“There are approximately ten thousand species of birds on the planet and no single individual has seen them all.” ― Bernd Brunner
Using the right birdseed, fruits, feeders, and nest boxes, birds will enjoy visiting your backyard. This list describes 12 of the most common birds in Ontario, where they enjoy living, and what they eat. Using this information, you may just be able to attract these beautiful creatures to your backyard.
1. American Robin
“The early bird gets the worm!” Pulling earthworms out of the ground by the break of dawn makes the easily identifiable orange-breasted American Robin a favourite of many bird lovers. This songbird is known for its happy tune that lets all bird watchers know its in the area. Robins primarily live in open woodlands but are also known to make their nests on window ledges, eavestroughs, or any available area that’s above ground.
If you are lucky, you may see the classic little blue-green robin egg on your property during the spring. Over the course of a year – starting in early spring – the robin can lay up to three clutches of offspring. However, not all broods are successful, with only 25% of the young surviving until the winter.
Robins are mainly ground foraging insectivores. In the morning, robins can be seen eating earthworms brought to the top of the lawn from the morning due. By afternoon, robins prefer to eat fruits and berries. Since robins scour the ground for insects, they are extremely susceptible to poisoning from pesticides. Robins’s main predators are snakes, cats, and hawks.
Want to try to attract a Robin, try this robin feeder!
2. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
A splash of red upon the breast of this black and white songbird makes the rose-breasted Grosbeak easy to spot when eating seeds from the feeder. While males have a vibrant redbreast, the females of the species are brown and less colourful. Rose-breasted grosbeaks live in woodlands and forests. They like to make their nests in the crotch of a tree.
Both male and female grosbeaks share the responsibility of building the nest and incubating the brood. During mating season grosbeaks are primarily monogamous. Males will take care of the nest during most of the day, while the female will incubate the remaining hours of the day and during the night. A mated pair of grosbeaks will quietly sing to each other when exchanging responsibilities of incubating, whereas the male will sing during the day.
The rose-breasted grosbeak is an insectivore; however, it will also forage for berries, fruits, and seed. Insects it eats include ants, beetles, bees, and butterflies. Fresh raspberries, blackberries, and mulberries will entice a grosbeak as well as sunflower seeds, oats, tree buds, and oats. Hawks are the rose-breasted grosbeaks’ main predator.
Want to try to attract a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, try this seed!
3. House Finch
The house finch is an adorable red-headed and breasted bird that sings a cheery tune all across North America. Commonly seen in cities and urban areas, the house finch can build its nest on streetlamps, on branches of trees, and even on cacti. Most house finches seen today are descended from a group of house finches that were being sold as house birds; after the failure of sales, the sellers let the birds free in 1940 on Long Island, New York.
Sometimes house finches use abandoned nests of other birds to rear their brood. They lay 2 to 6 eggs per brood and can have up to 6 broods a year. You can easily spot the house finch perching upon the top of trees, as they prefer to have a high vantage point.
House finches are predominantly vegetarian and a ground forager. Their diets consist of fruits and seeds, making a feeder holding sunflower seeds one of their favourite places to eat. To maintain their red colouring, males must eat foods that have high concentrations of pigment. The brighter red the male house finch you see, the better their diet is.
Want to try to attract a House Finch, try this feeder!
4. American Goldfinch
The bright yellow bird is a must-see for birders. The American Goldfinch nest in shrubs and saplings in open areas compared to other songbirds that live in denser woodlands. They usually have 1 to 2 brood a year, usually starting nesting in midsummer. Mated goldfinches mimic each others’ songs to show other goldfinches their pairing, however, that is usually the male’s song that will be heard.
The goldfinch male is bright yellow with black and white accents on its head and wings. Female goldfinches are less bright, but still exhibit a yellow shade to their feathers. Goldfinches are known to molt biannually, once in the spring, and then again before winter. The molting in spring results in bright yellows, while the winter molt leaves the birds more mutedly toned.
The American Goldfinch is a strict vegetarian, eating only seeds and plant matter. They enjoy thistle, dandelion, and sunflower seeds, as well as tree seeds from birch and the like. It is easy to attract goldfinches to feeders if sunflower seed is present.
Want to try to attract an American Goldfinch, try this seed!
5. Black-capped Chickadee
Probably the easiest song to mimic by birdwatchers, the Chickadee’s, “chickadee-dee-dee” amplifies how cute this bird is. The Black-capped Chickadee is a fluffy bird with a slightly larger head than its body and is curious about humans. It will easily find bird feeders that are set out in the backyard or garden. They are forest dwellers, preferring deciduous trees to evergreens. Chickadees like to nest in birdboxes or cavities in trees. To make a birdbox more attractive to chickadees, sawdust can be used inside the opening.
The chickadee is an insectivore, but will also eat at feeders. They like to eat sunflower seeds, suet and peanut butter from feeders. Chickadees are known to hide their seeds to save for later and have the capacity to remember over 1000 hiding places. The chickadee-dee-dee can be used to alert other chickadees of predators. The moredeenotes in achickadee-dee-deecall, the higher the threat level. Predators include mice and squirrels.
Want to try to attract a Black-capped Chickadee, try this suet!
6. European Starling
European Starlings may be considered a noisy pest that fly in large mobs, but these beautiful shiny blue-headed birds should not be overlooked. Every starling that is in North America is descended from 100 birds that Shakespeare enthusiasts brought to New York and set free in Central Park in the 1890s. These people wanted every bird that Shakespeare mentioned within in his sonnets and plays to be present in their new homeland of North America.
The starling habituates in towns compared to many other woodland dwelling songbirds. They prefer to either nest on old buildings, eavestrough, lamp posts or birdhouses and nesting boxes. The male starling will create the nest before attracting his mate with his song. Starlings have larger broods than other songbirds, usually between 3-6 eggs, and will lay 1 to 2 broods a year.
These birds are insectivores and ground foragers. Typically seen in short vegetation areas using their beak to prod open the ground to find invertebrates that live in the soil, the starling eats caterpillars, snails, earthworms, and more. They can also eat berries and seeds.
Want to try to attract a European starling, try this birdhouse!
7. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
You will probably hear a hummingbird before you see it because of the drone humming noise from beating its wings approximately 53 times a second. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is a gleaming emerald green bodied bird with a ruby upper breast that zips around from nectar source to nectar source.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only hummingbird that mates and breeds in North America. The male only stays for mating which can take a few days to a couple of weeks, and then is ready to begin migration by early August on his own. The female makes the nest that is the size of a thumbnail and lays 1-3 eggs.
Hummingbirds feed on nectar. They prefer to drink from bright red and orange flowers that have ultraviolet colouring that their eyes can see, but human eyes can’t, to direct them to the source of the nectar. Sometimes hummingbirds will eat insects out of spider’s webs or eat them mid-flight. These insects include mosquitos, fruit flies, and gnats.
Want to try to attract a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, check out this feeder!
8. Northern Cardinal
Named for the bright red crest that shares a resemblance to the hat worn by high ranking church officials, the Northern Cardinal is an easily recognizable bird. The female cardinals may be less red, but still have a bright red beak and red accents throughout its feathers.
Cardinals maintain their beautiful colours throughout the year and do not molt the colour during the winter. Cardinals are considered a winter songbird since they do not migrate. They nest in shrubs that are generally found in open woodland areas. Male cardinals are known for their territorial behaviour and can sometimes even be seen trying to attack their own reflections.
Whereas many other songbird females do not sing, the female cardinal has an equally beautiful song to her male counterpart. They use their songs to communicate about the nest and feeding needs. These beautiful birds are ground foragers and their diets mainly consist of seeds and fruits. They may sometimes snack on the occasional insect as well.
Want to try to attract a cardinal, try this seed!
9. Downy Woodpecker
Not unlike their cartoon counterpart Woody, the Downy Woodpecker lets you know it’s around by its canonical tapping. Against popular belief, the drumming woodpeckers do against trees and other objects is not them drilling for food. It is the woodpecker’s way of communicating since it does not sing.
Downy woodpeckers prefer to build their nests in dead trees. It takes 1 to 3 weeks for the woodpecker couple to dig out a hole for their nest. These insectivores not only eat caterpillars and other little bugs found in the bark but do enjoy suet and peanut butter on a feeder. Downy woodpeckers also eat grains, corn, sunflower seed, and berries. These woodpeckers constantly fly back and forth between feeders to get their fill.
Downy Woodpecker males have a red crest on the back of their heads, whereas the female lacks this. The Downy woodpecker is similar in size and appearance to the Hairy Woodpecker.
Want to try to attract a Downy Woodpecker, try this upside-down feeder!
10. Song Sparrow
The quirky little Song Sparrow uses its song to both attract a mate and defend its territory. Song sparrows are rusty brown with grey splashes amongst its feathers with a white chest. The song sparrow likes to live in open woodlands under or in shrubs. In more residential areas a song sparrow may decide to make its nest in a rosebush or inside flower beds. These tiny birds can have up to 7 broods a year, rearing 1-6 offspring per brood.
These sparrows are ground foragers, secretively hunting for insects. Their diet consists of caterpillars, beetles, and spiders. Song Sparrows also enjoy berries and seeds.
Want to try to attract a song sparrow, try this seed!
11. Baltimore Oriole
The beautiful orange breast of the Baltimore Oriole is one of the most gorgeous songbirds to attract to your backyard. The Baltimore Oriole is named after the crest, coloured orange and black, of the English Baltimore family. They sing a stunning melody from the branches near treetops.
These birds live in open woodlands, nesting up high in trees. Orioles only have 1 brood a year, laying 1 to 7 eggs. Females primarily build the nest using delicate fibers they find and will recycle nest materials yearly.
These birds are insectivores but are easily enticed by fresh, ripe fruit. The oriole is easy to attract if you have the right feeder set up with oranges, nectar, and jelly. Baltimore orioles seek out the ripest, dark coloured fruits, so using a special oriole feeder will be sure to lure this lucrative songbird to it. The Baltimore Oriole may also dig its beak into fruit in a manner called gaping to drink the juice.
Want to try to attract a Baltimore Oriole, try this feeder!
12. Blue Jay
With the capital of Ontario’s baseball team named after this beautiful blue songbird, it was hard not to mention the Blue Jay on this list. The blue jay is one of two crested birds in the Jay family. The blue feathering is due to special cells on the feathers that disperse the light though the melatonin, which is a brown pigment, producing a blue colour to the eye.
Blue jays prefer to live in forested areas, and nest in the large branches of both deciduous and coniferous trees. Blue Jays only have one brood with 2 to 7 eggs a year.
Blue Jays are omnivores meaning they eat both plant material as well as animals. Blue jays are ground foragers and will eat seeds, acorns, and nuts as well as small dead vertebrate animals. They prefer hopper feeders instead of hanging feeders. Their love for acorns is considered one of the ways that the oak tree spread through North America after the ice age.
Want to try to attract a Blue Jay, try this seed.
1. Farrand, John Jr. (1988). Eastern Birds. New York, USA. McGraw-Hill Book Company.
2. AllAboutBirds.com (2019). Welcome to Our Bird Guide. Cornell University.
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Danielle has a Honours Bachelor of Science in Applied Biomolecular Sciences and a graduate diploma in Human Resources Management. She enjoys writing and being outdoors, whether watching birds, swimming, or playing a game of disc golf.
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