Picture this: You’re sitting in your backyard or you’re driving to work, and you suddenly spot a flash of red right before your eyes. You’re hardly an expert on birds, but the glimpse of a red-headed bird has piqued your interest.
In North America alone, there are said to be over 1,000 bird species. A bunch of these species exhibit some type of red or orange coloration on their heads and bodies, with some featuring a more pinkish hue. Regardless of the strength of the red, all of these birds come under the category of being a “red-headed” bird.
Birds with Red Heads
Here is the ultimate guide to what birds have red heads, including pictures and profiles of each species!
Often referred to as the “red-headed finch” (which is an entirely different finch species found in Africa), the House Finch is probably the most common red-headed bird to find in your backyard. Native to western North America, these birds are found in backyards, suburban areas, towns, and farms across the country.
Length – 5-6 inches
Wingspan – 8-10 inches
The red color often looks slightly more orange or pink, but it’s still enough to be classified as a red-headed bird. Interestingly, as with most bird species, the male is generally more colorful than the female. The rest of their bodies are covered in dull-brown, often grayish, feathers with occasional streaking down the breast.
As well as their red heads, the house finch is known for its distinctively chirpy call. If you have a bird feeder, you’ll be well-acquainted with these noises. Speaking of feeding, the house finch’s diet consists of berries, grains, and seeds found on the ground or amongst vegetation.
House Finches build their nests in small cavities, including underneath the roof of your house, inside hanging plants, and even in hanging outdoor decorations. These nests are small, cup-shaped, and made of twigs and random debris. The female will generally lay two clutches a year, with each clutch sizing at 2 to 6 eggs.
If you saw a red headed bird while walking through a forest or woodland area, it might have been a passerine bird called the Pine Grosbeak! It is one of the most beautiful birds with red heads. Pine Grosbeaks are a member of the finch family found in coniferous woods in Alaska, Canada, the western mountains of the United States, and also in parts of Eurasia.
There are a few variations of coloration in the Pine Grosbeak, but generally speaking, the male will exhibit a red head, back, and rump, while the female possesses yellow corresponding parts. The rest of the Pine Grosbeak’s body is predominantly gray with black wings and a black tail.
Length – 7.9-10 inches
Wingspan – 13inches
Pine Grosbeaks primarily forage for seeds and insects in their forest habitats, but they will also search for fruit.
It’s fairly rare to see young Pine Grosbeaks as the parents nest in the forks of conifer trees, hidden from human populations and other predators such as wolves and lynxes – though they can’t hide from hawks. The female will lay one clutch a year of 2-4 eggs.
Another red-headed bird in the finch family is the Cassin’s Finch. Named after John Cassin, a curator at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, the male Cassin’s Finch is most distinctive for its raspberry red forehead and brushed pink faces.
Native to and found across North America, you’re most likely to spot a Cassin’s Finch in their favorite habitats – coniferous forests in mountainous regions. These habitats range across western North America, specifically New Mexico, Arizona States, and Southern California. During the winter, they move down to lower elevated forests.
As well as their red heads, male Cassin’s Finches are predominantly brown with a light brushing of pink throughout their feathers. The females, however, are light-brown all over with darker brown streaks across the body.
Length – 6.3inches
Wingspan – 9.8-10.6 inches
Cassin’s Finches are foragers who scavenge around the forest floors looking for seeds, berries, buds, and insects. As they have an abundance of food sources in their coniferous forest habitats, these birds are unlikely to be found on bird feeders in residential areas.
These birds will breed in the coniferous forests at elevations of 10,000 feet high, with their nests deliberately perched on the forks of trees to protect their young from ground predators such as wolves and lynxes. Unfortunately, little is known about the species’ breeding habits and clutch sizes due to the inaccessibility of their habitats.
Another red-headed member of the finch family, the Purple Finch is, despite the name, not actually purple. Instead, the male purple finches are categorized by their distinctive pinkish-red heads and breasts. This coloration blends throughout their body into brown feathers, however the females don’t exhibit such colors.
The Purple Finch was once famously described as a “sparrow dipped in raspberry juice” by American naturalist and ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson.
The habitat of a Purple Finch includes coniferous and mixed forests in the northeast United States and Canada. These birds are also often seen in woodland areas along the Pacific Coast. During winter, it’s common for the Purple Finch to descend to fields and farmland at lower elevations to source a mixture of foods, including buds, berries, seeds, and insects.
Purple finches don’t generally nest in densely populated areas as they prefer to nest in lowland forests and woodlands, however, they can often be found nesting in quiet rural residential areas. The nest is shaped like a cup and made of twigs and debris, and the female will have 1-2 broods a year of 2-7 eggs.
Also known as the Common Crossbill in Europe, the Red Crossbill is a unique bird in the finch family. The most distinctive feature of a Red Crossbill is its beak, wherein the bill is crossed over, hence the name!
The crossed mandible is an adaptation allowing the bird to successfully extract the seeds from removing the scales of conifer cones. The bigger the crossed bill, the larger the cones they can extract seeds from.
The Red Crossbill is a brightly colored bird with a red or orange head and chest that blends into the brown wings. However, this red coloration is only exhibited in males, as females tend to be more yellow or green in color.
Length – 7.8 inches
Wingspan – 11inches
The habitats of Red Crossbills are coniferous forests in Alaska, Canada, some New England States, and through the mountains of Mexico into middle America. Their range overlaps with the Two-barred Crossbill, which shares the same crossed mandible feature.
The Red Crossbill will typically nest in conifer forests filled with an abundance of conifer seeds between June and September. Depending on the availability of food, they can lay between 2-4 clutches a year with around 2 to 6 eggs per clutch.
Interestingly, male Red Crossbills are the most active sex of the species. The males typically perch on the tops of trees, turning their heads quickly in a jolted action, looking for predators and making the appropriate calls to warn their female partner.
Also known as the desert cardinal (which is far easier to pronounce than Pyrrhuloxia), this is a North American songbird and one of the three birds in the Cardinalis genus.
Length – 8.3 inches
Wingspan of 10-12 inches
The Pyrrhuloxia is most distinguishable for its distinctive appearance. While the majority of the body is a brownish-gray, the breast, tail, and face of the desert cardinal is a contrastingly bright red.
These birds exhibit a mohawk-feathered shape at the top of their heads, which is also bright red. As with most birds, the female possesses less coloration than the male – though both sexes exhibit yellowish stout bills.
Desert cardinals are distributed across desert scrubs and mesquite thickets, hence the name, throughout Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and the edges of woodlands in Mexico. Due to the ability to live in such dry terrains, the Pyrrhuloxia is a surprisingly hardy bird when it comes to water requirements. It will only move short distances in the winter to find a better availability of water.
The Pyrrhuloxia will nest in cactus gardens and mesquite thickets between March and August in egg-shaped nests made of twigs, grass, and bark. The male will become highly territorial and defensive while the female lays a clutch of 2-4 eggs.
The Northern Cardinal is a no-brainer member of the redheads family! Plus, it is red all over! Well, the males are at least. He also has a distinctive black mask that covers his eyes and the top of their chests. The red color fades into a dull, dark shade towards the wings. The females, however, are predominantly fawn with hints of gray and red amongst their wings. They share similar face markings, but the female’s are far less pronounced than the male’s.
Length – 8.3-9.3 inches
Wingspan of 9.8-12.2 inches
Northern cardinals are found across southeastern Canada, the eastern states in the US, and all the way down to Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. As a result of the wide distribution, Northern Cardinals feast on a range of foods including fruits, weeds, seeds, and grains. They also love to eat insects, oats, sunflower seeds, and they often drink maple sap.
Northern Cardinals are territorial songbirds who sing in a loud, clear whistle as a sign of defense. Females are similarly vocal, and both sexes will sing throughout the year. The female will build a nest from the materials sourced from the male before she lays 3-4 eggs.
Scarlet Tanagers are also known for their bright red plumage that covers their whole bodies, not just their heads. The females, however, are predominantly olive-toned with yellowish underparts. Interestingly, the males shed into a winter plumage that looks fairly similar to the female’s plumage, except the wings and tail are darker.
Length – 6.3-7.5 inches
Wingspan – 9.8-11.8 inches
This species is found across North America in deciduous forests, especially forests with oak trees. Scarlet tanagers are known to occur in suburban areas, farmland, parks, and cemeteries also. In winter, they generally migrate down to northwestern South America, starting their journey through Central America in October.
Scarlet tanagers are known for their hunting technique called “sallying”, wherein they typically catch insects in the air rather than on the ground. Once they’ve caught flying insects like a wasp or hornet, they will scrape the insect against a tree to get rid of the sting. However, they will take food from the ground, including termites, earthworms, snails, and spiders.
The breeding season for Scarlet Tanagers is between May and June, wherein the male and female will build a nest for the female to lay a clutch of around 4 eggs.
The Summer Tanager is a redhead very similar to the Scarlet Tanager, in that the male is red all over the body and the female is far paler. Unlike the Scarlet Tanager, however, the male Summer Tanager does not possess black wings or tail, nor does it have a winter plumage. Instead, its feathers remain a bright crimson red throughout the year.
The Summer Tanager is most commonly found in deciduous forests, specifically oak forests, in the southern United States going as far north as Iowa State. In the western part of their range, this species is often found in cottonwoods as they like to feast on weevils and cotton worms. During winter, Summer Tanagers migrate further south to Central America and the north of South America in search of warmer temperatures and better accessibility to food.
Speaking of food, the Summer Tanager’s diet largely consists of spiders, moths, beetles, caterpillars, and a range of other insects. Like the scarlet tanager, summer tanagers often hunt with the “sallying” method, wherein they will catch flying stinging insects in the air.
Summer Tanagers are monogamous birds that brood once or twice a year in a flimsy, grass-made nest about 10 meters above the ground. The female will generally lay between 3 and 5 eggs. While the female incubates and feeds the chicks, the male will spend this time pruning himself and ensuring his feathers are a splendid red.
Alongside the Summer and Scarlet Tanagers is the Western Tanager. While not as brightly colored as the other tanagers, the Western Tanager exhibits a characteristic red face alongside yellow underparts with a black back, wings, and tail. The female Western Tanager is predominantly olive-green across the body with a yellow face and darker wings and tail.
Length – 6.3-7.5 inches
Wingspan – 11.5 inches
This species is distributed amongst forests throughout the western coast of the United States, from Alaska State to Baja California. It’s also common to see Western Tanagers in southwestern Canada, Texas, and parts of South Dakota. They generally prefer coniferous forests, but they’re surprisingly not that fussy about the types of trees they reside in.
During winter, the Western Tanager will migrate south to pine-oak woodlands in Middle America. People will often see them during the migratory period as they reside in open countryside, wherein they will either migrate alone or in a group of 30.
The Western Tanager is mostly insectivorous and will eat anything from snails to wasps. They will also eat fruits in winter when there is a scarcity of insects. However, as with their habitats, this species isn’t overly picky, which means they can often be found pecking away at bird feeders in backyards (provided the area isn’t densely populated by humans).
During the breeding season, Western Tanagers stick to mixed and conifer forests to provide some protection from predators. The clutch size is generally between 3 and 5 eggs.
Named after the Latin word “pileatus”, meaning “capped”, the Pileated Woodpecker is most notably recognized for its distinctive red-capped crest. This is currently the largest woodpecker species native to and found in North America.
Length – 16-19 inches
Wingspan – 26-30 inches
Other than the red-crown, this woodpecker is mostly black and white with distinctive striped markings on its face. Interestingly, both the male and female Pileated Woodpecker look very similar, except the female’s markings are generally more defined.
This species is found in forests across Canada, eastern United States, and even parts of the Pacific Coast. They aren’t too fussy about what type of forest they live in, just as long as the forests are mature and densely wooded. While most birds are often affected by deforestation, the efforts to remove honeysuckle and buckthorn (two invasive species) somewhat benefit the Pileated Woodpecker, as they allow the birds to easily locate the trees they require.
The diet of the Pileated Woodpecker is primarily insectivorous, as they mostly eat beetle larvae and ants found in and on trees. This species is most famous for the classic woodpecker motion of drilling a hole into a tree to source insects, specifically ant colonies. Pileated Woodpeckers will also eat fruit, berries, and nuts when insects aren’t in abundance.
Male Pileated Woodpeckers will also drill holes into dead trees to make their nests in order to woo a female. When successful, the female will lay 3 to 5 eggs inside the tree and the parents will share the responsibility of incubation. Unlike most bird species, the woodpeckers will never return to the same nest.
Red-headed Woodpeckers exhibit a striking appearance. As their name suggests, the most distinctive feature of this species is their prominent red heads, contrasting with a black back and tail with white underparts. The male and female are sexually monomorphic, meaning they exhibit the same coloration and pattern.
Length – 7.5-9.8 inches
Wingspan – 16.7 inches
The Red-headed Woodpecker is native to temperate North America, residing mostly in open forests and pine savannas. They generally don’t live in densely wooded areas, which is why they are also often found in agricultural tree rows and on the timber in beaver dams. However, they mostly require trees that are tall enough to drill into with their pointed beaks.
As for their diet, the Red-headed Woodpecker is very adaptable with how they eat. These birds are known to catch insects in mid-air, as well as source for insects within trees, fruits, and nuts. In some cases, these omnivorous birds will eat small rodents and unattended eggs from other birds.
It’s also very common for this species to store food within the tight crevices of trees – including live insects like grasshoppers, but they’re wedged in such small spaces that they cannot escape.
The Red-headed Woodpecker will nest in the cavity of a dead tree or even on a tall utility pole to protect their young from potential predators. They are highly territorial around their nests. At the beginning of May, the female will lay a clutch of 4 to 7 eggs, and they will often have another brood during this time.
Not to be confused with the Red-headed Woodpecker, the Red-breasted Sapsucker is another species of woodpecker found on the west coast of North America.
As their name suggests, this species is distinctive for its red breast and head and a white belly and rump along with black wings that are speckled with white.
This species is most commonly found in both coniferous and deciduous forests, often in high elevations. Other common habitats include orchards, backyards, and power lines. As long as they are near tall trees for sucking sap, the Red-breasted Sapsucker is an adaptable bird. These birds are distributed from southwestern Alaska all the way down the west coast to California.
During winter, the Red-breasted Sapsuckers in the north migrate down to the south, and the birds in the south tend to migrate short distances to lower elevations. The winter range is between Baja California and Mexico.
As their name suggests, Red-breasted Sapsuckers primarily feed on sap from trees. Their bills and tongues are specifically designed to drill multiple holes into trees before collecting the sap with the bristle-like hairs on the tongue.
Like most other woodpeckers, this species will nest in the cavity of a dead tree between April and May, wherein the female will lay between 4-7 eggs.
Despite their name, the Red-bellied Woodpecker doesn’t actually possess a red belly – instead, the only red part of the bird is the back of its head. The rest of their body is predominantly white and gray with black and white barring on their wings. In most cases, there is the slightest tinge of red on the belly of this bird, but it’s not usually visible.
This species breeds and resides across the eastern United States, going as north as south Canada and as south as Florida. Red-bellied Woodpeckers aren’t fussy about where they live, provided they have enough trees to drill holes for nesting and sourcing food.
The diet of a Red-bellied Woodpecker is entirely omnivorous. They mostly feast on insects found inside and on trees, but they’ll also catch insects mid-flight and eat a range of fruits, nuts, and seeds. For the Red-bellied Woodpeckers who live in backyards, they love to eat sunflower seeds and peanuts from bird feeders.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers are notoriously noisy birds. Breeding activities and rituals begin with a series of drumming patterns, wherein the female will be particularly noisy to entice a male. They’ll even drum against aluminum roofs in urban settings. When it comes to breeding, this species will create a nesting cavity in a dead tree between April and May, and the pair will only brood once a year.
Acorn Woodpeckers are most notably identified for their distinctive appearance. The body of these birds is predominantly black with white speckled underparts and white markings around the face, but the standout feature is the bizarrely bright red cap at the top of the head.
Length – 8.3 inches
Wingspan – 14-17 inches
The habitat of an Acorn Woodpecker is predominantly wooded areas (specifically filled with oak trees) located near the coastal areas of California, Oregon, and the southwestern United States. The range also extends down to parts of Central America. Wherever there is an abundance of pine-oak trees, you’ll probably find evidence of an Acorn Woodpecker.
As their name suggests, the diet of an Acorn Woodpecker largely consists of acorns, which is why the species is so prominent in California during fall when there is an abundance of acorns. Once they have collected an acorn, they will drill holes into trees to store the acorns and eat them in winter. Like most woodpeckers, this species is also known to sally insects as well as feast on fruits, sap, and other nuts.
While Acorn Woodpeckers are monogamous breeders, they will often commit to breeding collectives, wherein they will share the roles of parenthood with other pairings (kind of like a natural babysitting service). This is because the species like to live in large groups, especially with members of their family. It’s hard to say how many eggs each female will lay if several females will lay eggs together in one nest.
The Vermilion Flycatcher is a species within the largest family of birds in the world known as the tyrant flycatcher family. A small songbird, it deserves its place on this list for its vivid red coloration on the head, chest, and underparts of the bird. The wings and tail are brownish-gray, creating a striking contrast. The female vermilion flycatchers, however, are completely grayish-brown with a slight blush of pink on their underparts.
Length – 5.1-5.5 inches
Wingspan – 9.4-9.8 inches
The distribution of the Vermilion Flycatcher is predominantly in Mexico, spanning northwards to the southwestern United States and even going as high as Canada. Birds further south, particularly in Central America, will migrate to the Brazilian Amazon, whereas birds in the northern part of the range generally only migrate short distances. This species prefers areas of open land usually near water, such as scrub, agricultural farmland, sparse trees, and riparian woodlands.
The Vermilion Flycatcher is an opportunistic feeder that will often sally from a perch to catch insects mid-air. They will eat just about anything, including fruit, nuts, and even small fish.
When it comes to breeding, the Vermilion Flycatcher is a socially monogamous species, but will often mate outside the pairing. Unlike most other bird species, these birds will also share nests with other pairings. These nests are highly insulated with lichen, hair, fur, and even spider webs. Males become particularly territorial and display aggressive behavior during the breeding season as the female lays between 2-4 eggs.
The Anna’s Hummingbird is certainly one of the more unique red-headed birds.
Interestingly, only the male Anna’s Hummingbird can make its place on our list, because while the male features an iridescent red crown and gorget, the female exhibits a dull green crown instead. As these feathers are iridescent, the red often looks more pink or purple depending on the movement of the feathers.
Length – 3.9-4.3 inches
Wingspan – 4.7 inches
The diet of an Anna’s Hummingbird consists mostly of insects and the nectar of flowers, which they consume thanks to their long, sharply pointed bills. Despite their size, this species can be particularly feisty around other hummingbird species who threaten to take their supply of nectar. So make sure those hummingbird feeders are spaced apart!
When it comes to reproduction, the Anna’s Hummingbird will breed in shrubby areas, mountain meadows, and open woodlands across the country. The female builds the nests and takes care of her young without any help from the male. The only contribution from the adult male is copulation, which is achieved through aerial displays and a series of explosive calls and squeaks.
How do birds get red heads?
Scientific studies have found that birds consume a particular pigment called carotenoids, which they get from their diet. This pigment causes feathers to turn different colors. In these birds with red somewhere on their heads, it is a range of reds and pinks.
Why does the Northern Cardinal bird have a crest?
Special features like bright colors and crests are usually there for 2 reasons – either to warn predators off or attract a mate.