Birds With Red Heads: A Complete Guide

by Laura C. Jones
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Red hues are not uncommon in birds, especially in males, who use different shades of the color to attract females. You can see birds with red heads all around the world, including Africa, Europe, Asia, America, and Australia. Read on to find out all there is to know about these birds and how you can tell them apart.

The Secret to the Color

Before we dive into all the different birds with red heads, it is important to establish how the birds came to have that color in the first place.

Scientists say that the red feathers on and around the head come from a unique pigment that birds consume through food. This pigment is actually yellow, and a special chemical reaction is necessary for it to turn red. This reaction is started by an enzyme called ketolase, which turns the yellow pigments into red, giving certain birds red feathers.

The amount of red coloring varies from bird to bird. In some species, the entire head is red, while in others there is just a speck of red on the top of the head. Likewise, some birds have red on their bodies and wings as well, complementing the hues on the head perfectly.

There are also endless possibilities when it comes to the shade of red you can encounter. Sometimes it is blood red, and you can classify it as red without a doubt. However, sometimes the color tends towards either orange or pink, but it is still considered to be red.

An interesting fact about birds with red heads is that they have superior color vision compared to other birds. Namely, they are able to see the color red and discern it from other colors in nature, which other birds cannot do.

A Comprehensive List of Birds With Red Heads

If you have seen some birds with red heads in your backyard or during a forest hike, this list will help you name them effortlessly. Here are 23 types of redhead birds to look out for.

1. The Northern Cardinal

the northern cardinal

The male Northern Cardinals have a red head, body, and tail. Their faces are adorned with black feathers, which contrast starkly with the red hues on the rest of their bodies. They make for a breathtaking and bright sight, especially against a white background during a snowy winter.

Their female counterparts also have some red coloring, but it is reserved for their beaks and some highlights on their wings. This difference shows that it is indeed males that have red heads more often in order to attract mates more easily.

You can find Northern Cardinals in the eastern and southern states in the US, as that climate suits them the most. The birds are quite friendly and aren’t as afraid of humans as some other species. So, you can attract Northern Cardinals to your backyard with some sunflower seeds, millet, and milo.

The only time when these birds can be a bit aggressive is during their mating season. They can get so protective and intense that they attack their own reflections in water or windows in an attempt to defend their territory.

2. The House Finch

the house finch

Similarly to the Northern Cardinal, the House Finch males have red heads and breasts. The females are brownish, with only a few specks of red on their wings. These birds live all around the world, although they are most common in the US, both in the east and west. In fact, house finches are some of the most common birds in the country.

These birds are friendly and live in parks, backyards, and forest edges. They live in big groups, and they are quite noisy. They feed on sunflower and nyjer seeds the most.

3. The Downy Woodpecker

the downy woodpecker

This bird lives in Europe and America and is recognizable by its small body and a red patch on the back of the head. The Downy Woodpecker mixes with other birds quite often, especially with chickadees and nuthatches, and the red coloring often gets lost in the process.

4. The Red-Bellied Woodpecker

the red-bellied woodpecker

As their name suggests, these birds have red bellies, aside from their reddish heads and napes. Their backs are streaked with black and white lines, which makes for quite a beautiful sight.

Sadly, you won’t be able to enjoy looking at these birds in your backyard, as they live deeper inside forests. Deadwood is their favorite, so such forests are a safe bet if you want to spot these birds with red heads. They also migrate in winter, looking for warmer climates.

5. The Barn Swallow

the barn swallow

Barn Swallows are a rather colorful sight. They have bright red faces and beaks and bright blue bodies and wings. They breed all over North America, and then they head to the south during winter.

Barn swallows usually make nests in human-made structures, mostly in barns or garages. So, you can attract them to your home by simply leaving the door to such a structure slightly ajar.

These birds can be found looking for food on wide fields or over open water. They love eating ground eggshells as well as different types of seeds.

6. The Purple Finch

the purple finch

The Purple Finches have a pinkish cast on the top of their heads, and it appears to be bright red when the sun hits it. The rest of their body is grayish, and you can recognize them by their forked tails.

These birds live anywhere where there are conifer forests. They love damper places, so they will settle in woods close to open water. Thus, it comes as no surprise that they are most commonly found in Canada.

7. The Red Crossbill

the red crossbill

The Red Crossbill is, perhaps, one of the most beautiful redheaded birds out there. They have red crowns and bellies and live in conifer forests and mountainous regions. Still, they can easily come to your backyard as well, and feed on seeds.

The females have no red on their bodies whatsoever. Instead, they are yellowish and somewhat smaller than their male counterparts.

8. The Pyrrhuloxia

the pyrrhuloxia

This bird has red patches on its face, crest, wings, breast, and tail. However, its main color is gray. You can find these birds in the Texas area, as well as in Mexico and further down south.

The Pyrrhuloxia feeds low on the ground, eating all kinds of hard seeds. They have a melodic song and a clicking mating call.

9. The Summer Tanager

the summer tanager

This bird is easy to spot because its entire body is bright red, not just the head. Of course, that is only true for the males, as the females are more yellowish in complexion.

These birds inhabit pine-oak forests and cottonwoods, and other types of open woodlands. They enjoy warmer weather and always migrate during winters. Thus, you can find them in US states such as Virginia and Iowa, as well as central Europe.

The birds migrate in the winter in search of warmer weather. Their song resembles that of robins, as does their call. That is one way that you can recognize them, apart from their red feathers.

These birds are quite agile and great hunters. They feed on bees and wasps, which they catch mid-flight. Before eating them, the birds kill them by beating them against branches until they die or stop moving. These Tanagers also make sure they remove the stinger from the bees and wasps before eating them, which makes feeding much easier.

They also enjoy pecking berry bushes and different fruit trees. If you want to lure them to your backyard, those are the things you need to get.

10. The Vermilion Flycatcher

the vermilion flycatcher

When it comes to birds with red heads, the Vermilion Flycatcher might be one of the smallest ones out there. Its breast and crown are covered in blood-red, while the rest of the body is dark gray, with white streaks on the back.

These birds are native to Mexico, and they visit California and Florida during winters. Although they are desert birds, these Flycatchers love living near water, so you can find them close to streams. Interestingly, they love making nests on golf courses and cemeteries.

11. The Red-Headed Woodpecker

the red-headed woodpecker

The body of these birds is adorned with black and white, and the head is distinctly red. The combination makes for a striking image that leaves people breathless.

These birds need to settle in trees that are high and wide enough to allow them to drill their nest holes. They often go as high as possible so that they do not have to compete with European Starlings for nest spaces.

Red-headed Woodpeckers love eating flying insects the most. However, they can also eat hard seeds and nuts that they find on the forest floor.

12. The Red-Breasted Sapsucker

the red-breasted sapsucker

You can find these birds with red heads all over the west coast of the United States, from California to Alaska. They prefer conifer woods and deciduous trees for nesting, especially in mountainous regions. However, they descend into backyards and orchards during the winter, looking for food and warmth.

These birds feed by drilling tiny holes in tree trunks and filling them with sap. Then, insects get stuck in the sticky sap, and the birds eat them. These Sapsuckers aren’t too active or loud.

13. Anna’s Hummingbird

anna’s hummingbird

This bird is one of those whose feathers resemble pink more than they do red. However, they are still included here because the color looks reddish in the sun, especially around the crown and throat.

At first, these birds were only present in California. Now they are slowly spreading to the neighboring states as well, such as Oregon. In winter, these hummingbirds go to the Baja peninsula and occasionally to Texas.

Anna’s Hummingbirds eat flower nectar or tiny flying insects. They can also feed on insects they glean from plants, as well as from the ground.

14. The Western Tanager

the western tanager

This type of Tanager is quite colorful. The main part of the body is bright yellow, the wings are a combination of black and white, while the head is in pale red. You can spot them in Canada or in Mexico during harsh Canadian winters. So, you might catch them at your bird feeders in autumn as they make the cross to warmer regions.

15. The Pine Grosbeak

the pine grosbeak

This bird is big and plump, mostly covered in gray. Its head is reddish or sometimes orange. Females have yellow heads instead.

As many birds with red heads do, these also live in conifer woods. They eat all kinds of hard seeds, fruit, and buds all year round. Their song is quite similar to that of warblers, which is how you might recognize these birds more easily.

16. Cassin’s Finch

cassin’s finch

This type of Finch lives in mountain pine forests of western United States. Its primary color is dark gray or brown, but the top of the head is always bright red in males. Sometimes, the body can be faintly sprayed with pink.

Most Finches with red heads eat hard seeds only, and Cassin’s Finch is no exception. Their song is quite long and melodious.

17. The Pileated Woodpecker

the pileated woodpecker

The body of this bird is black, with white stripes appearing here and there. However, the crown and the head are bright red, contrasting starkly with the subdued colors of the body.

This Woodpecker is quite large, nearing the size of a crow. It feeds on carpenter ants which it finds in deadwood. If you want to attract these birds to your backyard, getting a suet feeder is definitely the best way to go about it.

18. The Palm Warbler

the palm warbler

The Palm Warbler is olive-brown with a splatter of bright red on the crown and yellow on the breast. They mostly live and breed in Canada. During spring and winter, you can spot them in weedy fields and forest edges.

They mostly forage the ground for tiny insects or soft seeds. They live closely connected with other birds such as Sparrows and Juncos.

19. The Acorn Woodpecker

the acorn woodpecker

Acorn Woodpeckers have bright red heads and crests, white faces, and black backs. They live in western oak woodlands, and you can usually find them in big groups. They get their name from a habit they have. Namely, they store acorns in little holes they drill in trees.

A somewhat disturbing fact about these birds with red heads is that they often eat their eggs before they can hatch. Female birds do this in larger families to ensure their babies are the only ones that will get to hatch.

20. The Redhead Duck

the redhead duck

The Redhead Duck has a grey body, brownish wings, and a faintly red head. These ducks live all over the US, especially near the Gulf Coast. They nest during the summer, primarily in the ponds of the Great Plains and the surrounding areas.

21. The Common Redpoll

the common redpoll

Common Redpolls have red heads, pinkish breasts, and the rest of their body is brownish. In a lot of cases, the brown is intermingled with faint white lines. They stick to the northern parts of the US and the north in general, as they do not like heat.

During the winter, they build tunnels in the snow and sleep in them. That helps them stay warm and protected during the night. These birds with red heads are greedy eaters. Namely, they can eat up to 42% of their body mass every day. They can also store up to 2 grams of seeds in the stretchy part of their esophagus and save it for when they are hungry.

These birds mostly live and feed on weedy fields. However, you can also attract them to your feeders and enjoy looking at them. All you need are some nyjer seeds or some thistle.

22. The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

The yellow bellied sapsucker

As their name suggests, these birds have yellow bellies. Their body is a combination of black and white, while their head and throat are reddish. They breed in Canada and the north in general, and the southeastern parts of the US.

These birds are recognizable by the shallow rows they leave in trees, where they suck sap. They can do that thanks to their sharp beaks and tongues that resemble the tip of a brush.

23. The Black-Collared Barbet

The yellow bellied sapsucker

This elegant bird has a creamy beige body, brown wings, a black collar (hence the name), and a red head and face. You can find it all around the world, from the US to South Africa. The Black-Collared Barbets are desert birds, and they enjoy eating whole fruits. However, they can also eat worms, lizards, and even frogs.

A Few Parting Words

As you have seen, there are dozens of birds with red heads flying all around the world. Red heads can be found across different bird types and sizes, predominantly in males.

If you have been spotting birds with red heads in your backyard or the area where you live, this list can help you identify them quite easily. If none of these fit the description of your red-headed bird, keep looking even further. There are numerous species still left for you to explore and learn about.