There are roughly 10,000 different bird species in the world, but the most popular species in 2011 have been some of the most colorful and most familiar birds across North America. From raptors to waterfowl to hummingbirds to songbirds, these birds are familiar and welcome to many birders in the field and the backyard, but how much do you know about each of these top species? Click each bird's name for more detailed information, including how to attract them to your backyard, conservation information, reproduction details and identification tips.
If you have other birds in your personal top 10 list, top bird wish list, backyard bird list, or other ranking, email me with suggestions for new bird profiles or check out the complete collection of more than 160 species already detailed. Your favorite birds might just make the top 10 list for 2012!
The most familiar duck species, brightly colored mallards are found worldwide and have adapted well to both wild and domestic life. These are a popular species for waterfowl hunting, but are equally popular on urban ponds. They may form large flocks and stay in many areas year-round if food supplies are adequate and often hybridize with other duck species, including escaped domestic ducks.
Aptly named for the male's brilliant red gorget, the ruby-throated hummingbird is the most common hummingbird species east of the Mississippi River, and their appearance in their northern breeding grounds is eagerly anticipated every year. They readily come to backyards with nectar-bearing flowers or where hummingbird nectar is regularly offered.
The smallest accipiter, the sharp-shinned hawk is one of the most familiar backyard raptors and will feed regularly on other backyard birds, small rodents and large insects. An agile and swift flier, this bird can easily weave in and out of trees while hunting and may stake out bird feeding areas waiting for an unwary visitor to be its next meal.
The most familiar sparrow in the world, the house sparrow is considered invasive in many areas, yet it is declining in its native Middle Eastern range. Highly adaptable and gregarious in flocks, these birds are familiar to every birder. They will eat many types of seed and can nest in houses or nooks in many unusual locations.
The smallest backyard woodpecker in North America, the downy woodpecker is easily recognized by its black and white plumage and tiny nub of a bill. It will frequently visit suet feeders and also dines on seeds, fruit and nuts, and is a popular backyard guest, even taking up residence in bird houses. Identify males by the red spot on their nape, where females are simply black and white.
A larger cousin of the sharp-shinned hawk, the Cooper's hawk is another backyard bird of prey and can be hard to identify when compared to sharpies, but its longer tail, more capped appearance and overall larger dimensions make it an aggressive addition to the backyard. It will prey on larger birds, even successfully hunting birds as large as jays or doves.
Brilliantly colored, the Baltimore oriole eagerly visits backyards where oranges and jelly are offered, and it is frequently found in orchards and parks as well. Females do not have the same bold coloration, but their yellow plumage can be equally attractive. The warbling song of these colorful passerines is another reason they are often welcome in the backyard.
A widespread western hummingbird, the Anna's hummingbird actually stays year-round in North America along the Pacific Coast as far north as Vancouver, making it a popular and welcome flying jewel in any season, and the male's glittering pink or ruby head and throat are instantly recognizable by all hummingbird aficionados.
The designated state bird of seven states, the northern cardinal is widespread and easily recognized. The male's brilliant red plumage and perky crest give it a simultaneously regal and whimsical look, and the female's softer fawn and pink-tinged plumage make her equally beautiful. Year-round guests in many yards, these familiar songbirds are always welcome and easily visit feeders offering sunflower or safflower seeds.
There's nothing to mock about the northern mockingbird's beautiful songs and amazing ability to mimic a wide range of different sounds, including not only other birds but also mechanical sounds and other ambient noises in its range. Stately and active, these birds visit backyards for fruit and berries, and they easily nest in thorny bushes and shrubs but will defend those nests aggressively.