Redbird: What type of birds are red?

Scarlet Tanager by Bmajoros

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Greg Gillson

Did you see a bright red bird in the United States or Canada?

Chances are, it is one of the birds on this page!

The common kind of bright red bird of the eastern United States is the Northern Cardinal.

Photo of Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal. Greg Gillson.

In fact, Northern Cardinals are one of the top 3 most common backyard birds from Maryland to Florida and from Iowa to Texas and everywhere in between!

Northern Cardinals are such popular and colorful red birds that they are the official State Bird of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Northern Cardinals are often called “redbirds.” They are found in dense shrubbery in yards and woods. They visit bird feeders. Their favorite foods are black oil sunflower seeds, striped sunflowers, and safflower seeds.

Only the males are red. Females are buff-brown but have the orange bill and a short crest.

What birds are red besides cardinals?

Perhaps, though, you saw a red bird, but it wasn’t a Northern Cardinal. What else could it be?

There are several other types of red birds besides Cardinals. 

One of the most widespread red birds at bird feeders in the United States that isn’t a cardinal is the House Finch.

Photo of House Finch
House Finch. Greg Gillson.

House Finches are common birds at backyard bird feeders throughout the Unites States and southern Canada.

House Finches are most often found in noisy flocks. 

Only the males have red on them. And they are heavily streaked with brown. The top of the crown is brown. The red-orange coloration is concentrated on the forehead, upper breast, and rump. Some birds are orange, or even yellow!

Females are streaky brown, with no red. They have a plain brown face with no obvious pattern.

House Finches love bird feeders stocked with black oil sunflower seeds. They also eat Niger seed.

Purple Finches are found in northern and damp western woods. In the East they also move south in winter. So, it is possible to see Purple Finches in much of the country at some time of year.

These finches lack the dark breast streaking of House Finches. The whole bird seems to show a red tint. Is the whole top of the head raspberry red? It’s probably a Purple Finch!

Photo of Purple Finch
Purple Finch. Greg Gillson.

Like the other red birds on this page, the females are brown. You might recognize them by their bushy crests, short, forked tails and pale eyebrow that wraps all the way around the darker cheek.

Purple Finches usually show up as singles or pairs at your feeder, generally not in flocks. They eat black oil sunflower seeds.

Cassin’s Finches are found only in the drier mountains of the West, frequenting ponderosa pines and juniper. 

Males are more delicate rose pink, with a red cap. They are paler than Purple Finches, with thin white eye rings, but otherwise very similar.

Photo of Cassin's Finch
Cassin’s Finch. Greg Gillson.

Females are pale with light brown streaks. They look very much like female Purple Finches. The best way to identify them is when they accompany the males! But careful observers may note that the pale eyebrow is streaked and that the under-tail coverts are streaked with brown. The tail is more deeply forked. The bill is larger and straighter on the upper edge.

Look for these finches at ski resorts and at bird feeders in communities high in the mountains of the West.

Red Crossbills are found regularly in the forests of the West and boreal forests in Alaska and across Canada, south barely to the northern tier of states from Minnesota to Maine.

These nomadic birds feed on cone seeds. Every couple of years the cone crops in the north fail to produce. In these years birds irrupt south. In some special years, large numbers reach all the way to the southern United States.

Photo of Red Crossbill
Red Crossbill. Greg Gillson.

Females and young often show a yellow or yellow green hue.

These birds are short and plump with big heads. The tails are short and forked. They often are seen in large flocks flying high over the forests at tree-top level calling with clicking chirps.

Even when hungry birds move south, they usually feed in the pine and spruce trees. They don’t visit bird feeders very often.

What bird is bright red?

To my eyes, the Vermilion Flycatcher is the brightest red bird. The males are a hurt-your-eyes scarlet, a deep red-orange The camera has trouble capturing just how shockingly intense red this bird is!
 
Photo of Vermilion Flycatcher
Vermilion Flycatcher. Greg Gillson.

Again, females are not colored as boldly. The dark upper parts of the male are replaced with brown. The under parts are pale with long streaks on the breast. And the belly and undertail coverts are yellowish.

These desert birds of the Southwest, perch on lower branches of trees. Then they sally out to grab insects in the air. They also drop to the ground to pounce on insects there.

What did they do before golf courses? That seems to be their primary habitat! You may also find them in large parks with extensive lawns with scattered trees.

What birds are completely red?

There are two birds that are completely red. The more common completely red bird is the male Summer Tanager.

Summer Tanagers are about the size of Northern Cardinals. But they don’t have a crest. The bill is pale.

Female Summer Tanagers are yellowish or yellow-green. Immature males are yellow with large red splotches on their feathers.

         Summer Tanager by Imogen Warren

Summer Tanagers are found in the Southeast and Southwest during summer. They spend most of their time high in large deciduous trees or mixed woods.

They eat primarily bees and wasps, but may come to the feeder for fruit or grape jelly.

Another all-red bird is the Hepatic Tanager. 

Male Hepatic Tanagers are red-orange but show gray on the flanks and back. The red is brightest on the crown and throat. The bill is dark.

Photo of Hepatic Tanger
Hepatic Tanager. Greg Gillson.

Female Hepatic Tanagers are rather gray with yellow on crown and throat.

These birds are rather rare summer inhabitants of pine-oak forests in mountains of the Southwest.

These birds are not likely to visit your feeder. But if they do, they may be attracted to grape jelly.

What birds are red and black?

While The Northern Cardinal and Vermilion Tanager that we described above are both red and black, the primary red and black bird that is common in the summer in the eastern United States is the Scarlet Tanager.

Males are deep red with black wings and tail. Females are green with black wings and tail.

Photo of Scarlet Tanager
Scarlet Tanager. USF&WS.

Scarlet Tanagers live high in the treetops in deciduous woods.

Like other tanagers, they feed on insects, but may eat grape jelly.

What hummingbird is completely red?

In the West, the Rufous Hummingbird is completely red. Well, actually, it is more correct to say that the males are rusty cinnamon-colored, with ruby-red throats.

The white under parts are washed with cinnamon, too.

Photo of Rufous Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird. Greg Gillson.

Female Rufous Hummingbirds are green above with a cinnamon wash on the flanks and tail base.

These birds breed in summer from Oregon and Idaho north to Southeast Alaska. They are common in migration throughout most of the West.

Rufous Hummingbirds are easily attracted to hummingbird feeders.

In coastal California, the Allen’s Hummingbird is a summer bird in northern California and a year-round resident in southern California.

Allen’s Hummingbirds look quite similar to Rufous Hummingbirds, but the center of the back is green.

Red birds of each state

The red birds above aren’t the only red birds. There are some red ducks, red hawks, and other birds that tend toward rusty or orange.

Are you curious about what kinds of red, rusty, and orange birds are common where you live?

Wrapping Up

There are several fascinating reasons why some birds, like the Northern Cardinal you mentioned earlier, sport vibrant red plumage:

Pigmentation:

  • The key player is a type of pigment called carotenoids. These are fat-soluble molecules found in plants and some insects. Birds get carotenoids from their diet, and different types create different colors.
  • Some birds can convert yellow carotenoids (which they readily obtain from fruits and veggies) into red and orange pigments through specific enzymes in their bodies. This conversion doesn’t happen in all birds, so not all species with access to carotenoids will be red.

Communication and Mating:

  • The vibrant red colors often play a crucial role in communication and attracting mates. In many species, males are more red than females, suggesting sexual selection. Bright red plumage can signal good health, strength, and reproductive fitness, making males more attractive to females.
  • Red can also be used for territorial defense and aggressive displays, warning rivals to stay away.

Camouflage and Crypsis:

  • Interestingly, not all red birds use their color for display. Some, like the Red-winged Blackbird, use their red patches for concealment, blending in with reddish vegetation in their habitat.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is your favorite red bird?

My favorite would have to be the Summer Tanager. I still remember seeing one for the first time and being blown away by the bright red color which also seemed to be really delicate as well as bold and bright.

What is the Redbird that looks like a cardinal?

The Red-crested Cardinal, despite its name, isn’t actually closely related to the Northern Cardinals you might be familiar with. Here’s the lowdown:

True Identity:

  • The Red-crested Cardinal, scientifically known as Paroaria coronata, belongs to the thraupid family, which encompasses tanagers and their relatives.
  • While sharing the “cardinal” name, they are not part of the Cardinalidae family, containing true cardinals like the Northern Cardinal.

Appearance:

  • Red-crested Cardinals are medium-sized birds, reaching about 7.5 inches in length.
  • Males and females have similar plumage, featuring a striking red head, crest, and upper chest contrasting with their gray back, wings, and tail.
  • They have a white belly and undertail, adding to their distinct coloration.

Habitat and Distribution:

  • Native to South America, they are found in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
  • They have been introduced to Hawaii and Puerto Rico, where they are now established populations.
  • They prefer open habitats like grasslands, agricultural fields, and urban areas.
                        Red-crested Cardinal
                  Photo by რობერტ (Robert)

What is the most common red bird?

Determining the “most common” red bird depends on how you define “common” and the geographical scope you’re considering. Here in North America:

  • Strong contenders: Based on widespread distribution and population estimates, the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) emerges as a strong contender.
  • Other possibilities: Depending on specific regions, other red birds like the House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus), Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea), or Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra) might be equally or even more common in their local ranges.
Comments 2
  1. My favourite is the House Finch. I loved Springtime and the constant singing of the male when I was head landscaper in El Cajon, California. I miss it as now I have been in Sweden for the past 16+ years.

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