head back south for the winter.
Appearance: Brewer’s blackbird is a large bird about 9″ long. They’re all black with purple and green iridescence on the head and body. The female is dull gray/brown instead.
Diet: Insects, seeds, and berries. Feeder food: Any type of seed offered on a platform feeder or scattered on the ground.
Habitat: Inhabits a variety of habitats – open woodlands, mountain meadows, city sidewalks, and suburban backyards.
Migration: Brewer’s blackbirds are migrators. While they don’t migrate to or from Illinois, they do migrate through the state in spring and fall. Scatter some birdseed on the ground in your yard and you’ve just increased your chances of seeing one up close as they travel through the land of Lincoln.
Appearance: The chipping sparrow is a small bird about 5″ long, gray/brown with a light gray chest and rusty crown. Eyes have white eyebrows with a black eye lining, a thin gray-black bill, and 2 wing bars. Males and females look the same.
Diet: Insects and seeds.
Feeder food: Black-oil sunflower seed, mixed seeds. Mostly a ground feeder.
Habitat: Open areas and edges of woodlands.
Migration: Chipping sparrows are migrators. In spring they migrate to Illinois, as well as most US states, to breed and raise young. Then in the fall, they head back south out of Illinois to warmer climates.
Appearance: The common grackle is a large bird about 12.5″ long bird with iridescent blue purple and bronze. Their eyes are yellow and they have long flared tails. The female is similar with less vibrant coloring (browner) and a shorter tail.
Diet: Insects, grains, seeds, fruit, scavenged garbage.
Feeder food: Sunflower seeds, black-oil sunflower seeds.
Habitat: Fields with scattered trees, open woodlands, farmlands, and marshes. Common in suburban yards.
Migration: Common grackles are migrators. While many remain in Illinois year-round, some of them trek north in spring to breed and raise their young then south again for the winter.
Appearance: Dark-eyed juncos are tiny birds about 5.5″ – 6.5″ long. Males are dark gray with a white underside and pink bill. Females are the same except brownish gray.
Diet: Insects, spiders, seeds. Feeder food: Nyjer, black-oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, cracked corn, hulled peanuts, and suet.
Habitat: Juncos are found across the US and Canada so can be found in a variety of habitats including forested areas (both coniferous and deciduous), wide-open spaces, partially wooded edges, parks, and backyards.
Migration: Dark-eyed juncos are migrators and only visit Illinois for the winter. They’re another species that delights Illinoisans with their snowy presence – even if just for one season. Their cute little squeaks and beeps can be heard in nearly all backyards. Offer their favorite feeder food and they may stay all season long.
Want to see dark-eyed juncos in your yard? Check out my article: 7 Proven Ways to Attract Dark-Eyed Juncos.
Appearance: Eastern bluebirds are small birds about 7″ long, royal blue, orange throat & breast, white belly & undertail. Female is similar but with more muted colors
Diet: Insects & spiders in spring/summer. Small fruit in Fall/Winter.
Feeder food: Suet, sunflower seeds, dried fruit, jelly.
Habitat: Wide-open spaces, fields, meadows.
Migration: Some eastern bluebirds are migrators but the ones in Illinois stay all year long. Those that do migrate head north in spring for breeding and raising their young then head south in winter.
Appearance: Golden-crowned kinglets are small birds about 4″ long, olive-green in color with crowns striped with reddish/orange and white stripes above & below the eyes. Females are the same except for their crowns are yellow instead
Diet: Insects and spiders.
Feeder food: Suet.
Habitat: In their year-round area, they generally inhabit mountainous regions with abundant coniferous trees. They nest in mixed forested areas and within small groups of trees with minimal or no undergrowth.
Migration: Golden-crowned kinglets are migrators. While they don’t migrate to Illinois, they do migrate through the state twice a year. Offer suet in spring and fall, you may be rewarded with a visit from a golden-crowned kinglet!
Appearance: The lark sparrow is a medium-sized bird about 7″ long. They’re primarily brown with striped patterns of chestnut, tan, white, and dark brown on its head. Underneath is a buffy tan with a dark brown spot in the middle of its chest.
Diet: Weed and grass seeds as well as insects.
Feeder food: Millet and cracked corn scattered beneath the feeder.
Habitat: Varied habitats comprised of grassy areas, trees, shrubs, prairies, hedgerows, and desert scrub.
Migration: Lark sparrows are migrators. In the spring, they migrate north into Illinois to breed and raise their young. The far northeastern corner of the state is unlikely to see these sparrows, but 85% of the state will enjoy them! Then in the fall, they leave Illinois and return to their year-round range in Texas or western California or further south into Mexico.
Appearance: The northern flicker is a large bird about 12.5″ long. They have brown backs with black bars, a black crescent on the upper chest, and white with black spots on the belly and underparts.
• In the eastern part of their range, they are referred to as “yellow-shafted northern flickers” and have bright yellow underwings and undertail. They have a gray crown, tan face, and a red patch on the nape. The male has a black swipe on his cheek, the female does not.
• In the western part of their range, they are referred to as “red-shafted northern flickers” and have pink underwings and undertail, brown crown, gray face, and crown & nape are brown. The male has a red swipe on his cheek, the female does not
Diet: Insects, especially ants.
Feeder food: Hulled peanuts and suet.
Habitat: Open areas near trees.
Migration: The majority of northern flickers remain in their year-round range, which includes Illinois, however, some do migrate. If you live in Illinois the chances are great you’ll spot one of these amazing woodpeckers.
Appearance: The orange-crowned warbler is a small bird about 5″ long. They are olive-green and yellow throughout with an orange crown that is barely visible. There’s a subtle dark line that runs through the eyes. They have yellow underneath that’s smudged with olive green.
Diet: Insects, small berries, and nectar. Feeder food: Suet and peanut butter spread.
Habitat: The orange-crowned warbler is found in a variety of habitats within its range from low-growing shrubs and thickets to coastal canyons and backyard gardens.
Migration: Orange-crowned warblers are migrators. Although they don’t spend much time in Illinois, they do pass through on their way to their northern breeding grounds in spring, and southern wintering area in fall. If you have suet or peanut butter spread available as they’re traveling through Illinois you may be able to entice them to your yard – even if just for a day.
Appearance: Small brown bird about 5″ long with streaks on the back, breast, and belly. They have some yellow in the wing bars at end of the tail. The Female is the same.
Diet: Seeds, insects.
Feeder food: Black-oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, suet & fruit.
Habitat: Open areas, wooded edges.
Nesting: Cup-shaped nest for 2 broods/year. 3-4 eggs/brood that is green/blue with brown spots. Incubation is 12-13 days.
Migration: Most pine siskins are migrators. They’re another species that doesn’t settle in Illinois but instead passes through on their way to their breeding or wintering territory. If your yard includes open areas or wooded edges, you may see them stop and refuel while migrating through.
Appearance: The pine warbler is a yellow bird about 5 1/2″ long. The wings are brown with white and rump tan. They have short stubby bills, a subtle dark streak behind the eye, and bright yellow eyering. The female is duller and has a white belly.
Diet: Insects, berries, and seeds. Feeder food: Millet, sunflower seed, cracked corn, peanuts, and suet.
Habitat: Mixed forested areas.
Migration: Many pine warblers are migrators. While a population of them settle in southern Illinois in spring to breed, even more fly through the state while migrating in spring and fall. This means no matter where you live in the state you have a chance of seeing this cute little bird – especially if you lived in a mixed wooded area and offer their favorite feeder foods: millet, sunflower seed, cracked corn, peanuts, or suet.
Appearance: Small bird about 6″ long with a raspberry-red head with lighter shades on the breast, back, and rump. The wings and tail are brown. Females are brown with brown striped breasts and white streaks across their eyes.
Diet: Seeds, insects, and fruit.
Feeder food: Black oil sunflower seeds are their favorite.
Habitat: Prefer coniferous forests in summer along with mixed forests near streams and tree-lined backyards.
Nesting: Purple finches’ nests are found anywhere from 2-60′ off the ground on a tree branch and constructed from twigs, sticks, and plant roots. Lined with grass and hair.
Migration: Purple finches are migrators. They migrate to Illinois in the fall to spend the winter. Then in the spring, they head north into Canada to breed & raise young.
Appearance: The purple martin is a medium bird about 8.5″ long with a blue/purple head, back, and belly with black wings and tail.
Diet: Insects especially dragonflies.
Feeder food: Unlikely to visit a feeder.
Habitat: Usually within 100′ of human dwelling. Purple Martins exist in large colonies.
Migration: Purple martins are migrators. They migrate to Illinois in spring to breed and raise young. When fall rolls around, they migrate back to South America for the winter.
Appearance: The red crossbill is a small bird about 6.2″ long, dark red-orange with brown singes and tail. Their bill is long, pointed, and “crossed”. A brighter color of red on the head and rump. No crown. The female and young are pale yellow and gray.
Diet: Seeds – especially those inside pinecones. The bird’s “crossbill” is designed to pry open pinecones to get at the seed inside.
Feeder food: Black oil sunflower seed.
Habitat: Red crossbills either remain in their year-round territory for winter or expand south to create a wide winter range that includes Canada, the Pacific Northwest, states west of the Great Plains, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, and Massachusettes. They prefer mature coniferous forests.
Migration: While many red crossbills remain in their year-round range all seasons of the year, many migrate south for the winter. While they’re rare to see in Illinois during winter, there is still a chance so keep the black-oil sunflower seed stocked and they may stop by!
Appearance: The red-breasted nuthatch is a small bird about 4.5″ long, with gray/blue backs, a white head with black stripes running over either eye, orange-cinnamon-colored breast, and a pointy pick-like beak. The females look the same except their underside is a more faded color. Usually spotted climbing upside-down on a deciduous tree foraging for insects beneath the bark.
Diet: Insects, spiders, and other bugs.
Feeder food: Suet, sunflower seeds, shelled peanuts, fruit.
Habitat: Forested areas primarily comprised of coniferous trees (i.e. pines). Woodsy areas of deciduous trees in the east. Southern birds prefer mountainous regions until winter comes in which case they head to lower land.
Migration: Red-breasted nuthatches are partial migrators. They migrate north to Illinois, but just for the winter. When spring comes, they head back north into their year-round range to breed and raise young.
For more details about the Red-Breasted Nuthatch such as its mating & nesting details, how to attract them to your yard, and more: check out 7 Ways to Attract Red Breasted Nuthatches to Your Yard.
Appearance: Red-shouldered hawks are large birds of prey about 17-24″ in length with broad, brownish-red shoulders (wings) and breasts, round heads with a curved beaks, dark eyes, and black tails with white stripes. The female looks the same.
Diet: Small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds.
Feeder food: They don’t dine on feeder food.
Habitat: Wooded areas with deciduous trees and often streamsides and swamps.
Nesting: Nests are built high in a tree (40+ feet high) located in the fork of branches or beside the trunk. They have 1 brood/year, 3-4 eggs/brood and eggs are bluish-white with spots. Incubation lasts about 33 days.
Migration: The majority of red-shouldered hawks remain in their year-round range, which includes Illinois, however, some do migrate. If you live in Illinois the chances are great you’ll spot one of these amazing birds of prey in and around your yard.
Appearance: The summer tanager is a small bird about 6.5-7″ long, with bright red all over, a long tan beak, a medium-length tail, and no crown. Female and juvenile are yellow.
Diet: Insects, especially bees and wasps. Also dine on spiders, cicadas, beetles, ants, and termites. Fruit including mulberries, pokeweed, citrus, and bananas.
Feeder food: Unlikely to visit a feeder. However, they can be enticed by planting berry trees and shrubs – especially near a forested area.
Habitat: Open forested areas that contain deciduous & pine trees throughout much of south-central and southeastern US.
Nesting: The nest is constructed primarily from dried grasses and herbs into a small cavity and often placed at the fork of tree branches. 1-2 broods/season, 3-4 eggs/brood, incubation is 11-12 days and the young fledge after about 8-12 days. Eggs are pale blue/green with brown spots.
Migration: Summer tanagers are migrators. In the spring, they migrate to Illinois (except in the northeastern section) to breed and raise their young. Then in the fall, they migrate back south for the winter.
Appearance: The yellow warbler is a small bird about 5″ long primarily yellow with orange streaks on the chest and belly, and black-streaked wings. Bill is long, pointy, and gray. The Female is a muted olive-green version of the male without the orange chest.
Feeder food: Unlikely to visit a feeder.
Habitat: Shrubby areas and gardens, willows, wet thickets, and roadsides.
Migration: Yellow warblers are migrators. In the spring, they migrate north to Illinois to breed and raise their young. Then in the fall, they migrate back south for the winter.
Appearance: Small bird about 8-9″ long with a checkered back. They have a red forehead, crown, and chin. The chest and belly are tan to yellow and have white wing patches. The Female is similar except she has a white marking on her chin.
Diet: Berries and fruit, bast (inner bark of a tree), few insects.
Feeder food: Suet.
Habitat: They prefer densely wooded areas with living trees (most woodpeckers prefer dead trees).
Migration: Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are migrators. Right around mid-September through October, they migrate south to the southern half of Illinois for the winter. Then around the April-early May timeframe, they begin their migration north in search of ideal nesting conditions. If you live in the northern half of Illinois there’s a great chance of spotting yellow-bellied sapsuckers as they migrate through the state.
Appearance: The male yellow-rumped warbler is slate gray with a black mask and beak. Yellow patches on the sides of its lower belly, head, and rump. White and gray striped throughout chest and belly. The female is similar but duller in color and browner than she is slate gray.
Diet: Insects, berries.
Feeder food: Peanuts, mealworms, nectar, fruit, suet with peanut butter.
Habitat: Just about anywhere as they are very adaptable. Found in woods, bogs, forest and wooded edges, coniferous and deciduous trees, and wide-open areas.
Nesting: The female builds a cup-shaped nest in a tree, has 2 broods per year, 4-5 eggs per brood, and eggs are white with brown spots and incubated between 12-13 days.
Migration: Yellow-rumped warblers are migrators. In the fall they migrate to Illinois for the winter. Then in the spring, they migrate north to Canada to breed and raise their young. If you live in the northwestern part of Illinois, they may not stay long because they’re just passing through. If you offer some peanuts, suet, or peanut butter and I bet they’ll stop for a snack.
Variety is the spice of life and migrating birds are just the amount of variety needed spice up the Illinois landscape.
Some species, like the orange-crowned and pine warblers, delight Illinoians for a few days to a week as they migratea through.
Cuties like the dark-eyed juncos and American tree sparrows may visit just for the winter, but how breathtaking they are against a backdrop of midwest snow.
Then there are the species that don’t migrate and bless us with their presence year-round, like the northern cardinal, chickadees, and woodpeckers. Who could ever tire of seeing these wonderful birds?
No matter where your backyard resides in Illinois, I hope this article has provided you with the information you need to know which birds migrate, which ones don’t, and which ones are just passing through so you can get out in your yard to say hello.