There are nearly 500 species of birds in Virginia, including native species and migratory visitors.
For fans of the feather– whether novices or serious birders– that makes for a lot of Virginia birds to spot.
The protected mountain peaks of the Grayson Highlands can top 5,700 feet, while the coastal Virginia shoreline surpasses 3,300 miles.
There are dozens of common birds in Virginia that can be found all throughout the state.
But some of the birds of Northern Virginia are different from the birds in Virginia Beach, and those are different from Virginia’s backyard birds of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I’ve seen many birds of VA on my travels, mostly in the western part of the state, and at my home in North Carolina (less than 20 miles south of the border).
Read on for our guide to 20 of the most beautiful birds of Virginia, including information on the identification, diet, and preferred habitat of each species.
Birds of Virginia Guide
- American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)
- Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)
- Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
- Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
- Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)
- Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
- Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
- Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)
- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)
- Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)
- Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
- Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
- Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
- Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius arcadicus)
- Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
- Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
- Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)
- Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)
- Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)
- Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus)
Small Birds & Hummingbirds in Virginia
1. American Goldfinch
Just because a bird is commonly spotted in backyards doesn’t mean it isn’t stunning. The American Goldfinch, with its flashes of yellow on black feathers, is exactly this type of bird.
Finches in Virginia sing beautiful songs, like to hang around backyard bird feeders, and are no strangers to the suburbs or roadsides.
Of all the yellow birds in Virginia, you’d be hard-pressed to find one more beautiful than the American Goldfinch. Luckily, they are fairly easy to find!
2. Eastern Bluebird
The Eastern Bluebird is as cute as can be, with beautiful blue feathers, reddish breasts, and white whips of color interspersed.
They’re a standout amongst the myriad backyard birds in Virginia, and present in the state all year-round.
Bluebirds are versatile eaters, feeding primarily on insects and berries. They especially love grasshoppers and beetles, but are also known to snack on earthworms, snails, and even the occasional small reptile.
Bluebirds in Virginia travel in small flocks through the countryside, and are known to take up residence in birdhouses.
3. Blue Jay
Blue Jays have special markings of blue, black, and white that make them stand out among the trees, where they hang out and eat nuts, seeds, berries, fruits, and insects.
They might even go for small animals from time to time.
We usually see them hanging out in the alder trees near the edge of our pond, where they often forage for lunch.
Relatives of crows and ravens, Blue Jays are incredibly smart, capable of mimicking Red-shouldered Hawks and singing many other songs.
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4. Northern Cardinal
The Northern Cardinal is the Virginia state bird, as well as being the state bird of 6 other states (including North Carolina).
Other red birds of Virginia (and the entire Blue Ridge Mountains region) ain’t got nothing on the Cardinal!
Like Bluebirds, Cardinals are so common to this region that they’re taken for granted. The vivid males are absolutely stunning, with vibrant red feathers and black markings, while females are a bit earthier.
Cardinals are no strangers to bird feeders (particularly when they’re filled with sunflower seeds), but also feed on berries, insects, spiders, and snails.
Cardinals are full-time residents of all states east of the Rockies, and are often spotted hopping on the ground or in low shrubs looking for something to eat.
5. Baltimore Oriole
With its vivid orange underside and black and white wings, the Baltimore Oriole is an easy bird to identify, but a rewarding one to spot.
They’re seasonal birds in Virginia, migrating through the eastern part of the state and breeding in the western part (a.k.a. the Blue Ridge Mountains).
In addition to being stunningly beautiful, Baltimore Orioles are highly regarded for their melodious songs, which they’ll often sing from the tops of trees.
Orioles won’t shy away from backyard feeders, but they’re quite fond of fruit and nectar, with a side of insects.
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6. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the most common hummingbird in Virginia, and its flashy red neck makes it easy to spot (if you don’t hear their buzzing wings first).
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds spend the summer along the East Coast, from Florida all the way to Canada. So they’re very common during this time.
As with all hummingbirds, they’re extremely high energy, darting from flower to flower, with special attention given to anything red.
We have a couple of Ruby-throated hummingbirds that spend summers around our house. I love to watch them while I’m eating breakfast on the porch.
Woodpeckers in Virginia
7. Red-bellied Woodpecker
A year-round resident of the Eastern US, Red-bellied Woodpeckers are beautiful birds with white- and black-barred backs, vibrant red caps, and red-blushed chests.
Red-bellied woodpeckers are common visitors to VA backyard bird feeders, and are always fun to spot.
Woodpeckers love suet, peanuts, and occasional sunflower seeds.
They also like sweets, including nectar from hummingbird feeders, but especially berries and small fruits.
8. Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpeckers are the second-largest woodpecker in North America (behind the likely extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and have their own population issues due to deforestation in the 1800s.
However, the Pileated Woodpecker has made something of a comeback, and can often be spotted in second-growth forest (especially deciduous forests).
These beautiful birds are native to Virginia, and live there all year-round.
The Pileated Woodpecker has a black body and wings with white markings, but its most show-stopping feature is the flaming red crest upon its head.
They generally live on ants, termites, and other insects they find in trees, but about a quarter of their diet is fruits and nuts.
9. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
This lovely VA bird has to be in the running for the best-named avian species.
Like many woodpeckers, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is mostly black and white, with red around the head. But they also have a distinctive flash of yellow around their chest area.
I first discovered this aptly-named bird via the geometric patterns it leaves on trees. It makes a collection of little holes (known as sap wells) in the bark, and returns frequently to drink the sap from them.
They tend to like smaller trees, and they’re known to settle in mountains at up to 6,500 feet in elevation.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are migratory birds, breeding in northern Canada during the summer and spending winter in the Southern US, Mexico, and Central America.
In Virginia, look for them from October through April.
10. Northern Flicker
Northern Flickers are large woodpeckers with polka-dotted undersides of white to beige with black spots. They have flashes of red about the head, and coloring that looks like mustaches coming from the sides of their beak.
Continuing with their wild appearance, the Northern Flicker has patterned wings and flashy tail feathers, with yellow coloring under their wings.
These birds live and linger in open areas with trees nearby. They are common in yards, parks, and woodland edges.
They actually spend a good amount of time on the ground, and tend to perch on horizontal branches rather than on tree trunks like other woodpeckers.
Northern Flickers are year-round residents of Virginia (and most of the contiguous US), and are known to happily use nesting boxes.
Birds of Prey in Virginia
11. Barn Owl
There are several species of owls in Virginia, but many of them can be really tough to spot. Still, it’s always exhilarating when it happens.
The Barn Owl is somewhat lanky, with a round, white face and light brown wings and back. Their eyes are very dark, as is the brown patch atop their head.
These owls are nocturnal, hunting over open meadows hoping to score small mammals like mice and swallow them whole. By day they roost in quiet spots like cavities in trees, old barns, and abandoned buildings.
Barn Owls have a distinctive call that’s less like the cartoonish hoot and more like a raspy screech. Hearing them first is the best way to spot them!
12. Peregrine Falcon
When you’re the fastest bird on the planet, you’re practically guaranteed to make any list of the best birds to see.
Luckily for Virginia, Peregrine Falcons migrate through most of the state, and live full-time along the Atlantic coast.
These brilliant VA birds love high places like skyscrapers, power pylons, and mountain cliffs, and are most commonly seen near shorelines.
The Peregrine Falcon has a blue-gray body, with whitish undersides barred with dark stretches. Their heads are more of a dark, solid color.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about seeing these falcons in action is witnessing their high-speed acrobatics as they hunt other birds in flight, often diving from a high perch and reaching speeds of over 186 mph!
They especially love to eat shorebirds and ducks.
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13. Red-tailed Hawk
Standing 2 feet tall, with a 4-foot wingspan, Red-tailed Hawks in Virginia are one of the more commonly spotted birds of prey. They’re found throughout the entire state, and stay there year-round.
Red-tailed Hawks love to stalk open fields, often gliding over them or perching atop power poles. They mostly feed on voles, rabbits, and other small mammals.
The scream of the Red-tailed Hawk is the famous shrill cry that we hear when any bird of prey appears in movies, TV shows, or commercials.
They have white bellies, and the underside of their wings is also white. Their backs and wings are mottled brown, and their tails are red.
We don’t see these around our house much, but I often see them over the fields along our road when I jog in the morning. They’re so big, they can easily fool you into thinking you’re seeing an eagle.
14. Northern Saw-whet Owl
These are really cute, small owls, about the size of a Robin. They have the classic large disc-like eye spots, with bright yellow eyes and feathers of mottled brown and white.
Being small and nocturnal, Northern Saw-whet Owls can be difficult to see. But they have a shrill call that they do multiple times to let spotters know to keep an eye out.
They also roost at about eye level, typically in the dense boughs of evergreen trees.
They’re forest birds that typically spend winter in the southern and central United States. And like other owls, they like to dine on small mammals, especially mice.
These birds of prey are common throughout the United States, but they’re really one of the toughest owls of Virginia to spot in the wild.
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15. Bald Eagle
If seeing a massive Bald Eagle doesn’t give you a charge, I’m not sure what will. These birds are fierce, distinctive, and—through no choice of their own—wildly patriotic.
Bald Eagles are one of many birds of prey in the state, but they’re so fun to spot that they have to make our list of the most beautiful birds in VA.
They have white heads atop brown bodies, and their wingspans can reach nearly 7 feet.
The bald eagle is mostly a winter bird in VA, though it is said to be an uncommon year-round resident in the eastern half of the state.
Despite their regal reputation as the USA’s National Bird, Bald Eagles are notorious scavengers and pirates, stealing food away from other birds. They do hunt for fish, and are easiest to find around lakes and rivers.
Water Birds & Ducks in Virginia
16. Belted Kingfisher
The Belted Kingfisher sounds like a machine with a ratchet feature, or a kid making machine gun noises. It’s often heard before it is seen, and the call is meant to scare hunting competitors away.
They’re very quick, jumping from perch to perch above the water, and will dive in head-first when they spot something— a small fish, frog, tadpole, or crustacean— to eat.
You’ll find Belted Kingfishers in Virginia throughout the year, usually near lakes and other large bodies of water.
They are mostly blue and white, with touches of red and tufts of feathers spiking atop their heads.
Our pond is a magnet for kingfishers, and they’re great fun to watch when they glide in for a hunt.
17. Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Herons are huge birds– nearly the size of eagles– and they move with piercing peacefulness as they stalk through the shallows of creeks, rivers, and ponds.
Blue Herons can grow to over 4 feet tall, with wingspans of over 6 feet, and can glide easily between riparian buffers as they search for their next spot to land.
They’re true predators, hunting water-related animals such as frogs, salamanders, snakes, and even turtles.
A Great Blue Heron visits us regularly, and once spent an entire Thanksgiving afternoon win our pond.
18. Trumpeter Swan
Spotting a Trumpeter Swan in Virginia will require good timing and rather precise honing (in the coastal wetlands of Southwest Virginia). Tundra Swans and Mute Swans are much more common large birds in Virginia.
However, the Trumpeter Swan is Virginia’s largest native bird at 6 feet long, weighing up to 25 pounds. They are so large that taking flight basically requires a football field-length runway.
These big, beautiful birds have lovely white feathers and long, graceful necks. Adults have very black beaks.
Trumpeter Swans have had to fight for survival. They were over-hunted for their feathers, and declines in muskrats and beavers caused problems because swans tend to nest on their dens and dams.
Obviously, the best places to see these birds are by large bodies of water, where they feed on aquatic plants.
19. Wood Duck
It’s hard to settle on one type of duck to feature, because they’re all so distinctly cool when you start to study them. But we have Wood Ducks that nest next to our pond, so they’ve become a personal favorite.
Wood Ducks actually live in Virginia (and most states east of the Rockies) all year-round, but they’re particularly active in the early spring.
The heads of male Wood Ducks have amazing colors, with stand-out green crests, red-feathered eyes, and strong markings of black and white. They also have a cool tuft that pokes out behind their heads.
Loads of people put out nesting boxes for Wood Ducks, who typically look for holes in trees or cavities in the earth. They love to use the boxes, especially when they’re right next to the water.
20. Hooded Mergansers
These birds have gone all-out in the evolution of their crested hairdos, and those splashy hairstyles are the very reason they’ve made our list.
“Beautiful” might not be the perfect word for describing the Hooded Merganser, but it’s certainly worth seeing.
Adult males have sharp black-and-white patterns with bright brown flanks, and the females are grayish with flicks of reddish-brown in their crests.
Hooded Mergansers are year-round birds in Virginia, often seen swimming in rivers, streams, and small ponds. They like to feed on fish and crustaceans.
Like Wood Ducks, they are cavity nesters. And like Brown-headed Cowbirds, they have the habit of laying their eggs in other ducks’ nests. –Jonathon Engels, featured image by Canva