List of birds of Massachusetts

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The black-capped chickadee is the state bird of Massachusetts.

This list of birds of Massachusetts is a comprehensive listing of all the bird species recorded from the U.S. state of Massachusetts. This list is based on a checklist used by the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee, the list used by most birders to objectively evaluate species recorded in the state. This list is based on the committee's revision in 2013.

The taxonomic treatment (designation and sequence of orders, families, genera and species) and nomenclature (common and scientific names) used in the accompanying bird lists adhere to the conventions of the American Ornithologists' Union's 1998 Check-list of North American Birds, the recognized scientific authority on the taxonomy and nomenclature of North American birds. The AOU's Committee on Classification and Nomenclature, the body responsible for maintaining and updating the Check-list, "strongly and unanimously continues to endorse the biological species concept (BSC), in which species are considered to be genetically cohesive groups of populations that are reproductively isolated from other such groups" (AOU 1998). See Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy for an alternative phylogenetic arrangement based on DNA-DNA hybridization.

Unless otherwise noted, all species listed below are considered to occur regularly in Massachusetts as permanent residents, summer or winter visitors, or migrants. The following codes are used to denote other categories of species:

  • (n) Nesting - confirmed nesting records within Massachusetts
  • (xn) Extralimital nester - previous record of nesting, but recorded only once or twice
  • (I) Introduced - a species introduced to North America by the actions of humans, either directly or indirectly
  • (E) Extinct - a recent species that no longer exists
  • (Ex) Extirpated - a species no longer found in Massachusetts but existing elsewhere
  • (R) Review list - birds that if seen require more comprehensive documentation than regularly seen species. These birds are considered irregular or rare in Massachusetts.

Note: Birds marked with (*) are not identified to species, but are distinct enough to be considered as a separate entry

Ducks, geese and swans[edit]

Canada goose at Spy Pond in Arlington
American black duck
Common eider
Long-tailed duck

Order: Anseriformes   Family: Anatidae

The family Anatidae includes the ducks and most duck-like waterfowl, such as geese and swans. These birds are adapted to an aquatic existence with webbed feet, bills which are flattened to a greater or lesser extent, and feathers that are excellent at shedding water due to special oils.

Pheasants, turkeys and grouse[edit]

Order: Galliformes   Family: Phasianidae

Phasianidae consists of the pheasants and their allies. These are terrestrial species, variable in size but generally plump with broad relatively short wings. Many species are gamebirds or have been domesticated as a food source for humans. Turkeys have a distinctive fleshy wattle that hangs from the underside of the beak and a fleshy protuberance that hangs from the top of its beak called a snood. As with many galliform species, the female (the hen) is smaller than the male (the tom) and much less colorful. With wingspans of 1.5–1.8 meters (almost 6 feet), the turkeys are the largest birds in the open forests in which they live and are rarely mistaken for any other species. Grouse inhabit temperate and subarctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere. They are game and are sometimes hunted for food. In all Massachusetts species, males are polygamous and have elaborate courtship displays. These heavily built birds have legs feathered to the toes. Most species are year-round residents and do not migrate.

New World quail[edit]

Order: Galliformes   Family: Odontophoridae

The New World quails are small, plump terrestrial birds only distantly related to the quails of the Old World, but named for their similar appearance and habits. In Massachusetts, one species has been recorded.

Loons[edit]

Common loon

Order: Gaviiformes   Family: Gaviidae

Loons are aquatic birds, the size of a large duck, to which they are unrelated. Their plumage is largely gray or black, and they have spear-shaped bills. Loons swim well and fly adequately, but are almost hopeless on land, because their legs are placed towards the rear of the body. In Massachusetts, three species have been recorded.

Grebes[edit]

Order: Podicipediformes   Family: Podicipedidae

Grebes are small to medium-large freshwater diving birds. They have lobed toes and are excellent swimmers and divers. However, they have their feet placed far back on the body, making them quite ungainly on land. In Massachusetts, five species have been recorded.

Albatrosses[edit]

Order: Procellariiformes   Family: Diomedeidae

The albatrosses are amongst the largest of flying birds, and the great albatrosses from the genus Diomedea have the largest wingspans of any extant birds. In Massachusetts, two species have been recorded.

Fulmars, petrels and shearwaters[edit]

Northern fulmar

Order: Procellariiformes   Family: Procellariidae

The Procellariids are the main group of medium-sized "true petrels", characterized by united nostrils with medium septum and a long outer functional primary. In Massachusetts, seven species have been recorded.

Storm petrels[edit]

Leach's storm petrel

Order: Procellariiformes   Family: Hydrobatidae

The storm petrels are the smallest seabirds, relatives of the petrels, feeding on planktonic crustaceans and small fish picked from the surface, typically while hovering. The flight is fluttering and sometimes bat-like. In Massachusetts, four species have been recorded.

Tropicbirds[edit]

Order: Phaethontiformes   Family: Phaethontidae

Tropicbirds are slender white birds of tropical oceans, with exceptionally long central tail feathers. Their long wings have black markings, as does the head. In Massachusetts, two species have been recorded.

Storks[edit]

Order: Ciconiiformes   Family: Ciconiidae

Storks are large, heavy, long-legged, long-necked wading birds with long stout bills and wide wingspans. They lack the powder down that other wading birds such as herons, spoonbills and ibises use to clean off fish slime. Storks lack a pharynx and are mute. In Massachusetts, one species has been recorded.

Frigatebirds[edit]

Order: Suliformes   Family: Fregatidae

Frigatebirds are large seabirds usually found over tropical oceans. They are large, black or black-and-white, with long wings and deeply forked tails. The males have colored inflatable throat pouches. They do not swim or walk and cannot take off from a flat surface. Having the largest wingspan-to-body-weight ratio of any bird, they are essentially aerial, able to stay aloft for more than a week. In Massachusetts, one species has been recorded.

Boobies and gannets[edit]

Order: Suliformes   Family: Sulidae

The sulids comprise the gannets and boobies. Both groups are medium-large coastal seabirds that plunge-dive for fish. In Massachusetts, two species have been recorded.

Cormorants[edit]

Order: Suliformes   Family: Phalacrocoracidae

Cormorants are medium-to-large aquatic birds, usually with mainly dark plumage and areas of colored skin on the face. The bill is long, thin and sharply hooked. Their feet are four-toed and webbed, a distinguishing feature among the Pelecaniformes order. In Massachusetts, two species have been recorded.

Darters[edit]

Order: Suliformes   Family: Anhingidae

Darters are cormorant-like water birds with very long necks and long, straight beaks. They are fish eaters which often swim with only their neck above the water. In Massachusetts, one species has been recorded.

Pelicans[edit]

Order: Pelecaniformes   Family: Pelecanidae

Pelicans are very large water birds with a distinctive pouch under their beak. Like other birds in the order Pelecaniformes, they have four webbed toes. In Massachusetts, two species have been recorded.

Bitterns, herons and egrets[edit]

Snowy egret

Order: Pelecaniformes   Family: Ardeidae

The family Ardeidae contains the herons, egrets and bitterns. Herons and egrets are medium to large wading birds with long necks and legs. Bitterns tend to be shorter necked and more secretive. Members of Ardeidae fly with their necks retracted, unlike other long-necked birds such as storks, ibises and spoonbills.In Massachusetts, 14 species have been recorded.

Ibises and spoonbills[edit]

Order: Pelecaniformes   Family: Threskiornithidae

The family Threskiornithidae includes the ibises and spoonbills. They have long, broad wings. Their bodies tend to be elongated, the neck more so, with rather long legs. The bill is also long, decurved in the case of the ibises, straight and distinctively flattened in the spoonbills. 3 species occur in Massachusetts.

New World vultures[edit]

Order: Cathartiformes   Family: Cathartidae

The New World vultures are not closely related to Old World vultures, but superficially resemble them because of convergent evolution. Like the Old World vultures, they are scavengers. However, unlike Old World vultures, which find carcasses by sight, New World vultures have a good sense of smell with which they locate carcasses. In Massachusetts, two species have been recorded.

Osprey[edit]

Order: Accipitriformes   Family: Pandionidae

Pandionidae is a family of fish-eating birds of prey, possessing a very large, powerful hooked beak for tearing flesh from their prey, strong legs, powerful talons and keen eyesight. The family is monotypic; its sole member, the osprey, is found in Massachusetts.

  • Osprey, Pandion haliaetus (n)

Hawks, kites and eagles[edit]

Order: Accipitriformes   Family: Accipitridae

Accipitridae is a family of birds of prey and includes the osprey, hawks, eagles, kites, harriers and Old World vultures. These birds have very large powerful hooked beaks for tearing flesh from their prey, strong legs, powerful talons and keen eyesight.

Red-tail hawks at nest

Caracaras and falcons[edit]

Order: Falconiformes   Family: Falconidae

Falconidae is a family of diurnal birds of prey, notably the falcons and caracaras. They differ from hawks, eagles and kites in that they kill with their beaks instead of their talons. In Massachusetts, seven species have been recorded.

Rails, gallinules and coots[edit]

Virginia rail

Order: Gruiformes   Family: Rallidae

Rallidae is a large family of small to medium-sized birds which includes the rails, crakes, coots and gallinules. The most typical family members occupy dense vegetation in damp environments near lakes, swamps or rivers. In general they are shy and secretive birds, making them difficult to observe. Most species have strong legs and long toes which are well adapted to soft uneven surfaces. They tend to have short, rounded wings and to be weak fliers. In Massachusetts, nine species have been recorded.

Cranes[edit]

Order: Gruiformes   Family: Gruidae

Cranes are large, long-legged and long-necked birds. Unlike the similar-looking but unrelated herons, cranes fly with necks outstretched, not pulled back. Most have elaborate and noisy courting displays or "dances". In Massachusetts, one species has been recorded.

Lapwings and plovers[edit]

Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Charadriidae

The family Charadriidae includes the plovers, dotterels and lapwings. They are small to medium-sized birds with compact bodies, short, thick necks and long, usually pointed, wings. They are found in open country worldwide, mostly in habitats near water. In Massachusetts, 11 species have been recorded.

Oystercatchers[edit]

American oystercatcher

Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Haematopodidae

The oystercatchers are large, obvious and noisy plover-like birds, with strong bills used for smashing or prying open molluscs. In Massachusetts, one species has been recorded.

Stilts and avocets[edit]

Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Recurvirostridae

Recurvirostridae is a family of large wading birds, which includes the avocets and stilts. The avocets have long legs and long up-curved bills. The stilts have extremely long legs and long, thin, straight bills. In Massachusetts, two species have been recorded.

Sandpipers, curlews, stints, godwits, snipes and phalaropes[edit]

Greater yellowlegs
Hudsonian godwit
Purple sandpiper

Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Scolopacidae

Scolopacidae is a large diverse family of small to medium-sized shorebirds including the sandpipers, curlews, godwits, shanks, tattlers, woodcocks, snipes, dowitchers and phalaropes. The majority of these species eat small invertebrates picked out of the mud or soil. Different lengths of legs and bills enable multiple species to feed in the same habitat, particularly on the coast, without direct competition for food. In Massachusetts, 43 species have been recorded.

Gulls, terns and skimmers[edit]

Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Laridae

Laridae is a family of medium to large seabirds and includes gulls, terns, kittiwakes and skimmers. They are typically gray or white, often with black markings on the head or wings. They have stout, longish bills and webbed feet.

Skuas[edit]

Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Stercorariidae

They are in general medium to large birds, typically with gray or brown plumage, often with white markings on the wings. They have longish bills with hooked tips and webbed feet with sharp claws. They look like large dark gulls, but have a fleshy cere above the upper mandible. They are strong, acrobatic fliers. 5 species have been recorded in Massachusetts.

Auks, murres and puffins[edit]

Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Alcidae

Alcids are superficially similar to penguins due to their black-and-white colors, their upright posture and some of their habits, however they are only distantly related to the penguins and are able to fly. Auks live on the open sea, only deliberately coming ashore to nest. In Massachusetts, nine species have been recorded.

Pigeons and doves[edit]

Mourning dove

Order: Columbiformes   Family: Columbidae

Pigeons and doves are stout-bodied birds with short necks and short slender bills with a fleshy cere.

Lories, parakeets, macaws and parrots[edit]

Order: Psittaciformes   Family: Psittacidae

Parrots are small to large birds with a characteristic curved beak. Their upper mandibles have slight mobility in the joint with the skull and they have a generally erect stance. All parrots are zygodactyl, having the four toes on each foot placed two at the front and two to the back. In Massachusetts, one species has been recorded.

Cuckoos, roadrunners and anis[edit]

Order: Cuculiformes   Family: Cuculidae

Black-billed cuckoo

The family Cuculidae includes cuckoos, roadrunners and anis. These birds are of variable size with slender bodies, long tails and strong legs. The Old World cuckoos are brood parasites. In Massachusetts, three species have been recorded.

Barn owls[edit]

Order: Strigiformes   Family: Tytonidae

Barn owls are medium to large owls with large heads and characteristic heart-shaped faces. They have long strong legs with powerful talons. In Massachusetts, one species has been recorded.

Typical owls[edit]

Eastern screech owl

Order: Strigiformes   Family: Strigidae

Typical owls are small to large solitary nocturnal birds of prey. They have large forward-facing eyes and ears, a hawk-like beak and a conspicuous circle of feathers around each eye called a facial disk. In Massachusetts, 11 species have been recorded.

Nightjars[edit]

Order: Caprimulgiformes   Family: Caprimulgidae

Nightjars are medium-sized nocturnal birds that usually nest on the ground. They have long wings, short legs and very short bills. Most have small feet, of little use for walking, and long pointed wings. Their soft plumage is cryptically colored to resemble bark or leaves. In Massachusetts, three species have been recorded.

Swifts[edit]

Order: Apodiformes   Family: Apodidae

The swifts are small birds which spend the majority of their lives flying. These birds have very short legs and never settle voluntarily on the ground, perching instead only on vertical surfaces. Many swifts have long swept-back wings which resemble a crescent or boomerang.

Hummingbirds[edit]

Ruby-throated hummingbird

Order: Apodiformes   Family: Trochilidae

Hummingbirds are small birds capable of hovering in mid-air due to the rapid flapping of their wings. They are the only birds that can fly backwards. In Massachusetts, six species have been recorded.

Kingfishers[edit]

Order: Coraciiformes   Family: Alcedinidae

Kingfishers are medium-sized birds with large heads, long, pointed bills, short legs and stubby tails. In Massachusetts, one species has been recorded.

Woodpeckers, sapsuckers and flickers[edit]

Order: Piciformes   Family: Picidae

Woodpeckers are small to medium-sized birds with chisel-like beaks, short legs, stiff tails and long tongues used for capturing insects. Some species have feet with two toes pointing forward and two backward, while several species have only three toes. Many woodpeckers have the habit of tapping noisily on tree trunks with their beaks. In Massachusetts, nine species have been recorded.

Tyrant flycatchers[edit]

Willow flycatcher

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Tyrannidae

Tyrant flycatchers are Passerine birds which occur throughout North and South America. They superficially resemble the Old World flycatchers, but are more robust and have stronger bills. They do not have the sophisticated vocal capabilities of the songbirds. Most, but not all, are rather plain. As the name implies, most are insectivorous. In Massachusetts, 23 species have been recorded.

Shrikes[edit]

Northern shrike

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Laniidae

Shrikes are passerine birds known for their habit of catching other birds and small animals and impaling the uneaten portions of their bodies on thorns. A typical shrike's beak is hooked, like a bird of prey. In Massachusetts, two species have been recorded.

Vireos[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Vireonidae

The vireos are a group of small to medium-sized passerine birds restricted to the New World. They are typically greenish in color and resemble wood warblers apart from their heavier bills. In Massachusetts, seven species have been recorded.

Jays, crows, magpies and ravens[edit]

Blue jay

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Corvidae

The family Corvidae includes crows, ravens, jays, choughs, magpies, treepies, nutcrackers and ground jays. Corvids are above average in size among the Passeriformes, and some of the larger species show high levels of intelligence. In Massachusetts, six species have been recorded.

Larks[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Alaudidae

Larks are small terrestrial birds with often extravagant songs and display flights. Most larks are fairly dull in appearance. Their food is insects and seeds. In Massachusetts, one species has been recorded.

Swallows and martins[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Hirundinidae

The family Hirundinidae is adapted to aerial feeding. They have a slender streamlined body, long pointed wings and a short bill with a wide gape. The feet are adapted to perching rather than walking, and the front toes are partially joined at the base. In Massachusetts, nine species have been recorded.

Chickadees and titmice[edit]

Black-capped chickadee

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Paridae

The Paridae are mainly small stocky woodland species with short stout bills. Some have crests. They are adaptable birds, with a mixed diet including seeds and insects. In Massachusetts, three species have been recorded.

Nuthatches[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Sittidae

Nuthatches are small woodland birds. They have the unusual ability to climb down trees head first, unlike other birds which can only go upwards. Nuthatches have big heads, short tails and powerful bills and feet. In Massachusetts, two species have been recorded.

Treecreepers[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Certhiidae

Treecreepers are small woodland birds, brown above and white below. They have thin pointed downcurved bills, which they use to extricate insects from bark. They have stiff tail feathers, like woodpeckers, which they use to support themselves on vertical tree trunks and limbs. In Massachusetts, one species has been recorded.

Wrens[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Troglodytidae

Wrens are small and inconspicuous birds, except for their loud songs. They have short wings and a thin downturned bill. Several species often hold their tails upright. All are insectivorous. In Massachusetts, seven species have been recorded.

Kinglets[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Regulidae

The kinglets are a small family of birds which resemble the titmice. They are very small insectivorous birds in the genus Regulus. The adults have colored crowns, giving rise to their name. In Massachusetts, two species have been recorded.

Gnatcatchers[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Polioptilidae

These dainty birds resemble Old World warblers in their structure and habits, moving restlessly through the foliage seeking insects. The gnatcatchers are mainly soft bluish gray in color and have the typical insectivore's long sharp bill. Many species have distinctive black head patterns (especially males) and long, regularly cocked, black-and-white tails.

Old World flycatchers[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Muscicapidae

The Old World flycatchers are a large family of small passerine birds mostly restricted to the Old World. These are mainly small arboreal insectivores, many of which, as the name implies, take their prey on the wing.

Thrushes[edit]

Wood thrush

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Turdidae

The thrushes are a group of passerine birds that occur mainly but not exclusively in the Old World. They are plump, soft plumaged, small to medium-sized insectivores or sometimes omnivores, often feeding on the ground. Many have attractive songs. In Massachusetts, 13 species have been recorded.

Mockingbirds and thrashers[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Mimidae

The mimids are a family of passerine birds which includes thrashers, mockingbirds, tremblers and the New World catbirds. These birds are notable for their vocalization, especially their remarkable ability to mimic a wide variety of birds and other sounds heard outdoors. The species tend towards dull grays and browns in their appearance. In Massachusetts, four species have been recorded.

Starlings[edit]

An immature female European starling

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Sturnidae

Starlings are small to medium-sized Old World passerine birds with strong feet. Their flight is strong and direct and most are very gregarious. Their preferred habitat is fairly open country, and they eat insects and fruit. The plumage of several species is dark with a metallic sheen. In Massachusetts, one species has been recorded.

Wagtails and pipits[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Motacillidae

Motacillidae is a family of small passerine birds with medium to long tails. They include the wagtails, longclaws and pipits. They are slender, ground feeding insectivores of open country. In Massachusetts, two species have been recorded.

Waxwings[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Bombycillidae

The waxwings are a group of passerine birds with soft silky plumage and unique red tips to some of the wing feathers. In the Bohemian and cedar waxwings, these tips look like sealing wax and give the group its name. These are arboreal birds of northern forests. They live on insects in summer and berries in winter. In Massachusetts, two species have been recorded.

Silky-flycatchers[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Ptiliogonatidae

Longspurs[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Calcariidae

The Calcariidae are a group of passerine birds that have been traditionally grouped with the Emberizeridae (New World sparrows), but differ in a number of respects and are usually found in open grassy areas.

Wood-warblers[edit]

Chestnut-sided warbler
Blackburnian warbler
Common yellowthroat

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Parulidae

The wood warblers are a group of small often colorful passerine birds restricted to the New World. Most are arboreal, but some are more terrestrial. Most members of this family are insectivores. In Massachusetts, 43 species have been recorded. In August 2011, the North American Committee of the AOU changed their classification of many of the wood warblers. Since this list is based on the AOU classification, changes to scientific names are updated here.

American sparrows, towhees and juncos[edit]

Saltmarsh sparrow
Chipping sparrow
Eastern towhee

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Emberizidae

Emberizidae is a large family of passerine birds. They are seed-eating birds with distinctively shaped bills. In Europe, most species are called buntings. In North America, most of the species in this family are known as sparrows, but these birds are not closely related to the Old World sparrows which are in the family Passeridae. Many emberizid species have distinctive head patterns. In Massachusetts, 32 species have been recorded.

Cardinals, grosbeaks and allies[edit]

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Cardinalidae

The cardinals are a family of robust, seed-eating birds with strong bills. They are typically associated with open woodland. The sexes usually have distinct plumages. In Massachusetts, eight species have been recorded.

Blackbirds, meadowlarks, cowbirds, grackles and orioles[edit]

Red-winged blackbird
Brown-headed cowbird in Arlington

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Icteridae

The icterids are a group of small to medium-sized, often colorful passerine birds restricted to the New World and include the grackles, New World blackbirds and New World orioles. Most species have black as a predominant plumage color, often enlivened by yellow, orange or red. In Massachusetts, 12 species have been recorded.

Finches[edit]

American goldfinch

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Fringillidae

Finches are seed-eating passerine birds, that are small to moderately large and have a strong beak, usually conical and in some species very large. All have twelve tail feathers and nine primaries. These birds have a bouncing flight with alternating bouts of flapping and gliding on closed wings, and most sing well. In Massachusetts, 12 species have been recorded.

Old World sparrows[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Passeridae

Old World sparrows are small passerine birds. In general, sparrows tend to be small plump brownish or grayish birds with short tails and short powerful beaks. Sparrows are seed eaters, but they also consume small insects.

Supplemental list[edit]

The MARC believes individual birds of the following species could have occurred as wild representatives, but captive origin could not be ruled out:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]