The states of New England have a rich bird life and you will be able to observe many of the most common birds in your Massachusetts backyard.
Birds in Massachusetts come in all different colors, but they are of course not as colorful than tropical rainforest birds.
To be honest, many of the most common backyard birds are just different shades of brown, black and gray. Because there are so many birds with the same size and color, it can sometimes be hard to tell them apart.
So, you might have seen a brown bird in your backyard of Massachusetts and not been quite sure of what species it was?
In Massachusetts, the most common brown birds are:
- The female Northern Cardinal (83%)
- The female Dark-eyed Junco (75%)
- The female House Finch (57%)
- The House Sparrow (both genders) (50%)
- The Wrens (both genders) (>43%)
The percentage following the name of the bird tells you the likelihood of observing this bird in an average Massachusetts backyard!
That is, if you see a brown bird in Massachusetts it is most likely to be the Cardinal, then the Dark-eyed Junco etc.
1. Northern Cardinal (female)
The Northern Cardinal is native to the South-eastern United States, where it is the official state bird of several states: West Virginia, Indiana, Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, and North Carolina. It is the only bright red bird seen all year round in the Northern parts of the US.
Male Cardinals are easy to spot due to their strong colors, and most people notice them easily at bird feeders. The Northern Cardinal is the most common bright red bird in Massachusetts.
The female Cardinal, on the other hand, is much less bright in color and mostly has a light brown plumage, with only a slight reddish tint on its wings and crest.
The Pyrrhuloxia, which is considered the Southwest’s equivalent of the Northern Cardinal, has a similar color pattern with the female being mostly brown.
The female lays 2-4 turquoise brown-spotted eggs per nest, an effort which it may repeat up to four times per year. The Northern Cardinal diet consists mainly of seeds and fruits whereas the young receive mostly insects from their parents.
If you are interested in cardinals, check out my posts on whether they eat whole peanuts, pine cones or acorns and my article about their relationship with blue jays!
2. Dark-eyed Junco (female)
Dark-eyed Juncos are one of the most abundant and widespread forest birds in North America. They are small birds, weighing 18-30 g (5/8-1 1/16 oz) with a wingspan of only 15-17 cm. They live in flocks and are generally dark gray or brown with a pink bill and white outer tail.
Whereas the male Juncos are mostly black, the juvenile and female Juncos have a more monotone brown plumage throughout.
Because the female Juncos tend to be paler and browner, they may be confused with house sparrows or the White-throated sparrow.
Juncos breed from May-August, hatching 1-3 broods with 3-6 eggs per brood. Nests are generally on the ground, in well-hidden locations. Juncos don’t reuse nests, preferring to build new ones each season, so you cannot count on their presence in the same location each year!
3. House finch (female)
The House Finch is a medium-sized finch of the Finch (Fringillidae) family. It is native to the west coast of the USA and parts of Mexico. It was brought to the East coast by pet shop owners selling them as pets in New York (Long Island) in the 1940s.
Whereas the House Finch male has a characteristic red plumage covering the head and chest part of the bird, the females is less colourful and mostly dull brown all over.
House Finches are common and very active at bird feeders. You may use the following seeds to attract the House Finch to your bird feeder: Black oil sunflower seeds, mustard seeds, black oil seeds, mustard seeds, and black oil sunflowers.
A House Finch may need to drink up to its own weight in water each day, so is easy to attract with a bird bath.
4. House Sparrow
The House Sparrow is one of the most common brown birds on the planet, and is also a frequent urban bird in Massachusetts.
House Sparrows originate from the Middle East but have spread to Asia, North Africa, and Europe following the human appreciation of agriculture.
They were introduced to the US for the first time in 1850, when a ship carrying them arrived in Brooklyn. Today they are mostly found in the central and north-eastern parts of the country. House Sparrow populations have seen a slow decline over time but seems to have stabilized.
The House Sparrow is small in size with a length of 15 to 17cm (5.91-6.7 inches) and a weight of around 30g (1.06 oz). The males are usually larger than the females and display a darker brown plumage.
Due to the varied plumage of the House Sparrow, it may be confused with other true sparrow species such as the Harris’s Sparrow, the White-throated Sparrow, and especially the Eurasian Tree Sparrow.
The House Sparrow feeds mostly on seeds, grains, and smaller insects. During breeding season, it prefers mostly protein-rich meals such as caterpillars, beetles, and flies.
It is not very shy and will jump onto tables and may even enter houses to look for leftover foodstuff. House Sparrow can be loud and tends to throw around seeds and scare away other shyer feeder birds.
5. White Throated Sparrow
The White-throated Sparrow is another brown bird found in Massachusetts backyards.
The White-throated Sparrow is an abundant migratory bird, with an estimated population of 140 million worldwide!
They have brown plumage above and gray below a bright white throat and a yellow spot in front of the eye.
The tan-striped morph has tan and dark brown head stripes, while the ‘white-stripe’ morph has clean black and white head stripes.
The White-throated Sparrow lives in deciduous or coniferous forests, forest edges, pond, and bog edges. In the fall, they will migrate south from mid-September to early November and start flocking together for the winter. During breeding season, these sparrows feed heavily on insects, including wasps, ants, true bugs, beetles, damselflies, spiders, millipedes, caterpillars, flies, and snails.
6. Birds of the Wrens family
The Wrens are some of the most characteristic brown birds around. There are several Wren species in Massachusetts such as the Sedge Wren, the Winter Wren, the Carolina Wren, the Marsh Wren and the House Wren.
All wrens have a characteristic bulky shape and are brown throughout. They are darker on their back and wings and more bright brown on their underside.
While these Wrens are all common in Massachusetts, only the Carolina Wren is a frequent visitor of bird feeders.
The Carolina wren is a small bird in the wren family (Troglodytidae) and is the state bird of South Carolina. It is a year-round native to the eastern United States and northeastern Mexico.
The Carolina Wren eats insects and spiders from tree trunks, shrubs, piles of wood, and buildings. They are also known to eat snakes, frogs, lizards, and even a small amount of plant matter.
Due to the many birds of mundane colored plamages, it can be hard to distinguish all the “ordinary” birds visiting your bird feeder in Massachusetts. The brown colored birds can be especially challenging as there are at least 6 types that regularly visits backyards in New England. Here I have tried to give a short summary of each common brown bird in Massachusetts, to help you tell them apart!
Backyard birds in other states
Are you interested in how the backyard birds in your state compare to other states?
Then check out my other blog posts below:
- Backyard birds of Alabama
- Backyard birds of Colorado
- Backyard birds of Delaware
- Backyard birds of Georgia
- Backyard birds of Hawaii
- Backyard birds of Illinois
- Backyard birds of Iowa
- Backyard birds of Kentucky
- Backyard birds of Louisiana
- Backyard birds of Maryland
- Backyard birds of Massachusetts
- Backyard birds of Missouri
- Backyard birds of Nebraska
- Backyard birds of New York
- Backyard birds of North Carolina
- Backyard birds of Oklahoma
- Backyard birds of Rhode Island
- Backyard birds of South Carolina
- Backyard birds of Tennessee
- Backyard birds of Texas
- Backyard birds of Virginia
- Backyard birds of West Virginia
- Backyard birds of Wisconsin
- Backyard birds of Wyoming
And in Canada:
- Backyard birds of Ontario
- Backyard birds of Prince Edward Island
- Backyard birds of Saskatchewan
- Backyard birds of Quebec
Not on the list? Check out the rest of my posts on backyard birds here!
Maybe you would like to know if the Blue Jay or Cardinal dominates in the bird feeder hierarchy or how birds such as seagulls sleep at night? Or why mourning doves poop so much and whether most birds can poop and fly at the same time!
A lightweight handy pair of binoculars is a must for your backyard bird watching! Check out my recent post on the best small lightweight binoculars for birdwatching etc.
My Favorite Backyard Birding Gear:
- Photographs and identifies birds coming to your bird feeder!
- Notifies you via the app whenever a bird stops by!
- Excellent resolution and battery performance with the 6MP image sensor.
- Connect from anywhere with internet access (watch birds even when you are not at home!)
- Count the birds visiting your feeder and contribute to projects such as FeederWatch!
If you are interested in posters and other wall arts etc. with drawings of all the backyard birds you have just read about, check out my portfolio over at Redbubble:
I want to thank the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University and the Birds Canada organization as well as all the citizens who have been involved in the FeederWatch project for providing the data of this article. The data I have used to generate the prevalence numbers for this article is provided by the FeederWatch project. The FeederWatch project is an initiative by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University and the Birds Canada organization. The data is collected through an immense crowdsourced citizen science program, where citizens of the United States and Canada are invited to count birds at their bird feeders, identify the species, and report back to the scientists at Cornell University. The birds are counted from November to April and always in two consecutive days including only one area with a bird feeder, typically a piece of the backyard, observed from one vantage point. The two-day watch is then repeated throughout the season. The data is collected each year and is freely available to the public at https://feederwatch.org/.
American Museum of Natural History Birds of North America. DK; Revised edition (September 6, 2016). ISBN: 978-1465443991
National Geographic Backyard Guide to the Birds of North America, 2nd Edition. National Geographic; 2nd edition (October 15, 2019)
Birds of North America. National Audubon Society. (Knopf April 6, 2021). ISBN: 978-0525655671