No bird is common, if we use “common” to mean ordinary. But birds that are seen more commonly than others can seem less noteworthy than species that are rarely glimpsed. In this gathering of essays and illustrations celebrating fifty of the most common birds of the Upper Midwest, illustrator Dana Gardner and writer Nancy Overcott encourage us to take a closer look at these familiar birds with renewed appreciation for their not-so-ordinary beauty and lifeways.

Beginning with the garishly colored male and the more gently colored female wood duck, whose tree cavity nest serves as a launching pad for ducklings in the summer months, and ending on a bright yellow note with the American goldfinch, whose cheerful presence enlivens the midwestern landscape all year long, Overcott combines field observations drawn from her twenty-plus years of living and birding in Minnesota’s Big Woods with anecdotes and data from other ornithologists to portray each species’ life cycle, its vocalizations and appearance, and its habitat, food, and foraging methods as well as migration patterns and distribution. Infused with a dedication to conserving natural resources, her succinct yet personable prose forms an ideal complement to Gardner’s watercolors as this renowned illustrator of avian life worldwide revisits the birds of his childhood.


Wood Duck, Aix sponsa

Ruffed Grouse, Bonasa umbellus

Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo

Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias

Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura

Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus

Red-tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis

American Kestrel, Falco sparverius

Killdeer, Charadrius vociferus

American Woodcock, Scolopax minor

Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura

Black-billed Cuckoo, Coccyzus erythropthalmus

Eastern Screech-Owl, Otus asio

Barred Owl, Strix varia

Whip-poor-will, Caprimulgus vociferus

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Archilochus colubris

Belted Kingfisher, Ceryle alcyon

Red-bellied Woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus

Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens

Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus

Pileated Woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus

Eastern Phoebe, Sayornis phoebe

Eastern Kingbird, Tyrannus tyrannus

Red-eyed Vireo, Vireo olivaceus

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor

Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica

Black-capped Chickadee, Poecile atricapilla

Tufted Titmouse, Baeolophus bicolor

White-breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis

House Wren, Troglodytes aedon

Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula

Eastern Bluebird, Sialia sialis

American Robin, Turdus migratorius

Gray Catbird, Dumetella carolinesis

Cedar Waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum

American Redstart, Setophaga ruticilla

Ovenbird, Seiurus aurocapillus

Eastern Towhee, Pipilo erythrophthalmus

Field Sparrow, Spizella pusilla

Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia

White-throated Sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis

Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis

Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Pheucticus ludovicianus

Indigo Bunting, Passerina cyanea

Bobolink, Dolichonyx oryzivorus

Red-winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus

Baltimore Oriole, Icterus galbula

American Goldfinch, Carduelis tristis


Recommended Reading

Basic Field Guides to Birds


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Pages, art, trim size
124 pages, 50 watercolor paintings, 7 1/2 x 10 inches