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30 Most Common Birds in Washington, D.C.

common birds in washington d.c.
American Robin in Washington, D.C.: Photo by Gregory Gough

Introduction

The capital of the United States may not have its statehood and may not be that sizeable, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have thriving bird populations. For a large city, Washington, D.C. has a decent amount of green space and that means birds are there to be found. From the National Mall to the National Arboretum to Theodore Roosevelt Island, the capital boasts a plethora of good spaces to find a variety of birds. In this article, we’ll look into the most common birds in Washington, D.C. and describe their features, behaviors, and habitats so that you can better find and identify them during your birding outings in the capital.

Common Birds in Washington, D.C.

Jump to a species!

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

  • Features: American Robins are relatively large songbirds known for their round body, long legs, and moderately long tail. They are the largest thrushes found in North America, and their silhouette is a great example of the typical thrush shape. Robins are also useful as a size and shape comparison for other bird species. They have gray-brown plumage with bright orange underparts and dark heads. When in flight, a white area on their lower belly and under their tail is quite noticeable. Females have lighter heads than males, creating less contrast with their gray backs.
  • Behavior: American Robins are active birds that hop across lawns or stand upright with their beaks pointing upward to observe their surroundings. When landing, they often flick their tails downward multiple times. In the fall and winter, they form sizable flocks and gather in trees to rest or feast on berries.
  • Habitat: American Robins are widespread across the continent, often found in gardens, parks, yards, golf courses, fields, and pastures. They also inhabit tundra, deciduous woodlands, pine forests, shrublands, and areas of forest recovering from fires or logging.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

  • Features: The Northern Cardinal is a relatively large songbird with a long tail, a stout, thick bill, and a noticeable crest. They frequently perch in a hunched position with their tails pointing straight down. Males are vibrant red throughout, featuring a reddish bill and a black mask around the bill. Females, in contrast, are mostly pale brown with warm red highlights on their wings, tail, and crest. Both sexes share the same black facial mask and red-orange bill.
  • Behavior: Northern Cardinals typically perch low in shrubs and trees or search for food on the ground, often in pairs. They are frequent visitors at bird feeders, though they can be less noticeable when away from them—unless you recognize their loud, metallic chip call.
  • Habitat: Spot Northern Cardinals in populated areas like backyards, parks, wooded areas, and shrubby forest edges. They build their nests in dense clusters of shrubs and vines.

Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

  • Features: Starlings are robust birds about the size of blackbirds, with short tails and long, thin beaks. Their wings are short and pointed in flight, giving them the appearance of small, four-pointed stars, which inspired their name. From afar, starlings appear black. In summer, they showcase a purplish-green iridescence with yellow beaks, while their fresh winter feathers are brown with striking white speckles.
  • Behavior: Starlings are lively and noisy birds that often travel in large flocks, frequently alongside blackbirds and grackles. They swiftly move across fields with their beaks pointed downward, probing the grass for food. Alternatively, they perch high on wires or trees, producing a continuous mix of rattles, whirs, and whistles.
  • Habitat: Starlings are frequently found in towns, suburbs, and rural areas near human habitation. They forage on the ground in lawns, fields, sidewalks, and parking lots. For perching and roosting, they choose high spots such as wires, trees, and buildings.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

  • Features: A sizable crested songbird with a wide, rounded tail. Blue Jays are smaller than crows but bigger than robins. They have white or light gray underparts and a mix of blue, black, and white on their upper side.
  • Behavior: Blue Jays emit a wide range of calls that can be heard over long distances. Most of their vocalizations occur while they are perched in a tree. They typically fly quietly across open spaces, particularly during migration. They use a throat pouch to carry food items to store elsewhere and, when feeding, they hold seeds or nuts in their feet and peck them open.
  • Habitat: Blue Jays prefer habitats along forest edges. Acorns are one of their favorite foods, so they are frequently found near oak trees in forests, woodlots, urban areas, and parks.

Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

  • Features: The Carolina Wren is a small yet robust bird with a round body and a long tail that it often holds upright. Its head is large with minimal neck, and its long, slender, downcurved bill is a characteristic of wrens. Both male and female Carolina Wrens have bright, unmarked reddish-brown upperparts and warm buffy-orange underparts, a long white eyebrow stripe, dark bill, and white chin and throat.
  • Behavior: The Carolina Wren moves stealthily through vegetated areas and scurries up and down tree trunks while searching for insects and fruit. It investigates yards, garages, and woodpiles and may even nest in these places. While foraging, this wren typically holds its tail upright and lowers it when singing. Carolina Wrens assertively protect their territories with frequent singing, scolding, and chasing away intruders.
  • Habitat: Pay attention for Carolina Wrens vocalizing from thick vegetation in wooded areas, particularly in forest ravines and residential neighborhoods. These birds enjoy moving low through dense undergrowth, often found in backyard brush piles and areas thick with vines and bushes.

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

  • Features: House Sparrows are not related to other sparrow species in North America, having been introduced from Eurasia, and have a distinct shape. They are stockier with a fuller chest, a larger, rounded head, a shorter tail, and a thicker bill compared to most American sparrows. Male House Sparrows are vividly colored with gray heads, white cheeks, a black bib, and a reddish-brown neck—although in urban areas, some may appear duller and more disheveled. Females are generally plain buffy-brown with dull gray-brown underparts. Their backs feature noticeable stripes in shades of buff, black, and brown.
  • Behavior: House Sparrows are lively birds that flutter down from eaves and fence lines to peck at crumbs or birdseed. Watch for them darting in and out of nest holes concealed behind shop signs or in traffic lights, or loitering in parking lots as they wait for crumbs and pick insects off car grills.
  • Habitat: House Sparrows have coexisted with humans for centuries. You can find them on city streets, accepting food in parks and zoos, or chirping from perches on rooftops or in your yard’s trees. Although they avoid untouched forests and grasslands, they are common in rural areas near farms.

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

  • Features: Mourning Doves have a plump body and long tail, with short legs and a relatively small head compared to their body. Their long, pointed tail sets them apart from other North American doves. They often blend in with open landscapes, displaying a delicate brown to buffy-tan coloration overall, with black wing spots and black-bordered white tips on their tail feathers.
  • Behavior: Mourning Doves fly swiftly with strong wingbeats, often executing quick climbs, descents, and swerves, with their pointed tails trailing behind them.
  • Habitat: Mourning Doves can be spotted almost everywhere except dense forests. Look for them in fields, open ground, or perched on overhead structures like telephone wires.

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)

  • Features: Song Sparrows are medium-sized sparrows with a robust build. Their bill is short and sturdy for a sparrow, and their head is relatively rounded. They have long, rounded tails and broad wings. These sparrows display brown streaking on a white chest and flanks. Up close, their heads reveal a pleasing combination of warm reddish-brown and slaty gray, though these colors and the degree of streaking can vary significantly across North America.
  • Behavior: Song Sparrows navigate through dense, low vegetation and branches, sometimes venturing onto open ground for food. They take short, fluttering flights with a distinctive downward tail movement. Male Song Sparrows often sing from visible perches like small trees.
  • Habitat: Find Song Sparrows in almost any open area, such as marsh edges, overgrown fields, backyards, desert washes, and forest borders. They often visit bird feeders and nest in residential locations.

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

  • Features: The American Crow is a large bird with long legs and a thick neck, featuring a substantial, straight bill. In flight, its wings are broad and rounded, with the wingtip feathers fanned out like fingers. The short tail is either rounded or squared off at the tip. American Crows are entirely black, including their legs and bill. During molting, their old feathers may look brownish or scaly compared to the glossy new ones.
  • Behavior: American Crows are highly social birds, sometimes gathering in flocks that can number in the thousands. Curious and occasionally playful, crows are adept at learning and solving problems, often sifting through trash cans and scavenging discarded food containers. They can be aggressive as well, frequently driving away larger birds such as hawks, owls, and herons.
  • Habitat: American Crows are widespread in fields, open woodlands, and forests. They thrive in human-inhabited areas, frequently seen in agricultural fields, lawns, parking lots, sports fields, roadsides, towns, and city landfills.

Mallard (Anas platythynchos)

  • Features: Mallards are sizable ducks with robust bodies, rounded heads, and broad, flat bills. As “dabbling ducks,” they have long bodies and high-riding tails that create a blunt silhouette. In flight, their wings are broad and positioned towards the rear. Male Mallards sport a dark, iridescent-green head and a bright yellow bill. Their gray bodies are bordered by a brown chest and a black tail. Females and juveniles have mottled brown plumage with orange and brown bills. Both sexes feature a white-bordered, blue “speculum” patch on their wings.
  • Behavior: Mallards are known as “dabbling ducks” because they feed by tipping forward in the water to graze on underwater plants. They rarely dive. These ducks can be quite tame, especially in urban ponds, and often mingle with other Mallards and species of dabbling ducks.
  • Habitat: Mallards can inhabit nearly any wetland environment, whether natural or artificial. You can find them on lakes, ponds, marshes, rivers, and coastal areas, as well as in city and suburban parks and residential backyards.

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

  • Features: This woodpecker has a smooth, rounded head and a size similar to a Hairy Woodpecker, but without the blocky shape. It often looks pale overall, even the distinctly striped black-and-white back, and features a striking red cap and nape. Watch for white patches near the wingtips when this bird is in flight.
  • Behavior: Watch for Red-bellied Woodpeckers moving along the branches and trunks of medium to large trees, foraging on the bark surface rather than drilling deeply. Like many woodpeckers, these birds have a distinctive undulating flight pattern.
  • Habitat: Red-bellied Woodpeckers are frequently found in various Eastern woodlands and forests, ranging from mature oak and hickory stands to younger hardwoods and pines. They also often leave the forests to visit backyard feeders.

Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)

  • Features: Downy Woodpeckers have a small, classic woodpecker shape with a straight, chisel-like bill, a blocky head, broad shoulders, and an upright posture, leaning away from tree limbs while bracing on their tail feathers. Their bill appears smaller in proportion compared to other woodpeckers. Downy Woodpeckers display a checkered black-and-white appearance, with black upperparts marked with white on the wings, a boldly striped head, and a broad white stripe down the center of the back. Males have a small red patch on the back of their head. The outer tail feathers are mostly white with a few black spots.
  • Behavior: Downy Woodpeckers navigate tree limbs and trunks, sometimes descending into tall weeds to feed on galls, displaying more agility than larger woodpeckers. Their flight pattern is characterized by an up-and-down motion typical of many woodpeckers. During spring and summer, Downy Woodpeckers are quite noisy, making shrill whinnying calls and drumming on trees.
  • Habitat: Downy Woodpeckers inhabit open woodlands, especially those with deciduous trees, as well as brushy or weedy borders. They are commonly found in orchards, city parks, backyards, and empty lots.

Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)

  • Features: Tufted Titmice appear sizable among the small birds at feeders, owing to their large head and eye, sturdy neck, and plump bodies. Their pointed crest and stout bill make them easily recognizable, even in silhouette. They are soft silvery gray on top and white underneath, with a rusty or peach-colored tint along the flanks. A black spot just above the bill gives the bird a snub-nosed appearance.
  • Behavior: Tufted Titmice are agile foragers, albeit slower and more deliberate in their movements compared to chickadees. They often join flocks with chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers, and frequently visit feeders, where they can be assertive with smaller birds. Their flight style is typically fluttery but remains level rather than undulating.
  • Habitat: Tufted Titmice are present in most eastern woodlands below 2,000 feet in elevation, including both deciduous and evergreen forests. They are frequent visitors to feeders and can also be seen in backyards, parks, and orchards.

Canada Goose (Branta candensis)

  • Features: Canada Geese are large waterbirds known for their long necks, substantial bodies, large webbed feet, and broad, flat bills. They have black heads with white cheeks and chinstraps, black necks, tan chests, and brown backs.
  • Behavior: Canada Geese feed by dabbling in water or grazing in fields and spacious lawns. They often fly in pairs or groups, with flocks typically taking on a V formation.
  • Habitat: You’ll find them almost anywhere near lakes, rivers, ponds, or other water bodies, as well as in yards, park lawns, and farm fields.

White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)

  • Features: The White-throated Sparrow is a robust, sizable sparrow featuring a fairly pronounced bill, rounded head, long legs, and a lengthy, slender tail. They have brown upperparts and gray underparts, with a distinctive head pattern. Their heads sport black and white stripes, a bright white throat, and yellow highlights between the eye and bill, which is gray. There is also a less vividly marked form known as “tan-striped,” displaying a buff-and-brown facial pattern instead of white-and-black.
  • Behavior: White-throated Sparrows stick close to the ground, foraging through leaves for food, often in groups. In spring, you might also spot them low in bushes as they feed on fresh buds. These sparrows sing their characteristic songs frequently, even in winter.
  • Habitat: Search for White-throated Sparrows in woodlands, forest edges, regenerating areas after logging or forest fires, as well as near ponds, bogs, and treelines. During winter, they inhabit thickets, overgrown fields, parks, and wooded suburbs. They frequently visit backyards for birdseed.

Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)

  • Features: Mockingbirds are medium-sized songbirds with a slightly more slender build than a thrush and a longer tail. They feature small heads, long, thin bills with a slight downward curve, and long legs. Their wings are short, rounded, and broad, making the tail appear especially long during flight. Mockingbirds are mostly gray-brown, lighter on the breast and belly, with two white wingbars on each wing. They often have a visible white patch on perched wings, which becomes a striking white flash in flight. The white outer tail feathers are also noticeable when the bird is in motion.
  • Behavior: The Northern Mockingbird likes to stand out by perching prominently on tall plants, fences, rooftops, or telephone wires, and it often scurries or hops along the ground. You can spot them alone or in pairs all year round, as they fiercely defend their territory by chasing away intruders.
  • Habitat: Seek out Northern Mockingbirds in urban and suburban areas, backyards, parks, forest edges, and open landscapes at low altitudes.

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)

  • Features: Common Grackles are sizable, slender blackbirds with elongated legs and tails. Their heads are flat, and their bills are longer than most blackbirds, with a slight downward curve. In flight, their wings seem shorter compared to their tails. Males are somewhat larger than females. While Common Grackles look black from afar, a closer view reveals their glossy purple heads and bronze-iridescent bodies. Their striking golden eyes lend them a piercing appearance. Females are somewhat less glossy than males, and juveniles are dark brown with dark eyes.
  • Behavior: Common Grackles frequently travel in large groups, either flying or feeding on lawns and in farm fields. They walk confidently on their long legs, pecking for food instead of scratching at the ground. At bird feeders, grackles often outcompete smaller birds. When resting, they perch atop trees or on power lines, maintaining a noisy chatter. Their flight is straightforward, featuring firm wingbeats.
  • Habitat: Common Grackles thrive around agricultural fields, feedlots, city parks, and suburban lawns. They’re also common in open habitats including woodland, forest edges, meadows, and marshes.

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

  • Features: The Ring-billed Gull is a medium-sized gull with a relatively short, slim bill. When perched, its long, slender wings extend beyond its square-tipped tail. In flight, the bird moves gracefully with easy flaps of its slender wings. Adults have a clean gray upper body with a white head, body, and tail, as well as black wingtips spotted with white. Their legs and bills are yellow, with a distinctive black band around the bill. Nonbreeding adults display brown-streaked heads. Young Ring-billed Gulls in their first two years are a mix of brown and gray, with pink bills and legs.
  • Behavior: These gregarious gulls frequently fly overhead in large groups or feed together on golf courses, beaches, or fields. As strong, agile flyers and opportunistic eaters, Ring-billed Gulls circle and hover skillfully as they search for food, while also foraging on water and on land.
  • Habitat: Ring-billed Gulls frequently gather in areas with human activity such as garbage dumps, parking lots, and newly plowed fields. Although these gulls are common on coastal beaches, especially in winter, many live inland lives and may never encounter the sea.

Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus)

  • Features: Fish Crows have the typical crow silhouette: robust birds with large bills, strong legs, and wide wings. When perched, their wings do not reach the end of their medium-length, square tails. Fish Crows are entirely black, although younger birds may appear less glossy and develop a brownish tint as their feathers wear during their first year.
  • Behavior: Fish Crows are highly social birds, often found in pairs during the breeding season and gathering in large groups of several hundred or more during migration or winter. They may intermingle with American Crows when feeding and roosting. Fish Crows emit their unique nasal calls while on the ground and may puff out their neck and body feathers, creating a distinct, ragged ruff around the throat.
  • Habitat: Fish Crows are found along coastal areas as well as inland near major rivers and lakes. They inhabit various water-adjacent environments, including urban parks, docks, and landfills. Fish Crows often coexist with American Crows in these habitats.

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

  • Features: This small finch features a short, conical bill, a small head, long wings, and a short, notched tail. In spring and early summer, adult males are a vibrant yellow with a black forehead, black wings with white accents, and white patches on the tail. Adult females are a muted yellow underneath and olive-colored on top. In winter, these birds turn a plain brown with blackish wings and two pale wingbars.
  • Behavior: These lively and agile little finches cling to weeds and seed socks and may gather in large flocks at feeders or on the ground below them. Goldfinches fly with a distinctive bouncy, undulating motion and frequently call out while in flight, making their presence known.
  • Habitat: American Goldfinches primarily inhabit weedy fields and floodplains, where they find ample thistles and asters. They can also be spotted in cultivated lands, along roadsides, in orchards, and in backyards. While they visit feeders throughout the year, they are most numerous during the winter months.

Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)

  • Features: The Carolina Chickadee is a small, friendly bird with a rounded body shape thanks to its short neck and large head. Its tail is relatively long and slender. The bird’s bill is somewhat thicker than a warbler’s but thinner than a finch’s. Carolina Chickadees sport a black cap and bib set against bright white cheeks, while their back, wings, and tail are soft gray in color.
  • Behavior: Curious and agile, Carolina Chickadees often join feeding flocks with other small species across a broad territory outside of the breeding season. Though they flock together, these birds typically maintain a good distance from one another while foraging.
  • Habitat: Look for Carolina Chickadees in wooded areas or urban and suburban settings with mature trees.

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

  • Features: Flickers are sizable woodpeckers with a slender, rounded head, a gently curved bill, and a long, flared tail that narrows to a point. These birds are predominantly brown with a white rump patch that stands out in flight and is often visible when they are perched. Eastern flickers have bright yellow undersides on their wing and tail feathers, while western flickers have red. Upon closer inspection, the brown plumage is intricately marked with black spots, bars, and crescents.
  • Behavior: Northern Flickers spend a significant amount of time on the ground, and when they are in trees, they often sit upright on horizontal branches rather than clinging to trunks with their tails. Their flight pattern involves heavy flapping interspersed with gliding, similar to other woodpeckers, resulting in an up-and-down trajectory.
  • Habitat: Seek out flickers in open environments near trees, such as woodlands, edges, yards, and parks.

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)

  • Features: The White-breasted Nuthatch is the largest among nuthatches, but it remains a small bird with a large head and a nearly absent neck. It has a very short tail and a long, thin bill that is straight or slightly upturned. These birds are gray-blue on their backs with a frosty white face and underparts. The black or gray cap and neck outline the face, giving the impression of a hood. The lower belly and the area beneath the tail are often chestnut-colored.
  • Behavior: White-breasted Nuthatches are nimble birds that traverse trunks and large branches, searching crevices in the bark with their straight, pointed bills. Similar to other nuthatches, they frequently move sideways or upside down on vertical surfaces while foraging. They don’t rely on their tails for support in the way woodpeckers do.
  • Habitat: White-breasted Nuthatches inhabit mature forests and the edges of woodlands. They are especially linked with deciduous trees like maple, hickory, basswood, and oak, but can also be found in certain coniferous woods.

Grey Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)

  • Features: A medium-sized, sleek songbird with a long, rounded black tail and a thin, straight bill. Catbirds have relatively long legs and broad, rounded wings. They appear uniformly slate gray, but a closer look reveals a small black cap, a dark tail, and a warm reddish-brown patch beneath the tail.
  • Behavior: Catbirds are lively yet elusive, darting and flitting through dense vegetation as they move from branch to branch. Males sing from perches on top of shrubs and small trees. They tend to avoid open spaces, opting for swift, low flights over cover. I’ve been fooled many times by the catbird’s cat-like call, for the first time in D.C.!
  • Habitat: Seek out Grey Catbirds in areas with dense vegetation such as shrub thickets, small trees, and vines. They can often be found along forest edges, near streams, and in overgrown fields and fence lines.

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)

  • Features: Chimney Swifts are tiny birds with elongated, narrow bodies and very long, curved wings. They have round heads, short necks, and short, tapered tails. The broad bill is so short it can be hard to see. They are dark gray-brown overall, with a lighter shade on the throat. From a distance and when backlit against the sky, they may seem entirely black.
  • Behavior: Chimney Swifts fly swiftly with continuous wingbeats, often twisting and banking unpredictably. Their wingbeats are rigid, with minimal movement at the wrists. While in flight, they frequently emit a high-pitched, chattering call.
  • Habitat: Chimney Swifts build their nests in chimneys and on other vertical surfaces found in shaded, enclosed areas such as air vents, wells, hollow trees, and caves. They search for food over urban and suburban regions, as well as rivers, lakes, forests, and fields.

Double-crested Cormorant (Nannopterum auritum)

  • Features: Double-crested Cormorants are sizable waterbirds characterized by small heads on elongated, kinked necks. They possess thin, prominently hooked bills roughly the length of their heads. Their hefty bodies float low in the water. Adult cormorants exhibit a brown-black plumage with a small yellow-orange facial patch, while juveniles are generally browner and lighter on the neck and chest. During breeding season, adults grow a small double crest of feathery black or white plumes.
  • Behavior: Double-crested Cormorants sit low in the water while they dive to catch small fish. After foraging, they perch on docks, rocks, and branches, spreading their wings to dry. When flying, they often move in V-shaped formations that adjust and reshape as the birds alternate between rapid flapping and brief gliding.
  • Habitat: Double-crested Cormorants are the most common cormorant species in North America and are often found in freshwater environments. They nest along the coast and around large inland lakes, forming colonies where they build stick nests high in trees on islands or in flooded timbered areas.

Rock Dove (Columba livia)

  • Features: Rock Pigeons are bigger and rounder than Mourning Doves, with stout bodies, small heads, and short legs. They have broad but pointed wings and a wide, rounded tail. Their coloring can vary, but typically they’re bluish-gray with two black bands on the wing and a black tip on the tail. Most have iridescent throat feathers, and wing patterns may range from two bars to dark spots or plain, while the tail is often tipped with dark coloring.
  • Behavior: Pigeons commonly gather in groups, walking or running on the ground while searching for food. If startled, the flock may take off suddenly and circle in the air before settling back down.
  • Habitat: Pigeons are well-known birds commonly found in urban areas. You’ll also spot them around agricultural lands and open fields, as well as their natural habitat, rocky cliffs.

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

  • Features: A sturdy, broad-shouldered blackbird with a slim, conical bill and a moderately long tail. Red-winged Blackbirds often appear hunched while perched, and males often sit with their tails slightly fanned. Male Red-winged Blackbirds are unmistakable with their glossy black bodies and vibrant red-and-yellow shoulder patches. Females have a sharp streaked pattern and are generally dark brown, lighter on the breast, and often feature a white eyebrow.
  • Behavior: Male Red-winged Blackbirds work hard to attract attention, often perching high and loudly singing their “conk-la-ree!” call all day long. Females stay closer to the ground, foraging through vegetation for food and quietly constructing their intricate nests. In winter, Red-winged Blackbirds form large flocks with other blackbird species and starlings to feed on grains.
  • Habitat: You can find Red-winged Blackbirds in fresh and saltwater marshes, near streams and ponds, on golf course water features, and wet roadsides. They also inhabit drier meadows and fallow fields. In winter, they often gather in crop fields, feedlots, and pastures.

House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

  • Features: House Finches are small finches with relatively large beaks and slightly elongated, flat heads. They have short wings, making the tail appear longer in comparison. While many finches have deeply notched tails, the House Finch has a tail with a shallower notch. Adult males have rosy red on the face and upper breast, with a streaky brown back, belly, and tail. Their red rump is noticeable during flight. Adult females lack red coloration and are mostly plain grayish-brown with heavy streaks and a faintly marked face.
  • Behavior: House Finches are sociable birds that gather at feeders or perch on nearby treetops. When they’re not feeding at feeders, they forage on the ground, on weed stems, or in trees. They tend to move leisurely and remain stationary while they husk seeds by quickly crushing them. Their flight has a bouncy, undulating pattern common to many finches.
  • Habitat: Originally native only to the western United States, House Finches are now commonly found in city parks, backyards, urban areas, farms, and the edges of forests throughout the continent.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

  • Features: The Great Blue Heron is the largest heron in North America, featuring long legs, a sinuous neck, and a thick, pointed bill. Its head, chest, and wing plumes give it a slightly shaggy look. In flight, the heron tucks its neck into a tight “S” shape, showcasing its broad, rounded wings and trailing legs that extend well beyond its tail. From afar, these herons appear blue-gray with a broad black stripe above the eye. The upper side of the wing is two-toned during flight, being pale on the forewing and darker on the flight feathers. In coastal southern Florida, a pure white subspecies can be found.
  • Behavior: When hunting, Great Blue Herons wade slowly or remain still, waiting for fish and other prey in shallow water or open fields. Look for the quick thrust of their neck and head as they stab with their strong bills. In flight, their very slow wingbeats, tucked-in neck, and trailing legs create a distinct and recognizable silhouette.
  • Habitat: Look for Great Blue Herons in both saltwater and freshwater environments, including open coasts, marshes, sloughs, riverbanks, and lakes, as well as backyard ponds. They also hunt in grasslands and agricultural fields. Breeding birds form colonies, or “heronries,” where they build stick nests high above the ground.

District of Columbia Birding Resources

Organizations:

Field Guides:

Other Resources:

Conclusion

Washington, D.C. is home to a diverse range of common bird species that thrive in its varied habitats, including urban parks, suburban neighborhoods, and natural areas such as rivers and woodlands. From the bright yellow plumage of the American Goldfinch to the loud calls of the Red-winged Blackbird and the graceful flight of the Great Blue Heron, the birds of the nation’s capital offer a vibrant glimpse into the region’s rich biodiversity. Whether you’re a seasoned birder or a casual observer, exploring Washington, D.C.’s birdlife is a rewarding experience that highlights the important relationship between people and nature in this bustling city.