Have you spotted a little, gray bird flitting around your backyard or local park recently but haven’t quite figured out what species it is? Well, you’ve come to the right place!
Here, we’re going to take a look at 12 small gray birds you can spot across North America.
We’ll explore their identifying characteristics, talk about their natural habitat, and even give you some pointers on how to attract each of them into your garden.
Looking for a quick-reference list of small gray birds? Here are 12 of the most common in North America:
- Carolina Chickadee
- Black-Capped Chickadee
- Dark-Eyed Junco
- Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
- Warbling Vireo
- Tufted Titmouse
- White-Breasted Nuthatch
- Eastern Wood Pewee
- Gray Catbird
- Willow Flycatcher
- Northern Parula
Now, let’s take a look at each of these beautiful, small gray birds in more detail.
We’re kicking off our list with the Carolina Chickadee, which is one of the most common small, gray birds you’ll spot in North America.
Most are found in Southeastern and Eastern States, where they remain all year round, but some may head a little further north during the breeding season.
The Carolina Chickadee can be identified by its gray upperparts, wings, and tail along with its black cap.
It also has white underparts and white cheeks that contrast beautifully with its black cap.
In terms of size, the Carolina Chickadee measures around 4.5-inches in length and has an average wingspan of 7.5-inches.
While the Carolina Chickadee is a common visitor to backyards, you can increase your chances of spotting one by visiting their preferred natural habitat of forests and parks with plenty of trees.
They are also very easy to attract to your garden and will happily visit feeders stocked with suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts.
They aren’t particularly fussy about what they feed from either, and will visit platform and tube feeders alike in search of an energy-rich snack!
The Black-Capped Chickadee is one of the smallest birds on our list, measuring around 5-inches in length and with an average wingspan of 7-inches.
They also have an almost comical build with a head that seems much too large for its small body.
In terms of markings, you can identify the Black-Capped Chickadee by its gray upperparts, wings, and tail as well as its white cheeks and, of course, namesake black cap.
Resident to North America all year round, the Black-Capped Chickadee can be found in Northern and Midwest States as well as Canada.
In each of these areas, its habitat remains the same; parks, forests, and open woodlands.
This varied habitat along with their year-round residency makes the Black-Capped Chickadee one of the most commonly spotted small gray birds in North America.
Thanks to their commonality, it’s very easy to attract the Black-Capped Chickadee into your garden.
They love any type of food that is rich in fats including suet, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, and peanuts. They are super inquisitive as well, and will often be the first bird to visit a newly installed feeder.
Another tiny bird, the Bushtit measures around just 3-inches on average. It’s also one of the cutest-looking birds you’ll spot in North America, and is covered with fluffy, light gray feathers along with a black cap and black tail.
Some also sport a light brown patch on the underside, but this isn’t present in all Bushtits.
If you’d like to spot a Bushtit in the wild, the best place to look is scrubby areas or woodland, although they have also been found in open parks and in larger backyards.
They also nest in these areas and, during the breeding season, construct nests from spider webs and soft plant material which are suspended, hanging from the underside of a branch.
Despite their small size, the Bushtit makes a very large nest around a foot in length, taking almost a month to build.
Throughout the summer, the Bushtit is almost exclusively insectivorous and will feed on ants, beetles, caterpillars, wasps, flies, and small spiders.
Come winter, however, the need to fuel themselves with energy-rich foods becomes important and they’ll feed on suet, mealworms, and sunflower seeds.
Members of the Sparrow family, the Dark-Eyed Junco can be identified by the gray feathers that cover the entirety of its body.
Generally speaking, they have darker feathers on the upperparts and lighter gray feathers on the underside.
Interestingly, however, this isn’t always the case and colors, shades, and markings can differ depending on their location.
In fact, those found in Western States tend to have brown plumage with no gray markings at all.
Resident in North America all year round, Dark-Eyed Juncos are most commonly found in Western and Northeastern States as well as the Appalachian Mountains.
Those that spend the breeding season in the North will head further South to spend the winter in warmer temperatures, but head back Northwards come spring.
The Dark-Eyed Junco’s preferred habitat is woodland, and here they forage on the ground for small insects and seeds to feed on.
They are also known to visit backyards in search of something to eat, and can be attracted with an offering of peanuts, cracked corn, sunflower seeds, and njyer.
Bear in mind, however, that as the Dark-Eyed Junco is a ground-feeding bird, it would be best to use a platform or ground feeder.
As you may have guessed from its name, the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher is most easily identified by the blue-gray feathers that cover the upper parts of its body.
It also has lighter gray underparts, a black tail, a black stripe across each eye, and a silver ring surrounding its black eye.
In terms of size, the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher measures around 4-inches in length and has an average wingspan of 6-inches.
The first migratory species on our list of small gray birds, the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher spends spring and summer in Eastern and Southern States before heading further South to Mexico and Central America for the winter.
Some do remain present in Florida all year round, but if temperatures look to drop too low they’ll take to the skies and head somewhere a little warmer!
The Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher’s preferred habitat is deciduous forests and here they hunt on the wing for small insects to feed on.
This is where the name “Gnatcatcher” comes from, and they are particularly skilled at snatching these tiny insects out of the air with expert precision.
Since the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher is exclusively insectivorous, it can be difficult to attract them to your backyard.
It isn’t impossible though, and you can increase your chances of attracting this small gray bird by planting native, insect-attracting shrubs in your backyard.
Another migratory bird, the Warbling Vireo heads to Northwestern States and Canada for the breeding season before returning to its native Central America and Mexico for the winter.
They can be identified by the light gray feathers that cover their upperparts and wings, along with their white underside and dark gray beak.
Not much is known about the Warbling Vireo as it is a notoriously shy bird, choosing to live not only in remote forests but also very high up in the canopy of the trees.
This means that it’s very unlikely you’ll ever spot one in your garden.
However, if you would like to try and catch a glimpse of this beautiful, yet elusive, bird you’ll need to head to woodlands or forests and aim your binoculars skywards!
One of the most unique-looking species on our list of small gray birds, the Tufted Titmouse
is most easily identified by the tall, dark gray crest on the top of its head. It also has dark gray upperparts and wings, black wing bars, white underparts, and a rust-orange patch underneath each wing.
In terms of size, the Tufted Titmouse measures around 6-inches in length and has an average wingspan of 8.5-inches.
You can spot the Tufted Titmouse in Southeastern and Eastern States all year round, and the can often be found living in mixed flocks alongside nuthatches, woodpeckers, and chickadees.
They are, however, notoriously aggressive towards birds that are much smaller than themselves, and have been known to bully other species to claim both food and territory.
Throughout the summer, the Tufted Titmouse feeds almost exclusively on insects including ants, beetles, and wasps.
Come fall, they’ll head to garden bird feeders in search of an energy-rich meal and you can increase your chances of attracting this incredible-looking bird with an offering of peanuts, sunflower seeds, and suet.
Unlike their peach-breasted cousins, the White-Breasted Nuthatch is most easily identified by its namesake pure white breast and underparts.
It also has a light gray face, dark gray back and wings, and a black cap. Some also have a rust-orange colored patch on the rump, but this isn’t present in all White-Breasted Nuthatches.
Resident to North America, the White-Breasted Nuthatch can be spotted all year round and is most commonly found in Northern States and Southern Canada.
Wherever they choose to set up their home, their preferred habitat is incredibly varied and consists of parks, woodland edges, forests, and even backyards.
As you may have guessed from their name, the White-Breasted Nuthatch has a particular penchant for feeding on nuts.
They also have a fairly unique way of getting to the seed within. They’ll carry their nut over to a tree and jam it into the bark as hard as they can. This causes the nut to crack and exposes the tasty seed within!
Nuts aren’t the only food that the White-Breasted Nuthatch is interested in, however, and they’ll also visit bird feeders stocked with sunflower seeds or suet.
They also feed on insects and small spiders throughout the summer months, so try planting some native, insect-attracting shrubs in your garden to increase your chances of drawing the White-Breasted Nuthatch into your backyard.
Eastern Wood Pewee
You can identify the Eastern Wood Pewee by its light gray underparts, darker gray underparts, and brown and white streaked wings.
They bear a remarkable resemblance to the Gray Gnatcatcher, however, one thing that is a clear separation characteristic is their call.
This sounds like a short burst of “pee-wee pee-wee pee-wee”, and it’s this call that they take their name from.
Migratory birds to North America, the Eastern Wood Pewee arrives in some Eastern States and Canada in late spring for the breeding season.
As soon as they’ve raised their brood and the weather starts to cool off, they’ll take to the skies and return to South America for the winter.
Exclusively insectivorous, the Eastern Wood Pewee isn’t a very common backyard visitor and is most commonly spotted in forest edges hunting for small insects to feed on.
You can increase your chances of attracting the Eastern Wood Pewee to your garden by planting native, insect-attracting shrubs, but they will not visit bird feeders stock with seeds, nuts, or suet.
Another bird named after its call, the Gray Catbird is famous for producing a song that sounds much like the mewing of a cat.
They can hold this mewing tone for a long time as well, sometimes as long as 10 minutes!
This distinctive call isn’t the Gray Catbird’s only identifying characteristic, though. It can also be identified by the dark gray feathers that cover the entire of its body, along with its black tail and black cap.
In terms of size, the Gray Catbird measures around 8.5-inches long and has an average wingspan of 10-inches.
Those that live along the East Coast will remain all year round, while those that spend the breeding season in Canada and the Midwest will head South towards the Caribbean for the winter months.
Regardless of location or time of year, the Gray Catbird’s preferred habitat is always forest edges with plenty of small trees and shrubs to nest and shelter in.
The Gray Catbird’s diet primarily consists of fruits, and you can attract this bird into your garden by placing dried fruit on a platform feeder.
You can also increase your chances of attracting the Gray Catbird to your garden by planting native, fruiting shrubs such as serviceberry or dogwood.
One of the lesser-known members of the Flycatcher family, the Willow Flycatcher can be identified by the dark gray and brown feathers that cover its back and cap.
It also has light gray underparts, and dark gray markings on each cheek. Relatively small in size, the Willow Flycatcher measures around 6-inches in length and has an average wingspan of 8-inches.
A migratory bird to North America, the Willow Flycatcher spends the breeding season in the Mountainous West as well as some Northwestern States.
Come winter, they’ll take to the skies and head to their native Central America and Mexico to spend the winter in warmer temperatures.
The Willow Flycatcher is quite a shy bird and rarely strays into human-populated areas. You’re most likely to spot this bird in forest edges near a source of water, where there are plenty of flying insects for them to feed on.
You’ll also increase your chances of spotting the Willow Flycatcher in these areas by visiting these areas at either end of the migration season.
We’ve saved one of the more colorful birds on our list for last! The Northern Parula sports a bright yellow patch on its breast and throat, along with blue-gray upperparts and head.
Its underside is a pure white color, and it also has black and white markings on the wings. The Northern Parula is a small bird too, measuring around 4.5-inches in length and with an average wingspan of 7-inches.
The Northern Parula can be spotted throughout late spring and summer in Eastern States and in Canada.
Come fall, they’ll start their long migratory journey South to the Caribbean and Central America where they’ll spend the winter before heading back Northwards the following breeding season.
As the Northern Parula is exclusively insectivorous, it’s quite difficult to entice them into your garden.
They very rarely venture from their preferred deciduous forest habitat either, so if you’d like to try and spot this colorful little bird you’ll need to make a special trip!
During the breeding season, keep an eye out for hanging nests made from moss and lichen – this is a clue that a Northern Parula is close by!
There you have it – 12 small gray birds you can spot across North America. Many of these are common backyard visitors that can be drawn in with a simple offering of food.
Others, however, are much more elusive and you’ll need to go on a hike to spot them!