Which 51? (Updated: Which 55?)

April 16, 2009
Spotted Towhee Spotted Towhee image: Jeff Larsen.

So the redesign of our All About Birds website is live, and one of the big features is an upgrade to our online bird guide. We picked a set of 51 common species and improved them, adding photos, ID tips, sounds, video, and lots more natural history. UPDATE: we now have 55 expanded species and are getting in gear for more updates in the near future!

New self-paced course: Learn How to Identify Bird Songs, Click to Learn More

It was a lot of work, but we still have one question left to answer:  Which 55 birds are on the list?

Let me start by saying that it’s hard to get a list of 50 species for the whole continent that everyone can be happy with. (That 51st species helps, but only a little.) Rest assured we’ll keep working and revising until we’ve got everyone’s favorite species and then some updated. For now, scan down this list to see the updated accounts – and click to visit them. Read more about the new design here.

American Crow

American Goldfinch

American Kestrel

American Robin

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Blue Jay

Brewer’s Blackbird

Brown-headed Cowbird

California Quail

California Towhee

Canada Goose

Carolina Chickadee

Cedar Waxwing

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chipping Sparrow

Common Grackle

Common Raven

Cooper’s Hawk

Dark-eyed Junco

Downy Woodpecker

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Towhee

European Starling

Gray Catbird

Hairy Woodpecker

Hermit Thrush

House Finch

House Sparrow

House Wren


Mountain Chickadee

Mourning Dove

Northern Cardinal

Northern Flicker

Northern Mockingbird

Purple Finch

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-winged Blackbird

Rock Pigeon

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Song Sparrow

Spotted Towhee

Steller’s Jay

Tufted Titmouse

Turkey Vulture

Western Meadowlark

Western Scrub-Jay

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-crowned Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

Yellow-rumped Warbler


  • Sam Wilson

    The web site is very nicely done. It also has nice features on giving precise information. Sam Wilson

  • Emily Flynn McIntosh

    I love this website! I’ve been wishing for a site like this that combines bird calls, photographs and descriptions for a long time. The video is an extra treat. It bridges that divide between the curious beginner and the sometimes intimidating world of experienced birders.

  • Karen Genest

    What a treasure trove! Facts, videos, and songs! I feel like a kid in a candy shop!

  • The Mummbler

    I’ve been circling around the Birding world for 45 years but never come across anything (magazine, book, T.V. programme, group) that inspired me to get out there and LOOK, in the lively way you do.

    A loud round of applause to Hugh and everyone at All About Birds.

  • Andrea

    Love this website. In a recent edition of Country Living, it says that your site has the songs of more than 500 species!! A big typo, I guess.

  • Hi Andrea, and thanks for leaving a comment. We actually do have at least one sound clip for each of the 585 species on our site (barring just a few species such as Great Cormorant). So the Country Living article you read was indeed correct. The 51 species listed on this page have expanded species accounts with more sound (and video) than other species. Hope this helps- Hugh

  • Wings17

    This web site is fascinating. I am hooked to the point where I find myself spending far too much time here, but I just can’t help myself!

    The only suggestion I would make is please, please expand your ’51’ list to include the Wood Thrush, my favorite bird and the most beautiful singer of them all. I know you can’t please all of us bird lovers but certainly this bird deserves to be on the list. The Hermit Thrush should be on there too but I don’t want to get greedy. :)

    Thank you and keep up the great work.

  • I love this site! I also joined Birdshare and uploaded some of my bird photos – new to being an avid photographer and birder, and in training as a volunteer naturalist at Barr Lake State Park in Colorado – I really love my new hobby!

  • Dick Houghton

    Terrific site Hugh! The ultimate in showing what can be done with web pages over the printed page. And just what I needed to prepare myself for my first trip to the USA next week (from the UK) – I can’t wait to see and hear all those new birds!

  • Like your website! It would be great to have a page with nothing but thumbnail pictures of birds. Trying to find a particular bird that visits our house in Jan/Feb for one day each year on it’s migration path.

  • Hugh

    Thanks Dan – I’m not sure if you’ve seen our Browse Taxonomy page, but the thumbnails on that page are a pretty good way to start. It’s not solely thumbnails as you requested – but I suspect a page with 600 thumbnails on it might prove pretty hard to sort through in practice. Instead, we let you choose a single bird family (sandpipers or thrushes, for example) and then show you thumbnails for all the species in that family, plus a sample recording in case you’re trying to ID a song. We’re planning to bring a similar thumbnail approach to our browse by common name page, soon. For now, I hope the Browse Taxonomy page helps – find it here: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/browse_tax.aspx Best wishes – Hugh

  • Laura Robinson

    very cool – I had no idea which bird was making which sound. now just to wait for summer for them all to start singing again. Laura

  • Marianne Long

    I love this website! Thank you for an on-line bird guide!

  • heber gomez c.

    this web site is great,i went to “the 110 christmas bird count” in chihuahua, mex. and i made a shot of a bird that seems haven’t been registred on this place before, it looks like a “curve billed thrasher” but m’ not sure,

    can you help me?

    i will send you the photo via e-mail,


    best regards.

  • Such an informative site. Thank you very much and the art work of the 3 little guys at the top and squirrel at the bottom makes my day. I will be visiting often.

  • Lois Brummer

    We own a daycare center and I’m known as “Grandma”. My work is mostly supportive,but I frequently interract with the children. My favorite thing to do is to teach them about birds. Oh sure… abc’s are necessary, but LIFE is fun! Anyway, I’m extremely grateful for your site. We often listen to the bird calls and then go to our window to see if we can find that bird at our feeder. Thanks again!

  • Marcia

    I enjoyed the “All About Birds” website when you had it… seemed there were more birdsongs available then. The Great Horned Owl would be one of my requests. I heard an owl when I woke up at 2:15 one morning; it is hard to try to see an owl at that time (not to mention I didn’t want to get dressed and venture out in the snow at that hour)!

  • Disap Pointed in TX

    Hello. I have helped set up feeders in my parents’ yard and we have all very much appreciated your site’s many tips and photos for beginners.

    We were all looking forward so much to hearing the sound files, but since they all seem to require Shockwave Flash, which is an intrusive commercial program that we do not want to download, we are very discouraged that we cannot hear the birds at all.

    Why not simply post normal audio clips, at least for the most common birds (the top 50-51)? The simpler, more inclusive a format you offer, the more people you will reach and the less commercial your site will appear.

    We were also disappointed to discover that after ordering a bird book through National Geographic, our mailing address had apparently been sold to you for fundraising (i.e., junk mail). We consider that a violation of our privacy and an overstepping of the separation between profit and nonprofit organizations. We would be more inclined to donate to you if you used more honorable methods of requesting assistance.

    Thank you for considering these comments.

  • Andrew

    I don’t understand why you think Flash is “intrusive”, but I downloaded and uploaded all of the “typical voices” of the 51 birds on the list for you.

    You can go to this link below and download all 51 sound files.


  • Hugh

    To the original poster, thanks for writing with your concerns. I think there may be some misunderstanding regarding audio players. All audio clips require a player of some sort—your computer may use Windows Media Player or QuickTime, for instance. These programs have their own commercial agendas and aren’t really any less intrusive than Flash. We use Flash (an Adobe product) because it is widely installed on computers and works across platforms so that our sound clips actually are available to the broadest variety of users. Perhaps we’ll be free of third-party players when HTML 5 becomes the standard on the Web, but until then we believe that Flash is no worse, and in many cases a better option, than other media players.

    As for your experience with National Geographic’s mailing lists, you can request for them not to share your address. We do share lists among nonprofits that share our goals, but this is not a mark of a for-profit enterprise. Because of their organization and mission, nonprofits don’t make money the way for-profit companies do. Instead, we depend on grants and membership dues to help us continue our work. That’s why we’re constantly on the lookout for people who share our values and may wish to become involved with us. Far from being a commercial venture, it’s one of the tasks we have to constantly pursue just to ensure we can survive and continue our work.

  • Christine

    Emily, are you a medical illustrator? If so, please respond to this message. I would like to contact you to discuss your work. Thank you, Christine

  • Kara

    Great website! Thank you, I was listening to the Owl calls to try to identify a recent night time visitor when my busy bird feeders all cleared out! I turned the sound down.