Virginia Birds: Pictures And Identification Tips

picture of a Cardinal, the state bird of Virginia, and part of the Virginia birds series

The number of Virginia birds to make the official state checklist continues to climb, now nearing the five hundred species mark. They all have plenty of fine places to live or visit through the state from the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley and National Park in the West to the coastal areas of the east.

The types of birds in Virginia can be divided into a variety of common categories, depending on the readers or writers interest.

Land planners across the state might have a special interest in differentiating between the state’s breeding and non-breeding species.

Seasonal tourists might want information on spring migration.

May is prime season for shorebirds along the coast. In places like Chincoteague the breeding season for Neotropical migrants starts up with a bang towards June.

Along the coast, April and May are also great birding times for areas such as The Great Dismal Swamp, close to Virginia Beach. It hosts many of what’s known as the southern warblers such as the Prothonotary warbler.

Spring in the western mountains means breeding time for more warblers, thrushes, and flycatchers. Birds like Scarlet Tanager and Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Blackburnian Warblers are common.

Virginia residents might want to know the types of birds that are year round residents and eager to be invited to a backyard feeder.

The picture at the top of the page, for example, shows the male Cardinal, the official bird of Virginia. It’s a common backyard bird that visits feeders throughout the state.

Virginia Birds
picture of a male American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch

picture of a Black-capped Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee

picture of a Blue Gray Gnatcatcher
Blue Gray Gnatcatcher

picture of a Blue Jay eating nuts
Blue Jay

picture of a Brown-headed Cowbird
Brown-headed Cowbird

picture of a House Wren
House Wren

picture of a Tufted Titmouse
Tufted Titmouse

Common Backyard Birds
picture of a Dark-eyed Junco
Dark-eyed Junco

picture of an Eastern Towhee
Eastern Towhee

picture of a Fox Sparrow
Fox Sparrow

picture of a House Sparrow
House Sparrow

picture of a
Song Sparrow

picture of a Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird

picture of a Gray Catbird
Gray Catbird

The small gallery shows an additional fourteen bird species that are common backyard birds. Some, like the Tufted Titmouse are feeder birds. Others such as the House Wren are insectivores.

Most of the woodpeckers also easily come to feeders. Please press the button for a more detailed examination of all Virginia woodpeckers.

Most, if not all the species are year round residents. Virginia might be the southern most breeding range for a few of the birds, and they fly a bit further south for the winter.

Virginia Birds: History

picture of a Purple Martin at a birdhouse
Virginia’s birding history traces back all the way to the Colonial Era. One need go no further than the story of Thomas Jefferson’s pet mockingbirds to know their mimicry captured the attention of his ear. Jefferson was also interested in the migratory birds of Monticello such as the Purple Martin (pictured). His notebooks contain records of their arrival dates.

History moves forward and another president, Theodore Roosevelt, builds a retreat in southern Albemarle County. Roosevelt’s enthusiasm for bird watching are well know. Less well known might be one historic fact reported by the Monticello Bird Club,

On May 18, 1907 he made an exciting observation, a flock of a dozen Passenger Pigeons near the cabin, and immediately wrote to two of his naturalist friends, John Burroughs and C. Hart Merriam. Although Burroughs and Merriam doubted the observation, the Pigeon having been thought extinct, other naturalists found the identification satisfactory. If correct, this would mean that the last sighting of the Passenger Pigeon in the wild by a reputable observer was in Albemarle County.

Today members of the Monticello Bird Club continue to follow Jefferson’s lead and lead bird walks around Monticello during the migratory season. Tourists are welcome.

Virginia Ducks

The Chesapeake Bay area hosts most of the duck species found in the state.

Typically discussions of types of ducks divides the group according to their eating habits. So for example, dabbling ducks such as Mallads, Teals, Gadwalls etc. are the ducks that stick their heads into to water with their tails often pointed up, close to the shore, in order to gather food.

Diving ducks actually dive under the water in search of food. Because they can dive up to twenty feet below the surface and hold their breath, they are often seen further from the shoreline.

Diving ducks also get further divided into subgroups based on habitat and/or other physical characteristics. The video, for example, starts with a male Ruddy Duck, best known for the blue bill. The stiff tail puts Ruddy Ducks into the Stiff Tail duck category.

Freshwater and Seaducks are the other two types of diving ducks shown in the video. The Greater Scaup, Redhead Duck and Canvasback are common throughout the state.

The seaducks, Common Goldeneye, Harlequin Duck, Hooded Merganser and Common Eider are also present, although Virginia represents the southern edge of the range for the Harlequin Duck and Common Eider. They can sometimes be considered rare or uncommon species.

Virginia Birds: Endangered and Threatened

picture of a Wilson's Plover
Finally a few words about the endangered and threatened birds of Virginia.

Virginia is one state that has its own endangered and threatened species list. It uses it in conjunction with the Federal Endangered Species act.

Currently fourteen birds are listed. Seven of them overlap on both the Federal (FE or FT) and State Lists (SE OR ST)

The Wilson’s Plover pictured at the top of this section is one of seven water birds that are listed. It’s listed as endangered in Virginia. Virginia’s coastal area represents the northern edge of its range and only a few of the state’s barrier islands provide sufficient coastal breeding ground.

  • Bachman’s sparrow ST
  • Bachman’s warbler SE
  • Bewick’s wren SE
  • Henslow’s sparrow ST
  • Kirtland’s warbler FE SE
  • Loggerhead shrike ST
  • Peregrine falcon ST
  • Red-cockaded woodpecker FE SE
  • Eastern black rail FP SE
  • Gull-billed tern ST
  • Piping plover FT ST
  • Red knot FT ST
  • Roseate tern FE SE
  • Wilson’s plover SE