Birds of Indiana: The Bird Watcher’s Guide (2021)

Pair of Northern Cardinals

The Hoosier State is the so-called crossroads of America and home for 422 birds of Indiana throughout a year, including 180 annual breeding species. Even though woodland bird number has decreased in recent years, it is still an excellent place for bird watchers and nature photographers looking for residents, rarities, and birds flying over this territory while migrating.

Indiana Birds

Officially, 422 native and migrating bird species are recorded in Indiana. The list includes 125 rare birds, ten introduced to this state, three already extinct, and three considered extirpated. You can divide these birds into three categories:

  • Resident birds living here year-round
  • Birds living in Indiana in spring, summer, and early autumn
  • Birds that spend fall and winter here

With 59% frequency, Northern Cardinal is the most common backyard Indiana bird throughout the year. This beautiful red-feathered bird is the state bird of Indiana since 1933 and also the official state bird in six other states. Other unique birds found here include:

  • Black-necked Stilt, the rarest bird species you can see in Indiana
  • Indigo Bunting, the most abundant songbird in Indiana
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl, one of the tiniest owls worldwide
  • Snowy Owl, the largest owl in Indiana
  • Pileated Woodpecker, the largest woodpecker in Indiana
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk, the tiniest hawk in Indiana
  • Pygmy Nuthatch, the smallest bird in Indiana

Mallard is the most common bird species in the US and the most recognizable and the most commonly harvested duck in Indiana.

Peregrine Falcon is the largest falcon you can regularly see in Indiana. It is also the fastest living creature on the planet, with a developed speed of 200 mph (320 km/h).

Noteworthy Birds of Indiana

Here is a well-researched list of the main highlight birds and rarities you definitely want to see and photograph whether you live in Indiana or are a visitor.

Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)

Red Breasted Merganser Swimming On A Lake Looking For Food

Funny disheveled Red-breasted Merganser forms pairs or small flocks of up to 15 birds before migrating in winter. Cornell Lab of Ornithology has reported that approximately 250,000 of these ducks live throughout the US. Even though its primary spot is around Lake Erie, you can see it in Indiana, mainly in Eagle Creek Park, at the lake coast.

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

falcon flying

This beautiful Indiana bird is the largest falcon in this state and the fastest living creature worldwide. There is no historical data about this falcon nesting in this area, but it is a regular migratory bird along the Lake Michigan shore in the fall. Nowadays, it is reintroduced to Indiana, primarily in urban areas.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

Asio flammeus

A mid-sized, flame-colored Short-eared Owl lives in grassy, open fields and builds nests on the ground. It is an erratic winter visitor in Indiana, primarily seen in the Indiana Dunes. Sometimes, it stays at the North state part year-round, and you can see small loose-knit bird groups flying low over the ground.

Blue-winged Teal (Spatula discors)

Blue-winged Teal (Spatula discors)

Blue-winged Teal is one of the most familiar neotropical migrant duck species in Indiana and among the most abundant ducks in the US. Since it migrates such long distances, you can expect to see it in the Indiana Dunes and Calumet region late in spring. It will be the first species leaving the Hoosier State in summer.

Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl living throughout the US is one of the tiniest owls in the world. It is an unpredictable creature and can migrate south in winter or stay in Indiana year-round, especially in the dense coniferous forests at North. Stations in five state birding hotspots capture owls in fall and release them after measuring and marking them.

Cerulean Warbler (Setophaga cerulea)

You can effortlessly hear Cerulean Warbler, but it is not easy noticing it on treetops. Unfortunately, its populations have declined 72% in the last 40 years because of forest fragmentation, and it is considered a rare spring and summer species nowadays. You can see this migratory beauty in the Big Oaks in the Indiana southeast during warm days.

Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)

Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)

Bobolink is one strange bird with a light back and dark belly that sings even while flying. You can see it in northern Indiana in summer while spending winter in the state south. The number of this ground nester declined 65% in the last 50 years because of nest destruction. Luckily, it is mostly restored in the Kankakee Sands prairie.

Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia)

Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia)

Caspian Tern is a migrant that prefers saltwater wetlands and coastal bays. It nests in colonies, usually in shallow depressions on gravel islands without much vegetation. You can regularly see this beautiful wanderer flying with gulls along the Lake Michigan shore in spring and fall and during the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival.

Great Egret (Ardea alba)

Great Egret (Ardea alba)

This long-necked migratory bird is a wader that nests in trees and feeds in marshes and swamps. You can occasionally see this long-legged beauty in the Indiana north. Unfortunately, its number declined drastically in the south part of the state before the Migratory Bird Protection Act was passed because of hunting and draining shallow water areas.

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)

Deep velvet blue Indigo Bunting is actually black, but the light diffraction through its feathers makes it so beautiful. You can find this long-distance migratory bird in open woodlands. It comes to Indiana during the breeding season, goes to the south in winter, and is considered the most abundant songbird in this state.

Common Birds of Indiana

A list of the most common birds in Indiana is based on Ebird recorded views data. Most of them you can see in your feeders at the appropriate time of year.

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)

grackle portrait

You can find 13 resident or short-distance migrant Common Grackles spending winters in Indiana. It is not hard to spot semi-colonies numbering about 200 bird pairs in marshes, agricultural fields, parks, and open wet woodlands. This bird nests in barns, other bird’s nests, and old woodpecker holes. It is also a pretty aggressive feeder visitor.

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

Red-winged Blackbird is a favorite spring harbinger that spends a breeding season in marshes exclusively. You can see large, common flocks of various blackbird species all over Indiana year-round, but this species occasionally visit feeders. It won’t be hard to recognize a male’s song while trying to attract mates.

Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens)

Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens)

Since Snow Goose spends a breeding season in the North, you can see these large birds in Indiana only while migrating south in fall. Look for the huge flocks of the noisiest waterfowls in this state honking next to water or in large fields. Luckily, the species have recovered well after being on the verge of extinction.

European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

four starlings

You can see European (Common) Starling all over Indiana year-round. This bird was introduced to the US in the late 1800s, but it is now considered an invasive species. It needs tall trees for nesting but looks for an open area when it is time for feeding. It is not rare seeing this bully driving other birds from feeders.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

You can quickly recognize Canada Geese V-shaped flocks during fall and spring migrating. Even though many people believe that they are resident birds in Indiana, it is not correct. You can see them year-round, but it will always be some other flock. This species prefers gathering around rivers, lakes, coastal areas, and urban basins.

Purple Martin (Progne subis)

Purple Martin (Progne subis)

Purple Martin is a herald of spring and one of America’s favorite bird species. You can see it in many of Indiana’s yard feeders in March after spending winter in South America, 5,000 miles (8,000 km) away. Nowadays, this bird is almost entirely dependent on human-provided housing, while it still eats only insects catching in flight.

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

duck

Mallard is one of the most abundant duck species worldwide, choosing wet habitats like marshes, lakes, rivers, and wooded swamps. Ornithologists disagree if feral populations are permanent residents or migratory species. You can find them across Indiana, next to swimming pools, retention ponds, and artificial, human-built structures.

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

Ring-billed Gulls are migratory birds of southern Indiana. You can find them around ponds, lakes, and urban and coastal areas. This species is not rare throughout the Hoosier State, but it prefers habitats like Turtle Creek Reservoir and Bloomington’s Lake Monroe. Since it is a medium-distance migrant, it won’t go far away from the Great Lakes.

Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis)

Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis)

Tall and elegant Sandhill Cranes are impressive wild birds in Indiana. They stopped nesting in the US after wetlands in the North had drained. Most of them migrate to Canada, but some choose partners in northern parts of the Hoosier State and stay. You can see approximately 20,000 birds in the Jasper-Pulaski State Fish & Wildlife Area in November.

Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)

Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)

Northern Pintail is one of the first ducks that migrate through Indiana north in spring and south in autumn. This species chooses coastal wintering grounds, agricultural areas, and shallow estuaries. You can see it in wetland habitats and wildlife refuges as much away from people as possible. It will be enough to follow the male’s unique train whistle-like call.

Indiana Landscape and Birding Seasons

Given the topography, you can divide Indiana into three regions:

North region – It is mostly flat land with numerous small lakes, marshes, and tall-grass prairie. The 40 miles (64 km) long shoreline along Lake Michigan is a kingdom for rarities like scoters, kittiwakes, and jaegers.

Central region – It is an entirely flat part with deciduous forests and the restored Limberlost swamp. The expansive city park, Eagle Creek Park, is a real hotspot with 270 bird species spotted over the years.

South region – It is a rugged part with Hoosier National Forest and three National Wildlife Refuges.

Once spring comes, the first Indiana birds you can see are robins singing and courting in the countryside, marshes, and near the lakeshores. Then come migrating ducks, Canada Geese, and Mallards to nest here.

While Red-tailed Hawks enjoy the first sunny days, Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Junco disappear from feeders after spending winter in Indiana.

Summer is time for young birds to start their lives, making this time of year ideal for Indiana birding. You can enjoy Barn Swallows and starlings flocks flying above the countryside while goldfinches begin to nest.

Ducks start leaving the state in October, and this is an excellent period to visit Dunes and look for rarities like Iceland gull and Eurasian Wigeon. Finally, you can enjoy birds native to Indiana during winter and solitary winter wanderers. If you are lucky, it is time to find Snowy Owls.

Indiana Birding Hotspots

Although you can find numerous bird species all over Indiana, the most popular hotspots are located along a 40 miles (64 km) long Lake Michigan shoreline.

Indiana Dunes SP

Indiana Dunes is the ultimate area for watching birds of Northwest Indiana, with over 350 species living and migrating here. Come in spring to count a hundred hawks or enjoy spectacular Sandhill Cranes migrations in fall. It is also a place for nesting birds like Red-headed Woodpecker, Baltimore Oriole, Red-shouldered Hawk, Prairie Warbler, and Scarlet Tanager.

Miller Beach, Lake Street

Come here in August to scan the lake and its beach for migrating gulls, terns, and shorebirds, and rarities like jaegers. Fall is an ideal period for Indiana bird identification and looking for migrating Bald Eagles, Sandhill Cranes, and neotropical species, including Golden-winged Warbler, Wood Thrush, and Canada Warbler.

Eagle Creek Park

Eagle Creek Park is the largest city park in Indianapolis and a productive destination for over 270 Indiana birds. You can find nesting birds like Wood Duck, American Woodcock, and Yellow-throated Warbler after enjoying a hummingbird garden in Ornithology Center. Sometimes, you can see endangered Hooded Warbler, while winter is time for 24 duck species.

Indiana Dunes SP – Observation (Green) Tower

You may consider it weird to look for birds in a tower, but this is the place with 283 noticed bird species. In fact, birders have seen about 1,300 birds flying around this specific place. It is the right spot to see Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, and a wide list of rarities.

Gibson Generating Station

Generating Station and the associated lake for storing wastewater have attracted about 300 bird species to its shores for decades. This place is known among birders since endangered Least Tern is often seen here. You can also find American White Pelican, Red-breasted Merganser, Rock Pigeon, American Coot, Double-crested Cormorant, and Green-winged Teal.

Cane Ridge WMA

Come to the south part of Indiana and visit Cane Ridge to see shorebirds, Bald Eagles, waterfowl, and only two Least Tern nesting colonies east of Mississippi. Look for rare Black-necked Stilts and Wilson’s Phalaropes, and the first recorded Mountain Bluebird, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, and Northern Wheatear in the state. Snowy Egrets and Cattle Egrets are also discovered here in winter.

Willow Slough FWA

A combination of woodland, prairie, and marsh makes Willow Slough an ideal area to hear many Indiana bird calls. Look for rare Smith’s longspur, Ross’s Goose, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and Black Rail. It is also an excellent location to enjoy Bald Eagle and Osprey flights. Be aware that some areas are closed during a hunting season.

Lakefront Park and Sanctuary, Hammond

This tiny isolated patch of greenery between Lake Michigan and the urban area is a migrant trap. Come here in spring and fall to see up to 250 bird species resting and feeding during migrating. You can also see Common Yellowthroat, Magnolia Warbler, American Redstart, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak appearing for a few minutes.

Summit Lake SP

Summit Lake is located not far from New Castle and is one of the best places to watch Indiana water birds. Birders usually occupy vantage points with an excellent view of numerous scoters, terns, geese, gulls, and ducks, including uncommon Long-tailed Duck. Sometimes, it is possible to spot a pair of nesting Bald Eagles and migrating pelicans.

Celery Bog Nature Area

Celery Bog is the hotspot for 258 bird species, including 25 shorebird ones. There are​numerous Indiana winter birds like breeding Wood Duck, water birds, including Great Blue Heron and Pied-billed Grebe, and migratory Bald Eagle and Osprey. Local forest near the wetlands is an excellent area for nestling Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Baltimore Oriole, and Indigo Bunting.

Indiana Field Guides

Any bird lover needs a field guide, although they have already installed the apps on the smartphone. If you don’t have this device or want to explore remote ends without the Net, an inexpensive physical field guide can be a helpful solution. Choose the best birds of Indiana field guide among a few available and go birding.

Birds of Indiana Field Guide

Using this Stan Tekiela’s Birds of Indiana book is an excellent way to learn to identify birds and make birding even more enjoyable. The author made bird identification simple by including detailed photographs, fact-filled information, and range maps. Therefore, you can effortlessly recognize 112 described bird species organized by color.

Midwestern Birds: Backyard Guide

If you enjoy Indiana backyard birds, you should look for Bill Thompson’s practical guidebook as help. It features the 55 most common, intriguing, and most likely seen backyard birds in the 15 Midwestern states. The book includes high-quality color photos, bird physical descriptions, bird calls, exciting stories, and valuable feeding and nesting information.

Indiana Bird Watching

Bill Thompson published this convenient state-specific book that will help you in birds of Indiana identification and show why it is crucial to appreciate birds. It is a helpful book for beginners and intermediate birders that describes 100 bird species from this state and offers a map to identify the specific bird range for each species.

Indiana Bird Checklist

According to Avibase (Worlds Bird Checklist), you can find 433 types of birds in Indiana, including 19 introduced species. When you are a birder planning to visit this state or live here, you should take this handy bird checklist before starting birding. You can also download the complete, up-to-date list of all bird species in this state.

Download FREE Indiana Bird Checklist PDF

Click here for an overview of Indiana Birds

Specific Bird Species

With 422 different bird species, including 125 classed as rare and ten introduced, Indiana is an excellent area for birding.

Hummingbirds in Indiana

In Indiana, you can find six of these small bird species capable of hovering in mid-air and flying backward. Migrating Ruby-throated Hummingbird males come at the beginning of April, followed by females and offspring approximately two weeks later. You can sometimes see Rufous Hummingbirds from November to January, often at feeders.

Owls in Indiana

Officially, it is recorded eight of these birds of prey in Indiana, and you only need to check their range maps to determine where to see each of them. Great Horned Owl, Eastern Screech-Owl, and Barred Owl are found all over the state year-round, while Snowy Owls are rare and prefer the shores of Lake Michigan.

Woodpeckers in Indiana

Among 300 woodpecker species worldwide and 22 found in the US, eight are officially recorded in this state. Most of these Indiana woodpeckers are residents that hang around year-round. The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest and Red-headed Woodpecker the most beautiful in Indiana. You can find them in residential areas, forests, and along rivers.

Finches in Indiana

You can expect to see at least eight Indiana finches of eleven recorded. Purple Finch species spend time in coniferous forests, but you can sometimes see it in your backyard along with American Goldfinches that enjoy visiting feeders. House finch is a year-round state resident, but it will come to residential areas mostly in winter.

Bluebirds in Indiana

You can quickly find at least one of these beautiful Indiana songbirds since Mountain Bluebird is quite rare. Many experts consider only Eastern Bluebirds to live in this state, mostly in open areas, but it also feels comfortable in human-made nesting boxes. It is a medium-distance migrant that prefers spending winters in the US South.

Hawks of Indiana

You can find eight types of these Indiana birds of prey in all sorts of habitats, but it is sometimes quite hard to differentiate them. Red-tailed Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk are highly adaptable species, making them the most common in this state. The smallest Sharp-shinned Hawk is incredibly athletic, and you will enjoy its acrobatic flights.

Falcons in Indiana

Technically, six falcon species are recorded in Indiana, but you can commonly see only three. Lucky, you can find these fast birds almost anywhere. While American Kestrel lives in the state year-round, Peregrine Falcon and Merlin are migratory species. They consider at least 450 different bird types as prey.

Ducks in Indiana

Forty-one ducks, waterfowl, and geese are seen statewide during the Indiana waterfowl season, including migratory Mallard that live in wooded swamps, marshes, and next to lakes and rivers. Look for Northern Pintail in wetland habitats. It only migrates at night and can fly non-stop up to 1,800 miles (2,890 km) at approximate speeds of 48 mph (77 km/h).

Wrens in Indiana

Seven wren species are noticed in the Hoosier State, but it is unlikely that you can see more than five. Even though Marsh Wrens are common breeding birds of northern Indiana, it is not easy to see them in marshes. House Wren is the most common breeding type, and you can often see it flying over your backyard.

Sparrows in Indiana

It is possible to see two Old World sparrow species and 26 New World sparrow species in Indiana. The most common House Sparrow is a regular feeder visitor, while you need to be a skillful birder to spot Henslow’s Sparrow singing throughout spring and summer in the Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge.

FAQ

What is the most common bird in Indiana?

The most common Indiana birds throughout the year are Northern Cardinal with 59% frequency, as well as Blue Jay, Downy Woodpecker, American Robin, American Goldfinch, and Mourning Dove with above 40% frequency.

What types of birds are in Indiana?

Since ornithologists and birders detected approximately 800 bird species throughout the US, it seems that Indiana is an excellent birdwatching state with 422 officially recorded species.

What is the rarest bird in Indiana?

Even though easily identifiable Black-necked Stilt is quite common in most West and Southwest states, it is the rarest bird species you can see in Indiana.

How many species of birds are in Indiana?

The list of Indiana birds covers 422 species, including 180 annual breeding species, 125 rare, ten introduced, and three extirpated and extinct bird species each.

Do Ospreys live in Indiana?

Yes, there are at least 100 osprey nests found in Indiana in 2020, thanks to DFW wildlife biologists raising 96 young birds at four locations from 2003 to 2006.

Do Magpies live in Indiana?

Most Magpies live in the western half of the US, but you can find black and white noisy American Magpies (Black-billed Magpie) in Indiana, as well.

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