Boston is a city teeming with life, both human and avian. With its diverse landscapes, from bustling city streets to peaceful parks and gardens, the city is home to a rich variety of bird species. Many of these birds can be found in residential areas, making it easy for anyone to enjoy their beauty and the sounds of nature right in their own backyard.
In this blog post, we will introduce you to common backyard birds in Boston that you can easily attract to your outdoor space. From the vibrant American Goldfinch to the graceful Northern Cardinal, these birds will add color, song, and joy to your daily life.
So come along and discover the avian wonders of Boston’s backyards.
1. House Sparrow
Scientific name: Passer domesticus
Length: 14-18 centimeters (5-7 inches)
Body mass: 24-39 grams
Wingspan: 19-25 centimeters (7-9 inches)
Lifespan: 3-4 years
Belonging to the family of the Old World Sparrows, the House Sparrows are a small sparrow species that originated in the Middle East but can be found in almost every part of the world today.
The plumage of House Sparrows is colored brown and grey. They display dimorphism among the adult sexes, with the males being larger in size and possessing a boldly marked plumage.
Males have a grey head, with brown patches extending from their eyes, and a black chin patch. A faint white ring marks their throat, below which their underparts are all pale grey. The mantle, wings, and tail are all brown, with black markings and two white bars on each wing.
Their female counterparts have a buff crown with a pale greyish-white chin and underbody. Their wings and upper parts are colored in a pale shade of brown with less conspicuous markings on them.
These sparrows are highly adaptive, especially near human settlements, which is why they’ve established a stable population in many other continents, including North America.
They’re widespread in all the urban areas of Boston; you’ll find them perched outside apartment buildings, flying around in parks and yards, and hanging around at cafés eating the table scraps left behind.
Attracting House Sparrows to your backyard:
Although House Sparrows are generally ground foragers, they don’t mind feeding from feeders either, as long as you set up a window or a hopper feeder.
They’re not selective eaters and can easily be attracted to seeds of millet and sunflower, oats, buckwheat, oats, and cracked corn.
2. European Starling
Scientific name: Sturnus vulgaris
Length: 19-23 centimeters (7-9 inches)
Body mass: 58-101 grams
Wingspan: 31-44 centimeters (12-17 inches)
Lifespan: 2-3 years
Also referred to as Common Starling, the European Starlings are a starling species endemic to the temperate regions of Europe and south-eastern Asia. In Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Mexico, Canada, and the U.S., they’re introduced species.
The overall plumage of European Starlings is glossy black, with an iridescent green or purple wash appearing visible in sunlight. Their eyes are dark, legs and feet are reddish, but bills change color seasonally. During breeding months, they’re yellow-billed, while their bills turn black outside of it.
Although both sexes look identical at first glance, they do possess subtle visual differences. The females’ plumages have a lesser gloss than the males, and their underparts are more heavily spotted. Furthermore, while males possess long and loose neck feathers, in females, they’re short and pointed.
A year-round resident of Boston, these starlings inhabit the marshes and coniferous forests in large flocks around the greater Boston area; you’ll also find them roosting under highway bridges. In the downtown area, they heavily populate abandoned warehouses and old buildings.
Attracting European Starlings to your backyard:
Attracting European Starlings to your yard is not at all difficult. In fact, most birders prefer to keep them away as they tend to scare smaller birds away from the backyard.
So, if you want to attract them, you should either go with a large platform feeder or tubular feeders with multiple openings to avoid ruckus. Cracked corn and sunflower kernels are both easy to eat for the starlings and, thus, their favorites.
3. Black-capped Chickadee
Scientific name: Poecile atricapillus
Length: 12-15 centimeters (4-5 inches)
Body mass: 9-14 grams
Wingspan: 16-21 centimeters (6-8 inches)
Lifespan: 1-3 years
Belonging to the Tit family, the Black-capped Chickadees are a small passerine species that reside in the mixed and deciduous forests of North America.
These chickadees have a black-and-white face with a black crown, bib, and white cheeks. Their undersides are white, with pale buff flanks. Their back, wings, and tail are all grey, with darker touches on the wings. Both sexes of these possess the same plumage, displaying dimorphism only in size, with the males being the larger sex.
These birds are both common and widespread throughout the United States and have been declared the state bird of two states: Massachusetts and Maine.
In Boston, these chickadees are just as common as in the other parts of the state. Being year-round residents, you can spot them wherever 2-3 grown trees stand erect; in pairs during spring and summer and in larger groups during fall and winter.
Attracting Black-capped Chickadees to your backyard:
Much like other small backyard birds, including buntings and finches, the Black-capped Chickadees feel most at home in house and hopper feeders.
Because these chickadees are primarily insectivores, the meal that can catch their attention quickly should include mealworms. While both frozen and live mealworms work, the latter is more appealing to them.
Other favorite foods include peanuts, peanut butter, and seeds of safflower and black-oil sunflower.
4. American Goldfinch
Scientific name: Spinus tritis
Length: 11-14 centimeters (4-5 inches)
Body mass: 11-20 grams
Wingspan: 19-22 centimeters (7-8 inches)
Lifespan: 6-11 years
The American Goldfinches are a tiny, migratory cardueline finch species endemic to temperate North America.
The adults of this species display dichromatism in their plumage. While the males possess a bright yellow plumage in their breeding months, the females’ plumage appears duller, almost brown. They also lack the black cap of the males.
During non-breeding months, the plumage of the males turns olive yellow, while that of the females grows a pale-buff shade. Both sexes have black eyes, reddish legs, and conical bills that are pale pink all year but turn bright orange during breeding months.
Of all the yellow birds that you spot in Boston, only the American Goldfinches remain here during winter, while the other songbirds migrate southward. You can spot them in the wood edges and overgrown fields of the city.
Attracting American Goldfinches to your backyard:
While American Goldfinches are found in Boston all year long, your chances of attracting them to your backyard are significantly higher during winter, when they struggle to find food in their natural habitats.
Because their diet is primarily granivorous, you can attract them by filling almost any seed in your feeder (although they do seem to enjoy eating sunflower and nyjer seeds more). Mesh-style feeders are a hit among these birds, where they can feed from different positions.
Alternatively, planting seed-bearing flower plants, especially brightly-colored ones, in your yard has also helped many birders attract the goldfinches.
5. Baltimore Oriole
Scientific name: Icterus galbula
Length: 17-22 centimeters (6-8 inches)
Body mass: 22-42 grams
Wingspan: 23-32 centimeters (9-12 inches)
Lifespan: 5-10 years
The state bird of Maryland, the Baltimore Orioles have been named after Lord Baltimore due to the similarity of their plumage color with that of the lord’s coat-of-arms.
Baltimore Orioles have a typical oriole body structure and are also sexually dimorphic like many of them. The males possess a black head, face, and mantle, with a bright yellow patch on their lower back and similarly-colored wing patches. The same color is seen on their undersides and the tip of their tail.
On the other hand, their female counterparts have a dull orange face and throat, with pale whitish underparts. Their mantle and wings are greyish-brown, while the tail has orange touches.
These icterid blackbirds are endemic to eastern North America, and are of the two oriole species found in Massachusetts (the other one being Orchard Orioles). Because they prefer open habitats to dense ones, you can easily spot them nesting on mature trees near parks, farm fields, and yards in Boston.
Attracting Baltimore Orioles to your backyard:
When it comes to attracting Baltimore Orioles to your yard, keep in mind that they’re very much like the hummers; lovers of all things sweet and bright, including nectar.
Fruit feeders are an ideal choice for them, but if you already have a nectar feeder in place, they can work as well. Just make sure your feeders have perches for them to sit and enjoy their treat.
Grapes and oranges are their favorite, but you can also pick any other tropical fruit or jelly to lure them in; as long as it is fresh, they’ll certainly indulge in them.
6. Downy Woodpecker
Scientific name: Dryobates pubescens
Length: 14-18 centimeters (5-7 inches)
Body mass: 20-33 grams
Wingspan: 25-31 centimeters (9-12 inches)
Lifespan: 1-2 years
The Downy Woodpeckers are the smallest woodpecker species you’ll find in entire North America. They’re only larger than the piculets, found abundantly in South America.
Downy Woodpeckers have a classic black-and-white plumage, with the head and undersides being white and the upper body, including wings and tail, being black. You’ll notice multiple black streaks running around their head, joining their mantle, which has a long white patch in the middle.
While their underbody is purely unmarked, the wings are covered with heavy white spotting towards the edge. Both sexes possess similar plumage and can be distinguished by their head; males have a small red patch at the back of their head, which is absent in their female counterparts.
Of the seven woodpecker species you can find in Massachusetts, the Downy are the smallest and most common ones and heavily populate Boston. While their natural habitat is in deciduous forests, they’ve adapted well to urban and suburban areas and are common visitors to orchards, cemeteries, parks, and backyards.
Attracting Downy Woodpeckers to your backyard:
The easiest way of attracting Downy Woodpeckers to your yard is a combination of a suet feeder and birdbath. Clean and fresh water is important for these birds, and as it becomes scarcer during winters, they’re more likely to visit your yard for them.
Apart from suet, sunflower seeds, corn, and peanuts are also foods you can offer them.
7. American Robin
Scientific name: Turdus migratorius
Length: 23-28 centimeters (9-11 inches)
Body mass: 59-91 grams
Wingspan: 31-41 centimeters (12-16 inches)
Lifespan: 2-14 years
American Robins might have robin in their name, but they’re members of the True Thrush family. Due to the similarity between the color of their breast and that of European Robin (Erithacus rubecula), these thrushes have been named after them.
The plumage of American Robins is colored quite distinctly, with their head and back being black, while their bills and undersides are reddish-orange, and the vent is white. White rings surround their eyes and might appear somewhat broken.
While both sexes of the species have similar plumages, the females are duller in comparison and have almost brownish underparts. Their head and upper parts also have a dull brownish wash.
Although the American Robins are the state bird of three U.S. states (Wisconsin, Connecticut, and Michigan), they’re common throughout the country. In Boston, they’re a permanent resident found in every open habitat, including the urban and suburban areas.
Attracting American Robins to your backyard:
American Robins are not your regular seed-eating birds, which is why it’s that much difficult to attract them to your backyard feeder. They have more of a sweet tooth and prefer fresh fruits and berries.
To lure them into your yard, you can place slices of apples, watermelons, grapes, blueberries, or even raisins into your feeder. Another trick is to keep a freshwater source ready and placed close to the feeder. Because they’re always seeking water, that might help them notice your feeder treatment as well!
8. Northern Cardinal
Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis
Length: 21-23 centimeters (8-9 inches)
Body mass: 33-65 grams
Wingspan: 25-31 centimeters (9-12 inches)
Lifespan: 3-8 years
The Northern Cardinals are probably the most commonly-spotted red bird throughout North America. These little songbirds have over 19 subspecies and are popular for the males’ vibrant plumages and territorial songs.
Displaying a strong dimorphism, the plumages of males and females are easily distinguishable from each other. Males possess a vibrant red plumage all over, from the crest atop their head to their tail. Only their eyes and chin are covered in a black mask.
On the other hand, the females have a greyish brown head and throat, fading into pale white towards their rump. Their brown wings and tail have touches of red, and so does their crest. The black eyes and crimson bills are common to both sexes.
Occupying a variety of open and semi-open habitats, Northern Cardinals occur in all eastern and southern U.S., and are year-round residents of Boston as well. You can spot them in woodlots, forest edges, clearings, city parks, and backyards.
Attracting Northern Cardinals to your backyard:
Northern Cardinals are large-billed birds that can gobble up larger seeds and grains with ease. Offering them seeds of white milo, safflower, and sunflower is ideal. Besides, you can also opt for corn and peanuts.
Keep an eye out for them during early mornings and late evenings because that’s their meal-time.
9. Song Sparrow
Scientific name: Melospiza melodia
Length: 11-18 centimeters (4-7 inches)
Body mass: 22-53 grams
Wingspan: 18-25 centimeters (7-10 inches)
Lifespan: 7-11 years
Of all the sparrows endemic to North America, the Song Sparrows are the most widespread and adaptive species. Belonging to the New World Sparrow family, these birds are habitat generalists and thrive around human settlements.
In appearance, these sparrows closely resemble Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis), and two are distinguished using their tail; Song Sparrows have rounded tails while that of the latter is deeply forked.
Their body is heavily streaked all over, except for their pure white belly and rump. The head and upper parts have a dark greyish-brown wash under the streaks, and there’s a black spot on their chest. Both sexes of this species appear identical, lacking any dimorphism in their plumage.
In Boston, these birds can be seen all year long, but you will notice a downfall in their numbers during harsh winters. Unlike the tree-nesting birds, these sparrows tend to nest in weeds and grass or, at times, even directly on the ground. Keep an eye out for them in shrubby, wet, and open areas.
Attracting Song Sparrows to your backyard:
Because Song Sparrows don’t take up a lot of space, both window and hopper feeders are appropriate choices for them. In terms of food, they’re open to a wide variety of foods, including buckwheat, cracked corn, oats, and seeds of sunflower and millet.
10. Mourning Dove
Scientific name: Zenaida Macroura
Length: 31 centimeters (12.2 inches)
Body mass: 112-170 grams
Wingspan: 37-45 centimeters (14-17 inches)
Lifespan: 1.5-2 years
Boston is home to two birds from the Dove & Pigeon family (Columbidae), and the Mourning Doves are one of them.
Colloquially referred to as Turtle Dove, these doves are widespread in all of North America. But while they’re hunted extensively for meat in a majority of the U.S. states, Massachusetts is one of the states where they’re protected.
Mourning Doves have a pale grey plumage with a pinkish wash on it. Some of their recognizing features include a long tail, blue eye rings, and black spotting on wings. Both sexes are quite similar; only the males are larger in size and have a bluish-grey crown patch which is absent in the females.
These doves are scattered in tiny pockets all over Boston, and can commonly be spotted in grasslands, parks, towns, suburbs, open woods, and forest clearings. They’re frequent visitors of backyard feeders as well.
Attracting Mourning Doves to your backyard:
Just like the other members of their family, Mourning Doves are also basically ground feeders. So, scattering seeds or grains directly on the ground of your yard works well for them.
Alternatively, you could also go with a ground feeder to avoid clutter. These birds can feed from platform feeders as well, provided there’s enough perching space for them there.
11. White-throated Sparrow
Scientific name: Zonotrichia albicolis
Length: 15-19 centimeters (5-7 inches)
Body mass: 22-32 grams
Wingspan: 23 centimeters (9.1 inches)
Lifespan: 9-14 years
Belonging to the family of the New World Sparrow, the White-throated Sparrows are a small sparrow species endemic to North America. These migratory birds breed in the northeastern U.S. and Canda, and travel to the eastern parts of the country during winter.
In appearance, White-throated Sparrows closely resemble the White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys), with the same buff-colored body, grey face with black markings, and brown streaks on upper parts.
Only they have a white throat patch below the bills and yellow lores, both of which are absent in the latter. The adult sexes appear alike, displaying no dimorphism in plumage or size.
In Boston, and all of Massachusetts, these sparrows are a common winter migrant. You can easily spot their flocks in weed fields, roadsides, and thickets and bushes where they nest on the ground.
Attracting White-throated Sparrows to your backyard:
Both house and hopper feeders work well for small birds like White-throated Sparrows, making your choice more flexible.
While millet is their favorite food, it can also attract larger, notorious birds like grackles and cowbirds, and those might end up drawing the sparrows away. Therefore, it’s better to offer them nyjer seeds instead.
12. Tufted Titmouse
Scientific name: Baeolophus bicolor
Length: 14-16 centimeters (5-6 inches)
Body mass: 17-28 grams
Wingspan: 20-26 centimeters (7-10 inches)
Lifespan: 1-2 years
Belonging to the family of Chickadees and tits, the Tufted Titmice are a small songbird species endemic to North America. Although these non-migratory birds were once native only to the Mississippi and Ohio river basins within the United States, they’ve since spread to many other parts of the country.
Tufted Titmice closely resemble the Oak Titmice (Baeolophus atricristatus); only they lack the black crest that the latter possess. Their plumage is a blend of grey and white, except for rufous flanks on their otherwise white undersides.
Their head, crest, and upper parts are pale grey, with dark edges on their wings and tail. Their eyes and bills are black, with black lores at the base. Both sexes are identical in plumage; only the males are slightly larger in size.
In Boston, they densely populate the Boston basin area and are commonly spotted around gardens, shrublands, and parks.
Attracting Tufted Titmice to your backyard:
Small birds like Titmice are most comfortable feeding on house feeders, so setting these up is a great way of attracting them.
Black-oil sunflower seeds and peanut butter are both their favorite; you can use either to lure them in. If there are nut trees or berry bushes in your yard, that’s a bonus treat for these birds.
13. Rock Pigeon
Scientific name: Columba livia
Length: 29-37 centimeters (11-15 inches)
Body mass: 238-640 grams
Wingspan: 62-72 centimeters (24-28 inches)
Lifespan: 6 years
Also referred to Rock Dove and Common Pigeon, the Rock Pigeons are the second member of the Columbidae family that are residents of Boston. The ancestors of the Domestic Pigeons originated in Eurasia and North Africa, but are now residents in almost every part of the world.
The plumage of these pigeons, much like most other species, is covered mostly in grey, with slate-grey colored head and tail, and a paler shade otherwise.
Some of their identification features include red irises, a white knob atop their bills, two black wing bars, and an iridescent wash of green and purple on their neck feathers. Both the males and females display little dimorphism, appearing almost identical on the surface.
Large populations of Rock Pigeons are present in all the urban areas of Boston, where they nest on window ledges, old buildings, and warehouses and gather in large flocks around city parks and gardens.
Attracting Rock Pigeons to your backyard:
Being an opportunistic feeder, Rock Pigeons are not difficult to attract to your yard. In fact, you don’t even need a feeder to lure them in, as they’re primarily ground feeders. Just scatter any seed or grain you have in your kitchen and watch them and devour those.
However, because these birds gather and feed in large flocks, many people find their presence overwhelming and seek ways to keep them off their property. If this could be a problem for you or your family, it’s best to steer clear of them.
14. Blue Jay
Scientific name: Cyanocitta cristata
Length: 22-30 centimeters (9-12 inches)
Body mass: 70-100 grams
Wingspan: 34-43 centimeters (13-17 inches)
Lifespan: 7 years
True to their name, the Blue Jays are a predominantly blue-colored corvid species endemic to eastern North America.
There are different shades of blue in the plumage of these birds, ranging from lavender-blue to cerulean blue. Their crown has the brightest shade, and so do their tail and wingtips, while the rest of their back is slightly duller.
Their crest, face, undersides, and undertail coverts are all white, with darker markings around their eyes and throat. Both sexes of this species appear identical; only the males are larger in size.
Equally common in forests and residential areas, these birds are found in the central and eastern parts of the United States. Although they’re year-round residents in Boston, some flocks have recently started traveling south during fall.
Attracting Blue Jays to your backyard:
To attract large birds like Blue Jays to your backyard, you must first install a large platform feeder with a steady placement. These birdies need more space and are uncomfortable on feeders that move aggressively.
Blue Jays dig peanuts, so you can serve them these treats in various forms, be it whole, shelled, roasted (without salt), or as homemade peanut butter.
Other food choices popular with them are sunflower seeds and cracked corn. Mealworms are also known to attract them, especially during summer.