Last Updated on September 23, 2022 by Wandering our World
West Virginia is best known for its amazing landscapes, including beautiful mountains, lush forests, and many waterways and whitewater rivers. It’s filled with many local and migratory birds too, with approximately 366 different species living there at some point throughout the year.
Whether you’re a keen birdwatcher or just interested in what birds you might see in your backyard, then follow along as we go through some of the most common, colorful, and rare birds of Western Virginia.
We show you pictures, give information on what each bird is like and even some interesting facts!
The Most Common Birds in Western Virginia
1. Song Sparrow
Song Sparrows are medium-sized sparrows measuring up to 7 inches long with a 10-inch wingspan and weighing up to 53 grams. They have dark streaky brown upper feathers and white lower feathers with dark streaks.
They will forage on the ground for insects and seeds. But if they find any crustaceans in shallow water, they’re happy to eat those as well.
Song Sparrows can live anywhere, but they prefer brushland and marshes. But they thrive when living near humans such as suburbs, agricultural fields, and near roads.
Song Sparrows are not endangered and are one of the most common birds in Western Virginia.
2. Mourning Dove
Mourning Doves are one of the most common and widespread birds in North America. They’re a medium-sized dove measuring up to 12 inches long with an 18-inch wingspan and weighing up to 128 grams. They’re a light grey-brown on their upper feathers with light pinkish lower feathers, black spots on their wings, and a white tail.
They are one of the biggest gamebirds in the United States, with between 20 million – 70 million shot each year.
Mourning Doves prefer open habitats such as urban parks, farms, prairies, grasslands and can sometimes be found in lightly wooded areas. They have adapted well to live in human-populated areas.
Mourning Doves are not endangered, and the population is estimated to be 475 million.
3. Tufted Titmouse
The Tufted Titmouse is a small songbird measuring up to 6 inches long with a 10-inch wingspan and weighing up to 26 grams. They have grey upper feathers with a white chest and belly and rusty colored sides; above their black forehead is a tufted grey crest.
They will often raid backyard bird feeders and take the food away to store in their tree holes for fall and winter when it’s less available to them.
Unlike many other birds, Tufted Titmouse young can stay with their parents during the winter. Some may remain for an entire year!
You’ll find the Tufted Titmouse flittering between tree branches in deciduous forests and mixed forests, and in local parks and gardens. As well as in any bird feeders people have set up.
The Tufted Titmouse is not endangered and has an increasing population of 1.5% each year.
4. Common Grackle
The Grackle is a large blackbird measuring up to 13 inches long with an 18-inch wingspan and weighing up to 122 grams. They are mostly black but have a shimmering array of colors at different angles, making their heads look purple, green or blue. And their bodies have a bronze coloration.
They’re considered very smart and resourceful, using humans to increase their food supply, often following farmers plowing fields to capture the mice trying to escape. They will go into shallow water for small fish, eat leeches off turtles, steal food from other birds and even kill and eat other birds.
Because Grackles do use farms for food, including crops, making them a pest to many farmers who will bring in birds of prey to hunt and remove Grackles from the area.
Common Grackles can be found in wet open woodland and marshes and are also often found in suburban areas near humans, such as parks. You will be able to spot them as the largest blackbirds in a group.
Common Grackles are near threatened but are extremely common birds in Western Virginia. There are estimated to be 73 million worldwide, but that has dropped from 190 million in previous years.
5. Eastern Towhee
The Eastern Towhee is a large sparrow measuring up to 9 inches long with a 12-inch wingspan and weighing up to 53 grams. Males have a black head, upper chest, neck, and back, with reddish sides and a white belly. The females are the same except instead of black, they are dark brown.
Eastern Towhee are a popular bird for Brown-headed Cowbirds to sneak their own eggs into the nest so that the Eastern Towhee will raise their young. When researchers check nests, they often find at least one egg that shouldn’t be there, so it’s a prevalent issue.
Your best chance of finding Eastern Towhee is by walking along hardwood forests and old fields with vegetation. They will be rustling along the ground, looking for food, which is where they spend most of their time.
Eastern Towhee are not endangered but are on the decline due to habitat loss from humans.
6. Belted Kingfisher
Belted Kingfishers are the only Kingfisher in the region and are a generally medium-sized bird at 14 inches long with a 23-inch wingspan and weighing up to 178 grams.
It has a large blue head with an equally large crest (or mohawk) that runs from its forehead to neck. Its upper feathers are blue, it has a large white collar, a large blue band across its chest, and the rest of it its underbody is white.
You’ll often see a Belted Kingfisher perched on low-lying branches watching the water, and as they see their prey, they will dive headfirst into the water to grab it. Favorite foods include fish, frogs, crustaceans, insects, small mammals, and even reptiles.
The Belted Kingfisher are permanent residents of Northern Virginia. You will find them around any bodies of water such as lakes, rivers or along the coast.
Belted Kingfishers are not endangered and have a widespread distribution across most of the Americas. Some areas may see fewer of them due to habitat loss, but overall, they are doing well.
The Most Colorful Birds in Western Virginia
1. Tree Swallow
Tree Swallows are small birds measuring up to 5.5 inches long with a wingspan of 14 inches and weighing up to 26 grams. They have glossy blue-green upper feathers with a blackish tail and wings. Their under feathers are white with a white cheek patch.
With a large global population, it’s interesting that most Tree Swallows don’t live past their first year of life and the average lifespan of those that do is 2.7 years. Most deaths are simply due to cold weather when food sources are unavailable.
Tree Swallows only come to West Virginia during winter migration. Their preferred habitat is open wooded areas with a body of water close by.
Tree Swallows are not endangered and have a global population of around 20,000,000.
2. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are the most common hummingbird in the eastern states, including in Virginia. It can grow to be 3.5 inches long with a wingspan of 4.3 inches and weigh up to 4 grams. It has metallic green upper feathers, greyish white lower feathers, black wings, and a ruby-colored throat patch.
Interestingly enough, the ruby throat patch is highly directional, so it can appear black until you move to a different location where it will appear bright ruby red.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds prefer to breed in deciduous and pine forests towards the edges, as well as in orchards and gardens. It does migrate during winter as far as Florida or Mexico.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is not endangered and has an increasing population of around 36,000,000.
3. Indigo Bunting
The Indigo Bunting is a small migratory bird, measuring up to 6 inches long with a 9-inch wingspan and weighing up to 21 grams. The males have a mostly cerulean blue body with an indigo head and black wings and tail. During winter, they add brownish coloring to their feathers. The females are mostly brown to light brown year-round.
They are generally solitary birds and will fight each other and other buntings. But during winter when food is scarce, they will feed in flocks without any issues.
The Indigo Bunting prefers brushy forest edges, open deciduous forests, and farmland. Population increase has been seen when forests are cleared and turned into farmland, which may indicate a preference for that type of habitat if available.
Indigo Bunting are not endangered and have a wide distribution with a large population of around 28,000,000.
4. American Goldfinch
American Goldfinches are a small, brightly colored golden yellow finch with a black forehead and wings during mating season. But that molts to a much more muted brown color in winter. The females are a much lighter yellow during mating season and go to the same muted brown color during winter. They can grow to be 5.5 inches long with a 9-inch wingspan and weigh up to 20 grams.
During mating season, they are extremely aggressive towards anybody entering their territory; this includes both males and females. Dominance during the non-mating season is determined by how many battles have been won. However American Goldfinches will flock together with other finches outside of breeding season without any issues.
The American Goldfinch is found throughout residential areas as it is attracted to bird feeders many locals put out for them, as well as the planted grasses and perennial trees that produce seedheads that the bird wants to eat.
American Goldfinches are not endangered and are very common birds in Western Virginia.
5. Northern Cardinal
The Northern Cardinal is an extremely striking bright red bird and is Virginia’s official state bird. The bird gets its Cardinal name from Catholic cardinals who wear bright red robes. It’s a medium-sized songbird measuring up to 9 inches long with a 12-inch wingspan and weighing up to 45 grams.
The males are almost exclusively bright red, with a black face mask covering the eyes and down to the upper neck. Its red does become slightly darker on its back and outward on its wings. The females are greyish-brown with a slight light red tinge to some feathers.
Northern Cardinals are permanent residents of Western Virginia and can be found throughout woodlands, gardens, parks, and wetlands. They will also be spotted in residential areas because they’re especially fond of bird feeders in people’s backyards.
Northern Cardinals are not endangered and are one of the most common birds in Western Virginia. And it’s estimated there are around 100 million of them globally!
6. Eastern Bluebird
Eastern Bluebirds are a small bird with a large head and plump little bodies; they can measure up to 8 inches long with a 13-inch wingspan and weigh up to 32 grams. Males have a deep, bright blue back and head, with a rusty chest and neck. The rest of their lower body is white. Females are more subdued with a mostly greyish appearance with some hints of blue on their wings and reddish chest.
Most Eastern Bluebirds are very social, and you find them in flocks of 100! However, the friendliness subsides during mating season, where they will defend their territory from other Eastern Bluebirds.
You’ll find Eastern Bluebirds in meadows and any areas with trees that offer holes for them to live in. However, with the introduction of birding and people putting up premade bird nests, they’re an easy bird to attract almost anywhere, and you’ll find them on golf courses and in backyards.
Eastern Bluebirds are not endangered and are considered a very common bird throughout all of Western Virginia.
The Rarest Birds in Western Virginia
West Virginia sits along the migration path for a considerable number of birds, so you’ll get an opportunity to see many different birds, which can change year to year. These below birds are rare to see, but if you’re in the right places at the right times, you’ll have a great chance.
1. Kirtland’s Warbler
Kirtland’s Warblers are large plump warblers measuring up to 6 inches long with a wingspan of 8.7 inches and weighing up to 16 grams. They have bluish-grey upper feathers with dark streaks throughout their back and wings, and their bellies are yellow. The females of the species are a more muted brown with no streaks.
The most interesting thing about this reasonably rare bird is that it relies on the destruction of forest areas, primarily through fire, for its habitat to become usable as a home.
Allegheny Front Migratory Observatory, Dolly Sods is the best place to try to spot one during fall.
They require very specific habitat conditions: young jack pines on sandy soil. Though recent research has shown they may also be able to use red pine.
Kirtland’s Warblers are near threatened after being endangered for many years. However, that doesn’t mean the population is huge, just that it’s stopped declining. There are just an estimated 4,800 breeding pairs of Kirtland’s Warblers left globally.
2. Bald Eagle
Bald Eagles are birds of prey and the national bird of the United States. They’re mostly black with a white head and tail and can grow to 40 inches long with a 7’7 wingspan and weigh up to 15 lbs. Bald eagles also live a long natural life and average around 20 years, but there have been reports of them reaching 30-40 years old.
The Bald Eagle is perhaps the biggest bird of prey and is a powerful flyer, reaching speeds of 43 mph and can dive at speeds up to 99 mph. Bald Eagles will stay in their territory as long as there is a body of water with a food source. If it freezes over, they will migrate south.
During the 18th century, it’s estimated there were around 500,000 Bald Eagles, but due to the use of pesticides like DDT, that population fell to about 822 by the 1950s. As of 2020, there are an estimated 316,700 in the lower 48 US states.
Pipestem Eagle Survey, Pipestem Resort State Park is the best place during winter and spring migrations to see them. However, you can also see them in other parts of the state when there is a body of water close by with fish as that is their primary food source.
Bald Eagles are no longer considered endangered and are becoming a more common sight in certain parts of West Virginia. They’re still a rare sight but there is possibility for you to actually seek out and find one now.
3. Cerulean Warbler
Cerulean Warblers are small songbirds measuring up to 4 inches long with a wingspan of 8 inches and weighing up to 9 grams. Males have mixed cerulean blue and white upper feathers with black streaks throughout their back and wings and a white blueish belly. Females are closer to greyish or greenish upper feathers with no streaking.
What’s interesting about the Cerulean Warbler is that both males and females are brightly colored but in very different colors.
Eidolon Nature Preserve, Great Cacapon, is the best place during late spring and early summer to see them. They prefer large mature deciduous forests but can be found in other forests as needed during migration.
Cerulean Warblers are near threatened and are one of the fastest declining neotropical migrant songbirds at the moment. There are no current estimates on exact numbers, but there has been an up to 1/5 decline in their population over the last 40 years.