Many birds in North America have red-feathered heads. From the swamps of the southeast all the way to the mountainous pine forests of the Rocky Mountains, this type of coloration is unique and easy to spot.
Red feathers are more common among woodpeckers and songbirds than they are among shorebirds and raptors, but there are still a wide range of birds with red-feathered heads. This article will show you many of the most common birds in North America with red heads.
Read on to learn about 22 of these unique birds!
22 Species of Birds with Red Heads
1. Northern Cardinal
Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis
The male Northern cardinal has more than just a red head – his whole body is red. While females aren’t as brightly colored, they still have some tinges of red in their light brown feathers.
Cardinals range from the eastern United States to the Southwest and the Rockies. Attract them to your bird feeders with sunflower seeds, one of their favorite foods.
2. White-winged Crossbill
Scientific name: Loxia leucoptera
The white-winged crossbill is hard to miss due to its crossed-over bill. They use this unique adaptation to split open pinecones in the coniferous forests of Canada and the northern United States.
Only males are red, while females are a tawny yellow-brown. Males’ heads, breasts, and backs are red year-round. They have been known to breed throughout the year. As long as there is a stable food source, they will make a nest.
3. Acorn Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes formicivorus
Acorn Woodpeckers have a large, bright red patch on the crown of their heads. The rest of their face has white and black patches. Scientists call this facial pattern ‘clown-faced.’ You can tell a male apart from a female by looking at the bird’s head – males have a white patch in front of the red, but females have a black patch.
Acorn Woodpeckers live in the west where oak trees are plentiful. They cache acorns by collecting them and pushing them into the bark of trees. Thousands of acorns can be stored this way each year.
4. California Condor
Scientific name: Gymnogyps californianus
This massive scavenger is one of the largest species of vulture in the entire world. Its wingspan of up to 10 feet helps it soar over mountains and coastal cliffs in search of its next meal.
Male and female California condors are identical. Instead of having red feathers on their heads, these vultures have none. What remains is naked red-orange skin. This is an adaptation to the condors’ diet, rotting meat. Having no feathers around their heads keeps their faces clean when they peck and tear at carcasses.
Despite their messy diet, California condors are extremely clean birds. They bathe often to clean themselves from waste and residue from prey.
5. Red-crested Cardinal
Scientific name: Paroaria coronata
The red-crested cardinal is native to southern South America, but I included them on this list because you can see them in the United States if you travel to Hawaii. Despite its name and look, they are not very closely related to the northern cardinal we are used to seeing in the continental U.S.
Both males and females look the same, a gray back, white belly, and bright red head with tall crest. They are often seen foraging on the ground in open landscapes.
6. Cassin’s Finch
Scientific name: Haemorhous cassini
Cassin’s Finch is similar to the house finch and the purple finch, but there are a few important differences. First, Cassin’s finch lives in the Rockies and most of the western inland states. Male Cassin’s finch heads have a tiny red crest. Females are yellow-brown and white.
In winter, you can attract Cassin’s finches to your yard by offering sunflower seeds. Only males sing, and they will imitate other species’ calls. In their first year, males live together in what ornithologists call ‘bachelor flocks.’
7. Cinnamon Teal
Scientific name: Spatula cyanoptera
Male cinnamon teals get their name from the rich, nearly iridescent, rusty color of their feathers. Males’ heads and bodies are rusty red, and their backs and tails are black. They even have a bright red eye. Females are dusky brown, with black eyes.
Spot cinnamon teals in the western United States during the spring and summer months. If you look very closely, you might spot a nest. Females weave the nest into reeds so it is hidden from nearly every angle.
8. House Finch
Scientific name: Haemorhous mexicanus
The house finch lives across most of the United States except for the Great Plains, where trees are too scarce to support their populations. Originally native to the West, they have adapted well to the eastern United States.
Males are only red because of the antioxidants in the foods they eat. That red pigment shows up in the red feathers on their head and breast. Since females prefer to mate with redder males, it incentivizes the males to eat an antioxidant-rich diet.
9. Pine Grosbeak
Scientific name: Pinicola enucleator
This red finch is a world-traveler. It lives in most of Canada and Alaska, occasionally dipping into the northern United States, as well as most of Scandinavia, Ukraine, and Russia. The male of the species has a pastel-red head, back, and breast, while the female is yellow, gray, and black.
If you live in the pine grosbeak’s range, you can attract flocks of them to your yard in the winter by offering sunflower seeds. These are large finches, so make sure the feeder can accommodate big birds with voracious appetites.
10. Pileated Woodpecker
Scientific name: Dryocopus pileatus
The pileated woodpecker is one of the largest and best-known woodpeckers in North America. It ranges from the eastern United States, across southern Canada, and into the Pacific Northwest. Because of their size, their pecking at trees can be easier to hear than with smaller woodpeckers.
Attract pileated woodpeckers to your yard by leaving dead branches and trees out. These are home to many insects that the woodpeckers like to eat. In the winter months, offer suet, but make sure your feeder is large enough for their big size.
11. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Scientific name: Dryobates scalaris
The ladder-backed woodpecker gets its name from the black and white feathers arranged like the rungs of a ladder on its back. It is a study in patterns, for its wings are similarly striped and its underside is white dotted with black.
Unlike most woodpeckers, males and females are not identical. Only males have the red central stripe from the crown of the head to the neck. Spot one of these tiny woodpeckers in the nearly-treeless landscape of the American Southwest.
12. Vermilion Flycatcher
Scientific name: Pyrocephalus rubinus
This delicate flycatcher gets its name from the male’s bright red head and belly (females are brown). They sit on fence posts or other low-level perches, where they look for insects. Males woo their mate by bringing her a brightly-colored insect, such as a butterfly or an iridescent beetle.
Vermilion flycatchers have a limited range. They are only found in the extreme southwest United States and Mexico, but they’re easy to spot because of their bright color.
13. Red-breasted Sapsucker
Scientific name: Sphyrapicus ruber
The red plumage on this woodpecker’s head bleeds down into its breast feathers, giving it a watercolor-like appearance. Both males and females are black and white with a dramatic red head. They drill holes in trees and bushes with their bills and then lick up the sap.
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you may be lucky enough to see a red-breasted sapsucker. Attract them to your yard with suet feeders, especially in winter, when sap is less likely to flow.
14. Red-headed Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Red-headed woodpeckers are both easy-to-spot and historically famous. Most common in the eastern United States, the birds are suffering from a mysterious decline.
Both males and females sport a completely red-feathered head. While they peck into trees to find insects like most woodpeckers, they also chase after flying insects and collect acorns to eat over the winter.
15. Summer Tanager
Scientific name: Piranga rubra
The summer tanager is a summer visitor to the southern and southwestern United States, where it nests and raises chicks. Only males are completely red, including their heads. Females are a dark mustard yellow color.
Summer tanagers eat wasps and bees, so you can’t attract them to your backyard with birdseed. They may be more likely to visit if you have pollinator-friendly plants. The more insects in your yard, the more likely they’ll fly by for a visit.
16. Red Crossbill
Scientific name: Loxia curvirostra
One of the first finches many birdwatchers learn to recognize, the red crossbill is hard to forget. Its crossed-over upper and lower bill are specially adapted to its favorite food source, seeds. It accesses the seeds from coniferous trees by using its beak to split open closed cones.
Red crossbills roam over large swathes of territory. Their home range is in western North America along the Pacific coast and into southern Canada and the Rocky Mountains.
17. Red-bellied Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus
If you live in the southeastern United States, chances are you’ve seen this medium-sized woodpecker hopping amid the trees. The Red-bellied Woodpecker is so named because of its dusky-red belly patch. However, they have a red patch on their heads that is much easier to see.
Both males and females have this patch of red feathers. In males it starts right above their beak, while in females their forehead is gray and the red starts at the crown.
18. Scarlet Tanager
Scientific name: Piranga olivacea
Common to woodlands and forests in the southeastern United States during the spring and summer months, the male scarlet tanager makes a brightly-colored impression. His breeding plumage is scarlet, interrupted only black wings and tail.
Outside of the breeding season, male scarlet tanagers molt into dark yellow plumage, matching their mates, and migrate to eastern South America.
Scarlet tanagers are notoriously difficult to spot. This is because they like to sing at the tops of the trees, hidden by foliage.
19. Western Tanager
Scientific name: Piranga ludoviciana
Western tanagers are mostly yellow and black. But, during the breeding season, males develop a bright orange-red face patch of feathers. It extends down to their neck and up, past their eyes, to the crown of their heads.
Listen for Western tanagers in the woodlands of the west. They especially like to nest in conifers. Some birdwatchers compare them to a flame. After breeding season, males molt their scarlet feathers and replace them with green ones, like females. Then, they migrate south into South America and the Andes.
20. Red-faced Warbler
Scientific name: Cardellina rubifrons
If you live in the southwestern United States, you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the red-faced warbler in the spring and summer months. This small, insect-eating warbler prefers to dwell in the high-altitude evergreen forests in New Mexico and Arizona, and Mexico.
Even though they live and forage in forests, red-faced warblers choose to nest on the ground. Males have a red head, interrupted by a headband-shaped stripe of black behind the eyes. Females are similarly patterned, but they are more orange.
21. Purple Finch
Scientific name: Haemorhous purpureus
Spot this little finch across southern Canada, the Pacific Coast, and the eastern United States. It’s easy to mistake these large-beaked finches for house finches. Tell them apart by looking for the purple finch’s red back and bright red face. Only males have bright red coloring – females are brown and white.
If you live up north, you may be lucky enough to see them nest and raise chicks. They enjoy singing complex songs at the tops of trees.
22. Ring-necked Pheasant
Scientific name: Phasianus colchicus
While these colorful birds are not native to North America – they were introduced from Asia in the late 19th century – they have made themselves at home in the northern United States and Great Plains.
Only males have the characteristic red facial plumage. It helps them stand out from their environments as well as impress females during breeding season. Females are a drab brown that camouflages well with fields and grasses.
Anna is a wildlife biologist who graduated from Texas A&M in 2020. She enjoys feeding, studying, and taking photos of wild birds and hummingbirds. She once worked as the hummingbird department manager at a Wild Birds Unlimited store.