Cape May warbler, John Brunjes photo


​​​​Birds in Kentucky

Over 350 species of birds have been documented in Kentucky. Of these, approximately 150 species breed in the state, with the remainder being winter residents or transients that just pass through the state during migration.


Because birds have the ability to fly, bird conservation has taken on an “integrated” approach, for they travel across geopolitical boundaries, traverse diverse landscapes, and share priority habitats. For instance, conservation of Prothonotary Warblers may include protection of wintering habitat in Central and South America as well as stopover migration areas, preservation of their core population by setting aside large tracts of bottomland forests in the eastern U.S. that may span several states, and protection of cavity trees for nesting in wetlands that may be shared by other species such as wood ducks. For more information on this integrated approach, visit the North American Bird Conservation Initiative website.

Because birds know no state boundaries, bird conservation is often based on bird conservation regions. Kentucky sits within 4 bird conservation regions (BCR); view a map of these BCRs.  Conservation planning within these BCRs is done through the corresponding joint ventures (JV), consisting of partnerships with state and federal government agencies and non-governmental organizations with a shared common goal. View a national JV fact sheet

This Golden-winged Warbler was captured at a bird banding station. This species is one of KDFWR's species of greatest conservation need. Photo Credit: KDFWR

Links to Joint Ventures that include Kentucky:

For conservation planning purposes, birds are also often split into the following categories: landbirds (songbirds, woodpeckers, nightjars, quail, raptors, etc.), shorebirds (killdeer, sandpipers, plovers, snipe, woodcock, etc.), waterbirds (herons, cranes, cormorants, pelicans, terns, gulls, etc.), and waterfowl (ducks, geese, and swans).

Links to National Conservation Plans:

KDFWR has utilized the above plans and partnerships in guiding the Department’s bird conservation efforts. These were taken into consideration when developing Kentucky’s Wildlife Action Plan and in creating the list of species of greatest conservation need.


The Department’s Wildlife Diversity section coordinates the conservation of non-hunted landbirds within the state. This includes the songbirds, raptors, nightjars, woodpeckers, etc., and we actively participate in various regional research, monitoring, and habitat improvement projects.


There are 22 species of raptors or birds of prey that regularly occur in Kentucky. Fifteen of these species are hawks, eagles and falcons and seven are owls. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has ongoing monitoring/management projects for several raptor species that are listed as Species of Greatest Conservation Need in our State Wildlife Action Plan. These include species that were previously on the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Species (bald eagle and peregrine falcon) and some of the more rare species in Kentucky (barn owl, osprey, and northern harrier). For information on species specific projects, please see the links below:

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine Falcon in a nesting box. ​Photo Credit: KDFWR


Three species of nightjars are known to occur in Kentucky. These are the Chuck-will’s-widow, Common Nighthawk, and Whip-poor will. There is a general consensus that the population of nightjars may be on the decrease but little data exists to support such a theory. Thus, KDFWR actively participates in and encourages participation in the Nightjar Survey Network to collect information on Kentucky’s nightjar population.


More than 150 species of songbirds regularly occur in Kentucky at some point during the year. While about 100 species of songbirds nest in Kentucky, the remainder are either winter residents or “transient” species that just pass through the state during migration. Birds that winter in Central or South America and summer in North America are referred to as “neotropical migrants”. This group includes warblers, flycatchers, orioles and swallows.

Since the 1990’s, KDFWR has been monitoring songbird populations throughout the state. These have included conducting auditory surveys on public and private lands, long-term songbird banding projects, following the Institute for Bird Population’s (IBP) Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) protocol, and participating in species specific surveys and research. See links below for information on specific projects and working groups.

Habitat loss and degradation is a major cause of decline for most songbirds. If you are a land manager or property owner, interested in improving habitat for songbirds, the guides below may be of interest to you.

Those interested in habitat management, may also want to see our Habitat How To’s for more information on specific wildlife-friendly practices.

Red-eyed Vireo

This Baltimore Oriole was banded during a MAPS research project. Photo Credit: KDFWR