US Fish & Wildlife Service



Date of this Version



U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Migratory Bird Management (January 2002).


What is a Songbird?

Anyone who has taken a walk in the woods or in their local park in the spring has heard the melodies of the winged singers collectively known as “songbirds.” Warblers, tanagers, orioles, finches, and hundreds of other species make up this diverse group of birds. Their names often denote their colorful plumage: Indigo Bunting, Yellow Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Purple Martin, and many more. Songbirds are among the smallest of our birds and are also called “perching birds,” meaning they can hold tightly to branches with their toes. For management purposes, songbirds are part of a group called “land birds,” species that rely mainly on terrestrial habitats and some vegetated wetlands.

Songbirds eat a wide variety of foods, including insects, seeds, berries, nectar, and fruit. Their appetite for insects helps farmers and foresters as songbirds annually consume millions of insects that, if unchecked, could damage crops and trees. Some birds eat as many as 300 insects a day during the summer months.

These beneficial species can be found in virtually every habitat in the U.S. Forests, prairies, wetlands, deserts, and many other kinds of habitats are home to songbirds. Millions of people enjoy feeding these fascinating creatures in their backyards and go birding in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuges and other natural areas.

Should We Be Concerned About The Conservation Status Of Songbirds?

Yes. While populations of many resident species of songbirds are relatively stable (e.g., American Robin), other resident species are declining. Migrating birds face additional challenges and many of their populations are also in decline. Long-term observations show that the populations of many species of “Nearctic/Neotropical migrants,” migratory birds that breed in North America and winter in Latin America and the Caribbean, are declining. Declines for some species have been precipitous and many birds are much less common today than they were in the recent past. Two primary factors have been suggested to explain declines in migratory songbirds: fragmentation of breeding habitat in the U.S. and Canada and loss of wintering habitat in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.