You saw a striking bird with a red head, did you? You wonder what it is. That shouldn’t be too hard to figure out, should it? How many kinds of birds with red heads could there possibly be?
Many birds have either fully or partially red heads in the United States and Canada. Sometimes there is just a touch of red. Sometimes the entire bird is primarily red. Sometimes the red color is more orange; sometimes, it is pinker.
Did you ever wonder why birds always have red heads? Well, their color is related to their head shape. The redness comes from the chromatic contrast between the bright yellow plumage and darker-colored eyes. Other examples include:
• Birds with green heads
• Birds with blue heads
• Birds with pink heads
Each bird has its own unique traits, personality, and charm that make them special. If you want to add these unusual birds to your life, you should start by knowing their characteristics.
Why do birds have red heads?
The most common reason for having a redhead is because it helps camouflage the bird in its environment. It also makes the bird easier to see at night.
Redheads can be found on almost every continent except Antarctica. They live in tropical forests, temperate rainforests, deserts, grasslands, mountains, and other habitats.
Some birds with red heads are very colorful. Others are not so bold. Still, others have plain colors. They can even have stripes, spots, and other details.
Birds with red heads are amazing creatures that we often overlook. Their appearance is quite attractive, but some of their behaviors are rather strange. For example, when they build nests together, they can fight over territory. One bird will try to take over another’s nest.
Another interesting fact about birds with red heads is that they tend to mate for life! This means that once these two birds decide to get married, they stay together forever.
If you love birds, you probably already know about this peculiar group. But if you don’t, then keep reading.
20 common birds with red heads
1. Northern Cardinal
The Northern Cardinal is one of 25 species of North American birds with a red head. They are a member of the family Icteridae, along with such familiar species as robins, bluebirds, tanagers, orioles, mockingbirds, and thrashers.
Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis
Size: They measure between 21 – 24 cm and weigh about 43g.
Appearance: The Northern cardinal is the most popular bird in Tennessee. This species is known for its beautiful plumage, especially its bright red coloration.
Males are a stunning red with a black mask and throat. Females are pale orangish-brown with red on their crest, wings, and tail. Both sexes have a short, thick bill that is perfect for cracking seeds.
Habitat/diet: These birds prefer open areas such as parks and gardens, where they feed on insects, fruit, berries, seeds, nuts, and grains.
You can find Northern Cardinals in dense vegetation foraging for seeds, fruit, and insects.
Breeding/nesting: They nest in trees and shrubs, laying 2–5 eggs each season. The male and female both sing during courtship displays. Their song consists of 3–6 notes, repeated every 5 seconds.
The Northern Cardinal is active during daylight except when breeding season begins. During nesting season, they feed primarily early morning and late evening. They rest during the midday heat.
2. House Finch
The House Finch is one of North America’s most popular birds. This small finch is native to the Western United States and Canada.
Scientific name:Haemorhous mexicanus
Size: This species measures about 14cm and weighs between 19-22g.
Appearance: A male House Finch is distinguished from a female by his pinkish-red breast and face. He has a brown back, belly, and tail. His eyes are black. When he sings, it sounds like a soft whistle. Females and juveniles have brown plumage.
Diet: House finch’s diet mainly includes fruits, seeds, buds, and berries. They also eat other smaller insects.
Habitat: The House Finch is one of those birds that are easy to find anywhere in the world. These small birds are often found around human habitats because they are attracted to food like seeds and nuts.
Breeding/nesting: They live in flocks and tend to nest in trees. Their nests are usually located near water sources.
3. Downy Woodpecker
Scientific name: The bird’s scientific name is Dryobates Pubescens.
Size: It measures approximately 14 – 17 cm from beak to tail tip.
Appearance: These woodpeckers have short bills and are relatively small. They have white bellies and a primarily black back that includes streaks and spots of white, making it look like a checkerboard pattern. Males have red spots on the head but females don’t.
Downy Woodpeckers are one of the most commonly found birds around us.
Diet: Their diet includes insects, larvae inside wood or tree bark, nuts, acorns, grains, and berries.
Habitat: The Downy Woodpecker is found primarily in deciduous woods and along streams. They prefer deciduous trees like oaks, maples, hickories, and elms.
Breeding/nesting: They nest in dead trees or in dead parts of live trees. They nest in holes or in hollows. They lay 3-8 eggs per clutch. Incubation takes about 12 days.
4. Red-bellied Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus
Size: This species measures about 23 – 27 cm and weigh about 72g.
Appearance: This bird is called “Red-Bellied” because it has a distinctive color pattern. It has a black and white striped coloration on its body that resembles a zebra pattern. Its head, legs, and tail are white, and its belly is white with a reddish tint.
Diet: These woodpeckers eat insects, seeds, nuts, berries, and fruits, and sometimes they eat small fish, tree frogs, and eggs of small birds.
Habitat: They live in deciduous forests near water sources. They can also be found in agricultural land, plantations, grove, and cities.
Breeding/nesting: They nest in cavities such as tree holes, hollow logs, and stumps. Their loud call sounds similar to tapping on a piece of metal. You can hear this bird calling during daylight throughout most of North America.
Attract Red-bellied Woodpeckers with a suet feeder, though they will also sometimes eat at seed feeders if you offer sunflowers and peanuts.
5. Hairy Woodpecker
Scientific name: Leuconotopicus villosus
Size: This bird measures approximately 9 inches long with a 15 inches wingspan.
Appearance: Hairy woodpeckers have black-and-white stripes on the head and an erect, upright posture while perched on a tree trunk. Their upper part is black, while the underside is white. They have a long, narrow, chisel-like beak and white spots on their wings feathers.
Hairy Woodpecker is sometimes called the Red Head Woodpecker due to the reddish head markings. However, there are no red feathers on the head.
These birds are often confused with Downy Woodpecker, smaller and lighter colored.
Their calls include a loud “peek,” a low rattle, and a high-pitched whistle.
Diet: Hairy woodpecker feeds mainly on ants, termites, beetles, and other insects.
Habitat: They live in deciduous forests throughout North America. Hairy Woodpecker prefers mature, tall trees such as oak, hickory, maple, elm, ash, cottonwood, sycamore, poplar, basswood, tuliptree, and hackberry.
Breeding/Nesting: The hairy woodpecker starts to breed from late March to late May every year and lays 3-5 eggs per clutch.
Nests are usually built near the base of a tree trunk. Some nests are placed on branches, but those are very rare. Hairy Woodpeckers rarely use cavities. Instead, they build their nests in holes in dead logs and stumps.
6. Pileated Woodpecker
Scientific name: Dryocopus pileatus
Size: It is one of the biggest woodpeckers in North America. It’s about 40-49 cm and · weighs 250-350 g with a 66-75 cm wingspan.
Appearance: Pileated Woodpeckers have a large red crest on top of their head. Their plumage is mostly dark gray or black with black and white stripes on each side of the head.
Diet: Their main diet consists of insects such as ants and termites. These include beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, and spiders. The pileated is mostly active during daylight hours, but it spends much of its time feeding on insects, especially ants. In winter, the birds move south into Mexico and Central America.
Habitat: They are native to North America and can be found across the continent. They inhabit mature forests and heavily wooded parks, where plenty of dead wood is lying about.
Breeding/Nesting: Pileated Woodpecks start breeding in early spring and continue until mid-August. They lay 2-4 eggs per clutch.
They like to build nests out of sticks and leaves. They usually nest near water, which helps keep them cool during summer.
7. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Scientific name: Sphyrapicus varius
Size: It is about 19-21 cm long with a wingspan of 34-40 cm and weighs about 43-55g.
Appearance: Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are black and gray birds with a red crown and throat. Their backs have black and white stripes, and their bellies vary from white to light yellow. Females have a white throat.
Diet: The bird’s name comes from the sap it sucks out of trees. They also eat caterpillars, ants, beetles, spiders, fruits, and berries.
Habitats: They can be found near trees and dig shallow holes in tree trunks, where they use their brush-like tongues to drink sap from trees.
They don’t choose specific habitats during their winters. Still, they’re usually located in bottomland hardwoods or mixed hardwoods at elevations up to 10,000 feet and forests of hickory or pines and oaks.
Breeding/Nesting: Yellow bellies prefer similar trees for nesting as they do for well digging. They include aspen, birch maple, beech, elm, and others. Nests made from live trees are often infested with fungi that cause their heartwood or sapwood to rot, which makes them easier to excavate.
Males usually choose the nest tree they want to use for their nests. Cavity nests may last for up to seven years for multiple breeding seasons. A pair of them usually lays 4-6 eggs per season.
8. Purple Finch
Scientific name: Haemorhous purpureus
Size: It measures around 15cm and weighs about 25g with a 25cm wingspan.
Appearance: The purple finch is one of several species in the East Tennessee mountains. While they are often mistaken for mockingbirds, they are members of the tanager family. This particular member of the tanager family is known as the purple finch because of the coloration of its head and neck feathers.
Males are pale pink-red on their heads and breasts, blending into brown on their backs and clouded white on their bellies. Females lack any red. They are coarse-streaked below, with strong face marks, including a whitish eye stripe and a dark streak down the sides of their throats.
Their song is similar to the Carolina chickadee, but there are subtle differences in how the notes sound.
Diet: Their diet consists mainly of seeds, berries, and insects.
Habitat: Purple finches live mainly in coniferous forests or mixed deciduous and coniferous woodlands.
Breeding/nesting: Purple finches usually nest in cavities in trees or shrubs, although they sometimes build nests on the ground.
They are generally shy and retiring, preferring to remain hidden during the day. However, they become very active at dusk and dawn.
9. Scarlet Tanager
Scientific name: Piranga olivacea
Size: This species is about 17cm and weighs about 30g.
Appearance: The Hepatic Tanager is a small passerine bird found in tropical South America. It belongs to the tanager family, Thraupidae, and the cardinal subfamily, Cardinalinae. Its closest relative is the Red-throated Tanager, which lives further north in Central America.
This bird is easily recognized by its red body plumage and distinctive black iris. Males and females differ greatly in appearance. Adult males are all red with black wings and tails. In contrast, adult females are olive-yellow with darker wings and tails.
Habitat: It prefers deciduous and mixed deciduous-evergreen forests, especially undisturbed tracts of forest.
Diet: Its diet consists primarily of insects, such as grasshoppers, flies, crickets, ants, beetles, and caterpillars. However, it will sometimes take some fruits and berries, including figs, grapes, and cherries.
Breeding/nesting: Both sexes build cup-shaped nests made of twigs, leaves, moss, and other plant material. Nests are typically placed in large trees, although they can be built in shrubs and vines. A single clutch of two to five white eggs is laid every year.
Like many tropical American songbirds, the Hepatic Tanager migrates northward each winter. During migration, it stops over along lakeshores and rivers, where it feeds on seeds and insects. When spring arrives, the Hepatic Tanagers return south again, stopping off along the way to feed. They arrive back in Florida during May or June.
10. Acorn Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes formicivorus
Size: This species measures approximately 21 cm long and weighs around 85 g.
Appearance: The Acorn Woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker that has a short bill and rounded head. It has an overall greenish-black coloring with a bright red patch on its crown. The underparts are white.
Males have a red crown and red back of the head, while females have a black crown and red back of the head.
Habitat: These birds prefer mature oak forests, particularly those containing acorns.
Diet: Acorn Woodpeckers eat acorns from oak trees. They use their powerful bills to crack open the hard shells of the nuts. Once inside, they extract the soft fleshy part of the nut, known as the kernel. They also eat insects such as ants, caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, spiders, and some eggs of other birds.
Breeding/Nesting: Acorn Woodpecker pairs mate for life. They nest in cavities in dead trees or stumps. They build nests using sticks and leaves. The female lays 3–6 eggs in each clutch. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs. When the chicks hatch, both parents help raise them. Once the young birds can fly, they begin searching for food.
11. Red-headed Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus
The red-headed Woodpecker is one of many bird species in North America that you might see during the summer months.
Size: This species is about 20-25 cm (8 inches) tall and weighs around 72g.
Appearance: Adult males have bright red heads, white underparts, and black tails with large white patches on their lower back, making them look like they’re wearing a cape when perched. Juveniles have brownish-gray head feathers and white wing patches with black spots near the trailing edges.
Habitat: This species lives in various habitats such as deciduous forests, open woodlots, parks, urban areas, savannah-like grasslands with scattered trees, riparian forests, and wetlands.
Diet: It eats insects, fruit, berries, invertebrates, and other birds’ eggs.
Breeding/Nesting: The Red-headed Woodspeaker builds a hole in a tree trunk and uses it as a nesting site. It digs out a chamber at least 1 m deep and 2 m wide. It then lines the cavity with dry leaves, bark, and small branches.
The male performs most of the construction work, but the female helps by collecting materials and carrying them into the nest. She may even lay her eggs directly in the entrance tunnel. The pair usually raises three broods per season.
12. Summer Tanager
Scientific name: Piranga rubra
Size: It measures about 16 – 17 cm and weighs about 29g.
Appearance: Males and females look different. Males are completely red and greyish wings, while females have bright yellow, orange, and green patches. This species is found throughout North America, including Alaska, Canada, Mexico, and the United States.
Summer tanagers look very similar to goldfinches when young, but adults are easily distinguished because they have longer tails and larger bills.
Diet: They feed mainly on insects and fruits, especially berries.
Habitat: They live in forests and woodlands. They winter in tropical regions, mainly in lowland forests and mid-elevation in the mountains, both in dense forests and open spaces with scattered trees.
Breeding/nesting: Males often sing from high perches, attracting female partners. Females lay one egg each season, usually in June or July. The eggs hatch in about 12 days.
13. Western Tanager
Scientific name: Piranga ludoviciana
Size: It measures approximately 16-19 cm and weighs about 24-36g.
Appearance: The Western Tanager is one of the most common birds in North America. This member of the tanager family is named for the reddish coloration on its head and breast. The species name “griseus,” meaning “grayish,” refers to the grayish-brown upper parts of the male.
There are three subspecies of Western Tanagers, distinguished mainly by differences in plumage coloration. These include the Arizona Tanager, Mexican Tanager, and California Tanager.
They are often confused with Red-winged Blackbirds because both species look similar, especially during migration. However, the Western Tanager has a longer bill, shorter tail, and larger size.
They are known for having a deafening call that sounds like three short notes followed by a long note. This call can be heard throughout the summer months.
Diet: These birds feed mainly on insects (including wasps, bees, ants, beetles, grasshoppers, termites, and cicadas), fruits, and berries.
Habitat: They prefer mature forests with lots of trees and shrubs.
Breeding/nesting: During the breeding season, males build nests in large trees. Nests are made up of sticks, twigs, and mosses. Female Western Tanagers lay two eggs per year. Both parents take care of the chicks.
14. Vermilion Flycatcher
Scientific name: Pyrocephalus obscurus
Size: It measures 14cm long and weighs about 13 g with a 25 cm wingspan.
Appearance: The Vermillion flycatcher is a small fluffy bird belonging to the family Tyrannidae. They are found throughout much of North America. This species is named after the vermilion coloring of its head and underside.
There are five subspecies of the Vermillion Flycatcher. These include the nominate race, the grayish form of the Texas Vermillion Flycatcher, the western form of the Vermillion Flyback, the southwestern form of the Vermillion, and the Mexican form of the Vermillion.
Diet: They are often found near water sources, eating flying insects such as beetles and flies.
Habitat: This small insect eater inhabits arid scrublands, farmlands, deserts, parks, and canyon mouths.
Breeding/nesting: They mate during spring and summer. Their nestlings usually hatch in June and July. The parents feed them insects while they are still young. Adults do not migrate, but some return to breed again next year.
15. Cassin’s Finch
Scientific name: Haemorhous cassinii
Size: They’re 16 cm longand weigh about 24-34 g with a25-27cm wingspan.
Appearance: The Cassin’s Finch is a medium-sized finch found in subtropical regions of Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America. This species is named after French ornithologist Charles Lucien Bonaparte Cassini.
This species is often referred to as the “crested finch”, although it is actually quite different from most other finches. Males have a conical beak, a notched tail, a pinkish-red crown, and a rosy pink throat. Their wings are pinkish-brown with pink edges. Females and juveniles have brownish-white plumage.
Habitat: It inhabits evergreen forests in the mountains up to about 10,000 feet in elevation.
Diet: They feed mainly on seeds and fruit, especially figs.
Breeding/nesting: Cassin’s Finches form flocks during the breeding season in some areas. They nest in tree holes, laying three eggs per clutch.
16. Red-breasted Sapsucker
Scientific name: Sphyrapicus ruber
Size: It measures about 22cm long and weighs about 53.1-63.5 g with a 37-40.6 cm wingspan.
Appearance/Diet: The Red-breasted sapsuckers are one of North America’s most common woodpecker species. This bird has a bright red head and breasts with large white patches on its wings. Both sexes are alike, but juveniles are darker and don’t have red breasts. Its name comes from the fact that it feeds on sapwood, the soft inner part of trees.
Habitat: They prefer deciduous trees such as maple, oak, elm, ash, birch, poplar, and pine. These birds often nest in cavities of dead trees, including stumps, hollow logs, and crevices.
Breeding/nesting: Usually, there are three eggs per clutch. Incubation lasts about 14 days. Chicks fledge after approximately 12 weeks.
17. Common Redpoll
Scientific name: Acanthis flammea
Size: They measure about 14cm long and weigh about 12-16g with a 19-22cm wingspan.
Appearance: The Common Redpoll is a small passerine bird. It has a short yellow bill and black legs. Its pinkish-white breast contrasts with the dark back and wings with two white wing bars. The male has a distinctive reddish-pink poll patch on his forehead.
Habitat: They live in the shrubbery, clearings in birchy or spruce forests, thickets of willow, alders, or dwarf birchy, and bushy areas in the tundra. They winter in various kinds of semi‑open country, from wooded edges to brushy or weedy grasslands.
Diet: They eat the catkins, seed pods, and buds of willow trees, alder trees, birch trees, and other deciduous trees. They also feed on insects in the summer.
Breeding/Nesting: They build their nests in bushes or low vegetation. They lay 2-4 eggs per clutch.
Scientific name: Cardinalis sinuatus
Size: It’s a medium-sized bird, measuring about 21cm and weighing about 24-33g.
Appearance: The pyrrhuloxia is a species in the cardinal family, native to tropical South America. Its common name refers to the bright colors of its plumage.
Males are gray with a red head and crest, a red line running down their breasts, and a reddish belly and tail. Females are buffy gray, with less red than males. Both sexes have yellowish-colored beaks and red feathers on their wings.
Although it looks pretty similar to the scarlet Tanager, it belongs to a different genus and is one of many members of the Cardinalidae family.
Habitat: Its natural habitats are desert scrub of the Southwest.
Diet: These birds feed mainly on insects, especially beetles, caterpillars, ants, termites, flies, grasshoppers, crickets, moths, butterflies, cicadas, true bugs, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, millipedes, snails, slugs, woodlice, and earthworms. They also eat seeds, berries, and fruits.
Breeding/nesting: They nest in holes in trees or under rocks, building a cup-shaped structure out of sticks and leaves. The female lays three eggs per clutch. Both parents care for the young; the male feeds the chicks while the female broods them. This bird breeds most of the year, although it tends to raise its brood earlier in the dry season.
19. Crimson Sunbird
Scientific name: Aethopyga siparaja
Size: It measures about 11 cm and weighs about 4,5-8,7g.
Appearance: The Crimson Sunbird is a member of the sunbird family. This species lives in India and Sri Lanka. Its name is derived from the brilliant crimson color of its plumage.
The male crimson sunbird has a bright red head and back, with a long green tail and a long bill. The Female has an olive-green plumage. The males display territorial behavior during the breeding season, singing loudly and fluttering their wings to attract females.
Diet: They mostly feed on nectar but may also take insects, especially when feeding their young.
Habitat: This bird prefers open habitats such as grasslands, scrub forests, gardens, and parks.
Breeding/nesting: The nest of the crimson sunbird is built high in a tree, usually about 30 feet above ground level. The female lays 2–3 eggs. Both parents take part in incubating the clutch. The chicks fledge after about 16 days.
20. Brazilian Tanager
Scientific name: Ramphocelus bresilius
Size: It is 18 cm long and weighs 28–35.5 g.
Appearance: The Brazilian Tanager is a small passerine bird found throughout much of South America. It is one of three species in the genus Ramphocélus.
Its common name refers to the fact that it is very similar to the yellow-faced siskin (Spinus chrysogaster), another member of the family Emberizidae. However, the Brazilian Tanager differs from the siskin in having a longer tail and larger size. A total of six subspecies are recognized, ranging across most of South America.
Males are visually stunning with bright red bodies, black wings, a black bill with a white patch on the lower portion, and a black tail with a silver lower mandible. Females lack the black bill and are mostly brown with a cinnamon underside.
Diet: They are omnivores, so they can consume various foods, including fruit, seeds, and insects.
Habitats: It lives in shrubbery, forests, clearings, edges, swampland, gardens, and urban parks.
Breeding/nesting: Brazilian Tanagers nest in tree cavities, building nests out of mosses, lichens, plant fibers, and feathers. Females lay 3–5 eggs per clutch. Both parents incubate the eggs and care for the young.
As you can see, there are many birds with red heads, but this list should help you start to identify any birds with red heads that you spot.
I hope this list helped you learn more about these amazing creatures. If you enjoyed reading this article, please share it with your friends and family using any social media sharing buttons below.