Feathers aren’t the only part of a bird that can be brightly colored! Birds with red beaks can be especially striking, and such a beak can turn an otherwise drably colored bird into an eye-catcher. While these birds are more common in other parts of the world, we have a few here in North America that are just as striking and interesting as their exotic cousins.
Found everywhere from protected wetlands and ocean coasts to the bird feeder in your backyard, red-beaked birds give a splash of color and a beautiful diversity to avian life here.
Let’s look at our beautiful North American native birds with red beaks!
16 beautiful birds with red beaks
1. Northern Cardinal
Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis
Length: 8.3-9.1 in
Weight: 1.5-1.7 oz
Wingspan: 9.8-12.2 in
A familiar and beloved feeder bird, both males and females sport bright reddish-orange beaks. Male plumage is bright red and the females a soft tawny brown. The female cardinal is one of the few North American female songbirds that sing, and will even do so while sitting on her nest! Cardinals are fond of sunflower seeds, but eat a vide variety of birdseed, berries and insects. (find out more about cardinals here)
2. Wood Duck
Scientific name: Aix sponsa
Length: 18.5 – 21.3 in
Weight: 16.0 – 30.4 oz
Wingspan: 26.0 – 28.7 in
One of the most stunningly unique waterfowl, wood ducks are the only North American duck to lay two sets of eggs per year. They are cavity nesters and like to nest in tree hallows. That can be hard to find and they will readily use an appropriately sized nest box if provided. Males have multi-colored plumage of browns, tans and greens separated by bold black and white. Their head is crested in a downward slope, with a red eye and partially red bill. Females are much more muted in tans and browns with small blue wing patches and brown beaks.
3. Common Merganser
Scientific name: Mergus merganser
Length: 21.3 – 27.9 in
Weight: 31.8 – 76.2 oz
Wingspan: 33.9 in
A common duck of freshwater rivers and lakes throughout much of North America, both males and females have a long, straight red bill. Males are mostly white with a smooth dark green head. Females are a mottled white and gray with a reddish-brown head that fans out almost like a spiky haircut. Eating mostly fish, mergansers are master divers and swimmers. Their bills are serrated to aid them in grasping slippery prey.
4. Red-breasted Merganser
Scientific name: Mergus serrator
Length: 20.1 – 25.2 in
Weight: 28.2 – 47.6 oz
Wingspan: 26 – 29 in
Male red-breasted mergansers are easy to spot with their bold black and white coloring, and black head with long shaggy feathers. They breed in Canada, spend winters along both coasts, and spend time during migration across the United States. They breed further north, and winter further south, than any of the other American mergansers. They require a whopping 15-20 fish per day, and spend a lot of their day diving and foraging.
5. American Oystercatcher
Scientific name: Haematopus palliatus
Length: 15.8 – 17.3 in
Weight: 14.1 – 24.7 oz
A stocky and striking shorebird of eastern North America, the American Oystercatcher has a long, thick bright red bill. It uses this impressive bill to eat saltwater mollusks including clams and oysters. Other seabirds that eat mollusks usually have to drop them onto rocks from high up to break them open. Oystercatchers are the only beach bird you will see that can open them just by using their strong bills.
6. Black Oystercatcher
Scientific name: Haematopus bachmani
Length: 16.5-18.5 in
Weight: 17.6 – 24.7 oz
The black Oystercatcher is very similar to the American, only they are found along the rocky Pacific coast. It is thought its darker body plumage may be an adaptation to better blend into the dark rocks found along North America’s western shores. Their range stretches from Alaska all the way down to the Baja coast. The black oystercatchers usually nest on islands, using the rocks on the shoreline to make a bowl-shaped nest by flicking rocks with their beaks to build the right shape.
7. White Ibis
Scientific name: Eudocimus albus
Length: 22.1-26.8 in
Weight: 26.5 – 37.0 oz
Wingspan: 35 to 41 inches
The white ibis is found along coastal and wetland areas of the southeast U.S., and can be found year round throughout Florida and is a common sight there. They walk in shallow water with bright red legs that match their beak. The wingtips of the adult white ibis are black, but usually not visible unless they are flying. You will see them along the shore, wading around. To look for food they drag their long curved beaks along the muddy / sandy bottom.
8. Black Skimmer
Scientific name: Rynchops niger
Length: 15.8 – 19.7 in
Weight: 9.3 – 12.9 oz
Wingspan: 42.9 – 45.3 in
Not only is the black skimmer’s beak odd because it is bright red and black, but its shape is equally strange. The upper bill is significantly shorter than the lower, and its name is a clue to the reason why. These birds fly just above the water to feed, skimming the surface with the longer lower part of their bills to catch fish by feel. Skimmers are the only species in the entire world who fish in this manner, and because they can find their prey by feel, they can even feed at night.
Black skimmers live around all southern coasts of North America (Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific) and into Central America as well.
9. Laughing Gull
Scientific name: Rynchops niger
Length: 15.3 -18.1 in
Weight: 7.2 – 13.1 oz
Wingspan: 36.2 – 47.2 in
This common east coast gull has a dark red bill only as an adult and only during its breeding season, in the summer. However in the winter they almost look like a different gull with white and gray heads and black bills. You’ll find this common gull at beaches, docks, marinas and shoreline parking lots. These gulls were almost wiped out by egg and feather hunters in the late 19th century, but with protection they have made a successful comeback.
10. Purple Gallinule
Scientific name: Porphyrio martinica
Length: 13.0 – 14.6 in
Weight: 7.2 – 10.3 oz
Wingspan: 21.6 – 22.1 in
Found in freshwater marshes and wetlands of the southeastern United States, the purple gallinule is one of the most brightly colored birds in North America. Their bodies are a beautiful metallic purple-green, with long bright yellow legs and huge feet, and a bright red beak with a yellow tip. Those giant feet allow the gallinule to walk on top of aquatic vegetation such as water lily and lotus. They are also great swimmers, and those feet allow them to easily climb and perch in bushes and trees. They may even make their nests on top of floating vegetation, or in more protected reeds. Unfortunately their numbers are declining in the U.S. and they are becoming a species of conservation concern.
11. Common Tern
Scientific name: Sterna Hirundo
Length: 12.2 – 15.0 in
Weight: 3.3 – 7.0 oz
Wingspan: 29.5 – 31.5 in
Adult, breeding common terns are light colored with dark black caps and a straight, orange-red bill with a black tip. During the non-breeding season, their plumage fades significantly. Terns are graceful fliers and their streamlined shape can make them appear quite elegant. They are birds of the ocean, spotting fish from above and diving down to nab them from the water. Common terns make nests on the ground close to the water, out of shells, stones, vegetation and even plastic garbage.
12. Caspian Tern
Scientific name: Hydroprogne caspia
Length: 18.5 – 21.3 in
Weight: 18.7 – 27.6 oz
Wingspan: 49.6 – 50.4 in
Caspian terns look very similar to common terns, the main differences being their tail is less forked, their beakers are thicker with a deep coral red color, and they are much larger. In fact they are the largest tern in the world. In North America you can find them along the southern most shores, while during breeding season they are found in Canada and the U.S. only in small pockets . The largest breeding colony in the world, of approximately 6,000 pairs, is found on an island in the Columbia river between Oregon and Washington. These terns are aggressive when defending their nests and will attack other birds or people that come too close.
13. Common Gallinule
Scientific name: Gallinula galeata
Length: 12.6 – 13.8 in
Weight: 10.9 – 16.1 oz
Wingspan: 21.3 – 24.4 in
The mostly dark gray body of the common gallinule (formerly called the common moorhen) only makes its bright red forehead and beak stand out even more. They are freshwater birds and often swim like ducks. However rather than webbed feet, they have long, non-webbed toes that help them walk on top of aquatic vegetation in ponds, marshes and lakes. Found year round in Mexico and Florida, they only travel further up into the U.S. during summer months for breeding, sometimes making it all the way to the northern U.S. boarder.
Other birds with red beaks – honorable mentions
These red billed birds are only found in very small areas of the U.S., and sometimes only during certain times of year. But they do have a permanent presence in North American and are worth mentioning.
14. Broad-billed Hummingbird
Scientific name: Cynanthus latirostris
Weight: 0.1 oz
These beautifully colored hummingbirds are considered small, even for hummingbirds! Males are vibrant green with a blueish throat and chest, and a bright red bill with a black tip. They are mainly found in Mexico, but sometimes cross the boarder into New Mexico and Arizona. If you live in this area, you can attract them to your yard with nectar feeders and native flowers such as honeysuckle and agave.
15. Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Scientific name: Amazilia yucatanensis
The buff-bellied hummingbird is a pretty mix of greens, cinnamon browns and tans, with a long red bill. Considered the least-studied hummingbird that comes into the U.S., not much is known about them. They are typically found in eastern Mexico, but do regularly enter the U.S in southern Texas along the gulf of mexico.
16. Black-bellied Whistling Duck
Scientific name: Dendrocygna autumnalis
Length: 18.5 – 20.1 in
Weight: 23.0 – 36.0 oz
A pretty duck with a chestnut brown breast, black belly and pinkish red beak. These ducks seem at relative easy in human habitats like golf courses, agricultural fields and shallow ponds. They can appear together in noisy flocks and currently have a strong presence in Texas and Louisiana, and their range is expanding slowly north. They can be quite noisy, but are also described as more “musical” sounding than other ducks with higher pitched whistling and squeaking than the gruff “quack!” of a mallard.
Enjoy colorful birds? Browse through our article on the 40 most colorful birds in North America!
Article header image: Image: Becky Matsubara | CC BY 2.0 | flickr