Did you recently see a mystery GREY bird in Iowa?
If so, I’m guessing you are trying to figure out how to identify the species correctly!
Well, you are in the right place. Below, you will learn about the types of GREY birds found in Iowa. I’ve included high-quality pictures and range maps to help you!
The list below focuses on the most COMMON grey birds, many of which are often seen visiting bird feeders. I did not include any birds of prey or water birds. If you need help with either of these types of birds, then check out the following articles:
10 Types of Grey Birds Found in Iowa:
#1. White-breasted Nuthatch
- Sitta carolinensis
- Both sexes look almost the same.
- Males have a black cap on the top of their heads.
- Females display a lighter, more gray crown.
White-breasted Nuthatches are compact birds with no neck, a short tail, and a long pointy bill. Color-wise, they have distinctive white cheeks and chest, along with a gray back.
White-breasted Nuthatch Range Map
Look for these grey birds in Iowa in deciduous forests. But they adapt well to the presence of humans and are often seen at parks, cemeteries, and wooded backyards visiting bird feeders. To attract nuthatches, use sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet, safflower seeds, and mealworms.
These birds are incredibly vocal AND make distinctive noises that are relatively easy to identify! You are most likely to hear a “yank” call, which is given at any time of year. This loud and distinctive noise is often repeated several times in a row. (Press PLAY to listen below)
#2. Mourning Dove
- Zenaida macroura
- A mostly grayish dove with large black spots on the wings and a long thin tail.
- Look for pinkish legs, a black bill, and a distinctive blue eye-ring.
- Males and females look the same.
This grey bird is one of the most familiar in Iowa.
Look for them perched high up in trees or on a telephone wire near your home. They are also commonly seen on the ground, where they do most of their feeding.
Mourning Dove Range Map
Mourning Doves are common visitors to bird feeding stations! To attract them, try putting out their favorite foods, which include millet, shelled sunflower seeds, nyjer seeds, cracked corn, and safflower seeds. They are probably most comfortable feeding on the ground, so make sure to throw a bunch of food there.
It’s common to hear Mourning Doves in Iowa.
Listen for a low “coo-ah, coo, coo, coo.” In fact, this mournful sound is how the dove got its name! Many people commonly mistake this sound for an owl. (Press PLAY above!)
#3. Eurasian Collared-Dove
- Streptopelia decaocto
- A mostly sandy gray bird with a long, square-tipped tail.
- As the name suggests, look for a black collar on the back of the neck.
Interestingly, these grey birds are invasive to Iowa.
Unfortunately, somebody introduced Eurasian Collared-Doves to the Bahamas in the 1970s, and since then, they have rapidly spread. In fact, their population is still spreading!
Eurasian Collared-Dove Range Map
One of the reasons these grey birds colonized here so quickly is due to their comfort level with humans. They have thrived being around bird feeders and in urban and suburban areas. It’s common to see them on the ground or platform feeders eating grains and seeds.
How do you tell them apart from Mourning Doves?
At first glance, Eurasian Collared-Doves look very similar to Mourning Doves. Here’s how to tell them apart:
- Mourning Doves are smaller and have black dots on their wings.
- Eurasian Collared-Doves are larger and have a black crescent around their neck.
#4. Dark-eyed Junco
- Junco hyemalis
- Smooth and soft-looking slate gray with a white belly.
- Small pale bill, long tail with white outer feathers.
Dark-eyed Juncos are probably the most common grey bird in Iowa. A recent estimate sets their population around 630 million.
You can easily identify these sparrows by how smooth their feathers look. It appears like they would be as soft as a chinchilla to touch. 🙂
Dark-eyed Junco Range Map
This species is found in pine and mixed-coniferous forests when they breed, but in winter, they are in fields, parks, woodlands, and backyards. Dark-eyed Juncos like to visit feeders in the winter, but ONLY ON THE GROUND, where they consume fallen seeds.
#5. Black-capped Chickadee
- Poecile atricapillus
These grey birds are one of the most beloved species in Iowa, and it’s easy to see why! Black-capped Chickadees are often described as “cute,” They are tiny, with an oversized head that features a black cap and bib.
Naturally, look for them in open deciduous forests, thickets, and cottonwood groves. They also adapt easily to the presence of people and are common to see in backyards and parks.
Black-capped Chickadee Range Map
In fact, once you set up a new bird feeder, chickadees will likely be the first birds to visit, as they are curious about anything new in their territory. The best foods to use are sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet. Their small size and athletic ability mean these birds can use just about any type of feeder!
#6. Tufted Titmouse
- Baeolophus bicolor
- A grayish bird with white underparts, a peach wash on the sides, and a crest on top of its head.
- Look for a black forehead and large, dark eyes.
- Males and females look the same.
These acrobatic grey birds are common to see in southeastern Iowa in deciduous forests, along with backyards and city parks. Tufted Titmice are often seen flitting from tree to tree, looking for food while hanging from branches upside down or sideways.
Range Map – Tufted Titmouse
Tufted Titmice visit bird feeders regularly, especially in winter.
They are shyer than other birds, and they typically fly in quickly, grab a seed, and then fly somewhere else to eat in private. The best foods to attract them are sunflower seeds, but they also readily eat peanuts, safflower seeds, and suet.
#7. Gray Catbird
- Dumetella carolinensis
- They are completely grey overall, except for their black cap.
Gray Catbirds are incredible vocalists who mimic the songs of many other birds!
And luckily, their most common call is incredibly easy to identify. Listen for a raspy, cat-like “meow,” which is how they got their name! Seriously, if you hear a noise that sounds like a cat in a dense thicket, you are likely listening to a Gray Catbird.
Gray Catbird Range Map
These completely gray birds will also visit bird feeders in Iowa. The secret is grape jelly! Yes, you read that correctly. Gray Catbirds regularly visit my feeding station when I set out small cups of grape jelly (primarily used to attract orioles).
#8. Northern Mockingbird
- Mimus polyglottos
- Medium-sized grey songbird with a LONG, slender tail.
- Distinctive white wing patches that are visible when in flight.
These grey birds are NOT easy to miss in Iowa!
First, Northern Mockingbirds LOVE to sing, and they almost never stop. Sometimes they will even sing through the entire night. If this happens to you, it’s advised to keep your windows closed if you want to get any sleep. 🙂
Northern Mockingbird Range Map
In addition, Northern Mockingbirds have bold personalities. For example, it’s common for them to harass other birds by flying slowly around them and then approaching with their wings up, showing off their white wing patches.
These grey birds are common in backyards, but they rarely eat from bird feeders. Nonetheless, I have heard from many people complaining that mockingbirds are scaring away the other birds from their feeders, even though mockingbirds don’t even eat from feeders themselves!
#9. Loggerhead Shrike
- Lanius ludovicianus
- Grey songbird with a black mask that appears chunky.
- Black wings. Prominent white flashes appear during flight.
- Look for their distinctive hooked bill.
Don’t let their small size fool you.
These grey birds are lethal predators in Iowa!
Loggerhead Shrikes eat a variety of prey items, including birds, insects, lizards, and small mammals. They are typically found in grasslands, where they hunt by perching themselves on a fence, utility post, or another prominent perch.
Loggerhead Shrike Range Map
They have even adapted to hunting food that is poisonous to other species. A Monarch Butterfly is a great example, which is toxic to most animals due to the milkweed it consumes. But Loggerhead Shrikes don’t care. They will impale the butterfly, then let it sit for a few days before consuming it, which provides time for the poisons to break down!
- RELATED: 17 Ways to Attract MORE Butterflies!
#10. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
- Polioptila caerulea
- A tiny bird that appears gray from a distance. Up close, it has a bluish tint.
- Black wings with a black tail that has outer white tail feathers.
- Breeding males have a black “V” on their foreheads.
Because of their small size, the easiest way to see one of these grey birds in Iowa might be to listen for it! Keep your ears open for a thin, musical warble. In addition, they have a call note that sounds like a nasally, whining “pzzzzz.”
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Range Map
Interestingly, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher’s breeding range keeps expanding northward. Since records have been kept, they have shifted about 200 miles, consistent with increasing temperatures.
Believe it or not, even though these birds eat lots of small insects and invertebrates, they don’t really eat that many gnats. 🙂
Did you find the grey bird you were looking for?
If not, you may want to purchase a field guide dedicated to bird identification (see link below). In this post, I focused on the most COMMON grey birds found in Iowa.
Which of these GREY birds have you seen in Iowa?
Leave a COMMENT below! Make sure to mention where the grey bird was seen. 🙂