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Birds Of Kentucky: 14 Backyard Friends Of Colonel Sanders

Last Updated on: May 10, 2024

It’s no surprise that Kentucky, the birthplace of reputable ornithologist John Audubon, offers various hotspots for bird watchers worldwide. You will likely encounter different bird species in several destinations, including lakes, parks, and hiking trails around the state.


Learning more about the diverse birds of Kentucky can help you best identify them. If so, please keep reading as we discover fun facts about the various birds throughout the state.

Whether you’re fond of feeding backyard birds or enjoy backyard bird watching, this information will make the overall experience more rewarding for you.

The Most Familiar Backyard Birds in Kentucky

The state’s northwestern wildlife is among the best places to encounter waterfowl and wading birds. Even the southwestern part boasts of excellent bird-watching locales. 

If you’re looking for a spectacular birding opportunity, the presence of Kentucky’s state bird will captivate you. Northern cardinals dwell in abundance in many parts of the state, or you can make the journey easier by enticing them in your bird feeder.

You will have no trouble locating the European Starling in suburban neighborhoods, cities, and farms throughout Kentucky. The melodious song of an Eastern bluebird will entertain you in open spaces; citizens of Central Kentucky work on creating natural habitats to preserve its population.

While the white-throated sparrow graces you with its presence in winter, you get to see the American robin, eastern bluebird, and the house sparrow all year.

Check out some other common birds in Kentucky and how to recognize them easily in your backyard feeders or anywhere in the state:

1. Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

The red-bellied woodpecker is a delightful presence with its zebra-patterned back, red cap, and white rump in most backyards throughout eastern North America.

Red-bellied woodpeckers enjoy feeding black oil sunflower seeds, suet, and peanuts at bird feeders.

It is one of the common backyard birds fond of sugar water and even visits hummingbird feeders. A male red-bellied woodpecker has its entire head and nape covered in red, while the female only has a red nape.

Unknown to some, there was once a sighting of a red-bellied woodpecker feeding a tufted titmouse. But more experienced individuals in bird watching are familiar with this woodpecker’s predatory behaviors.

Such a woodpecker has a reputation for robbing nestlings of an Eastern bluebird, Acadian flycatcher, and indigo bunting. It is not a migratory bird but sometimes wanders post-breeding season.

Shaded trees in backyards, heavily timbered bottomlands, coniferous and deciduous forests, riparian forests, and swamps are some of the habitats highly favored by the red-bellied woodpecker.

2. Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

Mourning doves strongly favor black oil sunflower seeds and cracked corns in bird feeders. However, a mourning dove prefers eating on the ground or using platform feeders when visiting your backyard.

These doves, about the size of an American robin, have fawn to buffy tan plumage that seems to match their surroundings.

Underneath, you will notice that a mourning dove has that delicate peach shade, matching its pink legs. Male mourning doves have bluer crowns, and their breasts are reddish than the female mourning doves.

It likes building its nest in evergreen and prefers inhabiting suburban backyards and gardens, roadsides, grasslands, and woodland edges. When in flight, there is a sharp whistling in this dove’s wings, and its gentle, lingering coos resemble a wailing sound.

3. House Finch

House Finch

Despite its strong preference for black oil sunflower seeds, you will also see a house finch exploiting bird feeders for safflower and nyjer seeds. It is among the backyard birds with a lively, boisterous presence, often joining large flocks when visiting bird feeders.

This small bird has a sizable bill, but a house finch’s body size is slimmer and has a longer tail than the purple finch.

Adult male house finches have pinkish-red faces and upper breasts, with brown streaks on their backs and bellies. However, due to the carotenoid pigment in their diet, some male house finches are either dull yellow or orange than red.

On the other hand, a female house finch appears gray or brown with bold streaks. It likes to inhabit drier habitats in the suburbs, cities, farmlands, wooded areas, and backyard feeders. Generally, you seldom see these finches alone as they like traveling in flocks.

A house finch mainly does ground foraging for weeds and seeds of berries, while in backyards, it will gladly exploit sugar water, suet, and sunflower seeds. It is typical for these finches to eat on platform feeders, but you’d also see them eating in a tube feeder.

4. Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

The northern mockingbird is among the backyard birds in Kentucky that like eating and nesting in vines like grapes and honeysuckle. It will not hesitate to use climbing roses as its nesting site.

Additionally, the northern mockingbird enjoys the evergreen foliage of junipers, which provide shelter from the frigid winter and the scorching heat of summer.

California hollies, also called toyons, produce bright red or yellow berries that mockingbirds find attractive. These birds prefer an open cup nest from twigs surrounded by grasses and leaves.

Northern mockingbirds are mid-sized birds, with bodies slimmer and tails more extended than an American robin. This bird species have an overall gray plumage, but a fainter shade is noticeable in the breast and belly.

Like the thrashers, mockingbirds are excellent songbirds, even mimicking other species so well. You could say that these northern mockingbirds have an unlimited musical repertoire; they typically occur on woodland edges and gardens throughout North America.

It eats various fruits, such as blackberries, oranges, and grapes. This mockingbird’s high-protein insect diet consists of spiders, caterpillars, grasshoppers, snails, and snow bugs.

5. Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Junco

Like the purple finch, Eastern phoebe, white-throated sparrow, and Eastern meadowlark, you can effortlessly lure a dark-eyed junco to bird feeders in the colder months.

It’s not surprising since this junco is among the winter birds in Kentucky. Aside from its round head, stout, pale bill, and long tail, this backyard bird is well-known for its dark hood. It shows off its white outer tail feathers during flight.

Dark-eyed juncos can have varying appearances, too. The junco with a dark gray head and a white belly is the slate-colored form that generally occurs in the northern and eastern regions.

Meanwhile, the pink-sided junco features a bluish-gray hood, a faint brown back, and pinkish flanks; it’s common in the Prairie region and migrates south in winter.

By contrast, the black-hooded bird with a rust-colored back and reddish flanks is the Oregon form, a widespread junco subspecies in the west. In all variations, females and immatures look paler, with heavy streaks on younger birds.

You will likely encounter dark-eyed juncos in coniferous or mixed coniferous woodlands. But these birds stay in weedy fields, backyards, parks, roadsides, and open forests in winter.

Despite insects, berries, and seeds that comprise a junco’s staple diet, it occasionally forages under bird feeders, at the base of trees, and in shrubs.

6. House Sparrow

House Sparrow

It is not unusual to see a house sparrow in large flocks when foraging and roosting during the colder season. These house sparrows are well-known for their communal roosting; mostly, their noise gives their gatherings away.

Contrary to the misconception of many individuals, these species are not the native sparrows of North America. Male house sparrows sport a gray crown, brown-colored nape, white wing bar, and a gray breast highlighting their black throat.

Moreover, black and brown streaks are prominent in the males’ upperparts. The female house sparrow contrarily features a buffy brown appearance, yellowish bill, and drab brown underneath.

The black shade on the male’s throat varies, as the one bearing a significant black patch is more attractive to females. Some studies claim that the patch size indicates that the male is the more dominant species in its flock.

On the other hand, the innovative house sparrow sees no trouble thriving in various habitats thanks to its robust bill and broad diet. You may encounter this sparrow in urban areas, like cities and towns, but its presence is more prevalent in farmsteads.

Such bird species mainly consume wildflowers, grass seeds, herbs, and cereal crops, especially barley, wheat, and oats. But being the opportunist, house sparrows are highly skilled in exploiting different food sources, even taking handouts from humans in parks or backyards.

7. Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

The tufted titmouse is among the common backyard birds in Kentucky that inhabit deciduous and coniferous woodlands near swamps and river bottoms. Otherwise, you will see it in parks and gardens with dense canopies and tall trees.

Most bird watchers say that this creature can be amiable and is widespread throughout eastern North America. It survives cold northern winters with increased birdfeeders throughout the continent, explaining its expansive range northward in the past century.

The tufted titmouse may appear sizable among the diminutive birds visiting the feeders. But that is only an impression due to its large head and full-body size.

Its presence is unmistakable, with the bird’s blue-gray upperparts and white underneath. Additionally, it has a tufted crest, explaining its name, large dark eyes, and rusty-buff flanks.

This bird is also well-known for its active foraging in trees and shrubberies. Its diet consists of insects, but the bird eats corn kernels, seeds, and small fruits during the colder months.

8. Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Huge fans of bird watching find pleasure in observing the beautiful blue jay in its deep blue feathers, whitish throat, gray underparts, and prominent crest.

Aside from these features, blue jays have a black patch between its eye and long, black bill, a whitish throat, and black bars on their tails.

A blue jay is a common resident in Kentucky, with a moderate distribution along Pine Mountain’s northern end in Pike County.

Its breeding range is from eastern to central North America. Despite having a prevalent population in towns and residential areas, the blue jay typically occurs in various types of woodlands, especially those with large oak trees.

These blue jays can be very fussy in feeding stations, as they go through several peanuts to find the perfect one.

Shelled peanuts are among its favorite meal, explaining much of its presence in bird feeders. Well-stocked feeders and a nice bird bath are how you can attract blue jays to your backyard.

9. Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

The ruby-throated hummingbird is a common bird, but only in the eastern half of the United States. It’s the only hummingbird species that can migrate long distances over water.

When returning to the eastern United States in spring, ruby-throated hummingbirds cross the Gulf of Mexico from Central America. That migration alone is up to four thousand kilometers.

Several ruby-throated hummingbirds fly over land as they travel around the Gulf. However, it never fails to impress bird watchers how these small birds can fly incessantly for eight hundred kilometers straight through that same route.

Due to this migrating behavior, the bird burns energy quickly, so it’s typical to see it feed every few minutes daily. Such a bird gets food from the nectars of a tubular trumpet creeper. Sometimes, these hummers zoom in to inspect a cardinal flower or a great blue lobelia.

But when migrating through the south, the ruby-throated hummingbird enjoys the cross vines, native azaleas, and red buckeyes as it arrives on the Gulf Coast.

If you want to attract ruby-throated hummingbirds to your yard, you might want to consider planting some red buckeyes in your garden. These small trees are essential to these hummingbirds.

Since nectar is its staple diet, it’s not unusual to see it dipping its bill into flowers and extending its tongue to sip its juices. Occasionally, the ruby-throated hummer also catches swarms of flies in midair.

Despite its preference for woodland and riparian areas in the east, these hummingbirds occur in habitats abundant with tall trees and flowering shrubs in urban settings.

You won’t have a hard time recognizing these birds; look for the brilliant metallic red collar, iridescent green backs, with grayish-white underparts in adult males. The females, regardless of age, have green-colored backs, white underneath, including their throats.

10. Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Despite its similarities with the hairy woodpecker, you will have no trouble distinguishing a downy woodpecker. You only need to look for its white-spotted black wings and bold white stripes on the head.

Their bill shapes and sizes are the primary keys to separating these two woodpeckers. Downy woodpeckers have conical bills that are way shorter than the depths of their heads.

Male downy woodpeckers also have that distinctive red patch on their heads. You can find that small patch on the nape of adults; for the juveniles, it’s on their crowns.

Aside from the northern flicker and American goldfinch, its kind is another woodpecker species you are likely to encounter in Kentucky. These small birds are common in backyard gardens and parks throughout North America. 

Despite its ease in thriving in well-developed areas, this woodpecker actively supports habitation in riparian and other open deciduous woodlands. It tends to be around areas with low canopies, especially damp lowlands, and marshy aspen groves.

If you have hummingbird feeders in your backyard, attracting birds such as the downy woodpecker is much easier. It prefers excavating its nest but sometimes uses nest boxes that resemble a natural cavity.

Since these woodpeckers are vocally prominent, mainly when they feed, detecting them around the area is effortless if you’re familiar with their sounds.

Male and female downy woodpeckers make a drumming sound more exhaustively and continuously from late winter to spring.

During the non-breeding season, these woodpeckers can be omnivorous, eating mainly insects, such as beetle larvae, ants, and caterpillars. Downies only drink sap in late winter and early spring, but occasionally, they feed on fruits, seeds, and nuts.

You may also keep your feeders full of bird cakes, suet, cracked sunflower, and safflower seeds if you want them to visit your backyards.

11. Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

Male red-winged blackbirds have glossy black plumes with shoulder badges in red and yellow that are most noticeable during their breeding season. Females are dark brown, and breasts are paler; their sides are heavily streaked.

A red-winged blackbird loves to eat seeds, especially the wild ones, along with grains, insects, and berries.

You will also see this bird feasting on birdseed mixes whenever it visits a bird feeding station. Moreover, you can look for a red-winged blackbird in marshes, whether freshwater or saltwater.

It also likes to dwell in old fields, drier meadows, and golf courses, often foraging in towns and cultivated lands. During fall and winter, this blackbird travels and roosts in flocks and can be very friendly.

12. Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

The song sparrow is among the backyard birds that love to eat insects, like earthworms, beetles, spiders, and caterpillars. Nevertheless, this bird also finds sunflower seeds, nyjer, and cracked corns irresistible, especially if these seeds are on platform feeders.

Song sparrows breed throughout North America, from the northern part of Mexico into Alaska; you’ll often hear its song resounding in the forests of Mid-Atlantic states.

It’s not surprising to see this sparrow occur in northeastern British Columbia, explaining its extensive geographic subspecies with overlapping ranges. Most subspecies come with bold streaks, those from the west coast sport a grayish-brown crown and a white belly.

Song sparrows from the southwest are rusty overall, and the eastern subspecies are generally brown birds with olive-green to grayish heads and intricate brown markings.

You will sometimes see it perching on a redbud tree branch, with a meal on its beak, or having a great time in a bird bath. Unlike the other birds, such sparrows enjoy wandering and ground foraging in leaf litter and spend much of their time doing so.

Otherwise, you will find a song sparrow in open or brushy areas, often roosting on a low, well-concealed nest. It mainly feeds on insects, but during fall and winter, song sparrows eat seeds from ground-level tray feeders, preferably those with surrounding thickets.

13. White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch

A white-breasted nuthatch has extensive breeding distribution throughout the state but varying densities. In the eastern parts of the state, particularly in Cumberland Plateau, white-breasted nuthatches prefer inhabiting pine-oak and oak-hickory forests.

It tends to avoid the Appalachian mixed mesophytic forests, but you will find these nuthatches in small numbers on the Black Mountain in Harlan County. Generally, a white-breasted nuthatch occurs in deciduous forests and wooded suburbs with large trees.

But it seems to favor woodland edges more, and it’s also a familiar sight at backyard feeders, especially in winter. When eyeing this nuthatch, look for its black crown extending to the nape,  white face, and throat, bluish-gray above and whitish-gray underneath. 

In addition to these features, white-breasted nuthatches have short tails; their undertails and lower bellies have a chestnut brown shade. You will notice that when in flight, their wings have rounded edges.

The females, by contrast, have gray crowns, the black bands on their napes are narrower, the upper parts are pale gray, and they’re whitish underneath. Further, it spends more time probing tree trunks and branches than other birds of the same kind.

The bird strongly favors beef suet, hulled sunflower, and black oil sunflower seeds when in feeding stations.

Aside from their appetite for meaty seeds, these nuthatches are also fond of jamming seeds, acorns, and large nuts into tree bark. Eventually, the bird will whack the seeds from the inside using its sharp bill.

14. Brown-Headed Cowbird

Brown-Headed Cowbird

The brown-headed cowbird is a small-sized blackbird with short bill-like sparrows. It is one of the most common brood parasites in North and South America.

These cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other bird species, which makes them a massive threat to smaller songbirds like the wood thrush. Previously, you could only find these cowbirds preying on insects in the Great Plains, but now their kind is widespread across the continent.

You can identify brown-headed cowbirds with their glossy black feathers, contrasting their brown heads that sometimes look as black when bid watching from a distance. The female cowbirds are grayish-brown with lighter-colored throats and streaked underparts.

Brown-headed cowbirds’ main diet consists of cereal grains and grass seeds, although when readily available, they also eat insects like beetles and grasshoppers. 

These birds’ populations are prevalent in forests and woodlands during nesting season, but more preferably in forest edges, pastures, lawns, fields, and meadows.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Kentucky has how many types of birds?

Currently, there are about three hundred ninety bird species recorded in Kentucky. That number includes resident and migrating species alike. Of the three hundred ninety species, at least one hundred fifty birds breed in the state; the other birds merely pass by during the colder months.

We can help birds survive the cold, like the song and white-throated sparrow, by keeping our backyards as diverse as possible. Our backyards are among the places that the birds of Kentucky take refuge in during winter, providing food, water source, and nest boxes.

What is that black bird with a yellow beak in Kentucky?

That black-faced bird with an iridescent sheen, sharp yellow bill, bluish-black belly, and pinkish-brown legs is a male European starling during its breeding season. It is an invasive species, mobbing bird feeders and fighting other backyard birds over black oil sunflower seeds.

In flight, some birders confuse a European starling for a male purple martin due to their similar wing shapes. During the non-breeding season, adult European starlings have buff plumage and bright orange outer wing feathers with noticeable spots on their undertails.

What is Kentucky’s state bird?

The striking appearance of a northern cardinal is easily noticeable in a bird feeder with its bright red plumage. Male northern cardinals sport a striking red plumage with a black mask, while females have a buff shade and reddish wings.

The northern cardinal is Kentucky’s state bird to honor the 1926’s Kentucky General Assembly, dividing the state into senate and house districts. Aside from Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, and North Carolina also has the northern cardinal as their official state bird.


While keeping your bird feeders full of seeds is good, you can offer them something straight from nature. You can attract birds like the northern cardinal, white-throated sparrow, American goldfinch, and other common backyard birds by having native plants in your garden.

Amateurs and experienced birders can utilize handy guides such as this article to become more competent in bird identification. Like many other wildlife groups worldwide, the bird population faces threats, like preserving biodiversity, which is our most significant conservation challenge.

Birds play a pivotal role in ecosystem dynamics; hence, it is crucial to understand, appreciate and protect the birds around us. Such does not require a dramatic move; it might surprise you, but even creating a wildlife-friendly backyard can go a long way for these birds.

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