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10 Birds With Tufted Heads (Pics & Facts)

Birds with tufted heads are some of the most distinctive. From the majestic great horned owl to the colorful blue jay, these birds are known for their unique appearance.  In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most interesting birds with tufted heads, and learn more about their characteristics. Whether you’re a bird enthusiast or just curious about the natural world, this article will take a look at 10 interesting and unique birds with tufted heads.

10 Birds With Tufted Heads

Tufts are feathered structures that are found on the top of a bird’s head. These tufts can vary greatly in size, shape, and color depending on the species of bird. The function of tufts in birds can vary depending on the species, but they are often used for communication, attracting mates, and establishing dominance.

1. Northern Cardinal

northern cardinal male
Northern Cardinal (male) | image by:

Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis

One of the first birds that comes to mind for having a tuft is the Northern cardinal. Male’s fiery red plumage, orange beak, and black markings make it one of the most recognized birds in the country. If you live within their range, putting out black sunflower seeds is a great way to attract them to your yard.

In fact, the Northern cardinal is the official state bird across at least seven states. You’ll find this stunning bird in gardens, woodlands, and parks across more than half of the United States. Males flaunt a bright red color, while females and juveniles have muted red and brown tones — however, all of them have tufts. 

2. Great Crested Flycatcher

great crested flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher | image by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Myiarchus crinitus

The Great crested flycatcher sports an adorable light brown fluffy crest or tuft atop its head, with a creamy yellow underbelly and rusty under-tail. Its wings and back match the head, while the flycatcher’s throat is a soft gray.

Found in dense leafy woodlands and along forest edges, they’re known for their loud calls and exceptional aerial skills in catching insects. Males and females are similar in appearance, and they visit the eastern half of the U.S. during the spring and summer months.

They’re cavity nesters, using dead tree cavities or old woodpecker holes, where they lay pale eggs with spots. This flycatcher is known for using all types of materials in her nest, including grasses, animal hair, snail shells, feathers, moss and even shed snake skin.

3. Tufted Puffin

tufted puffin
Tufted Puffin | image by Isaac Sanchez via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Fratercula cirrhata

Tufted Puffins are a seabird species that can be found in the North Pacific Ocean. They breed on rocky islands and cliffs along the coasts of Alaska, British Columbia, and Siberia. They catch their prey by diving underwater and using their wings to swim and propel themselves.

These handsome puffins have black bodies, orange feet, a white face and bright orange beak. Breeding adults also have unique pale blonde plumes that extend from above their eyes and curl down their neck, giving the appearance of slicked back hair.  These tufts are used in courtship displays and are shed after the breeding season.

4. Blue Jay

Blue jay on a branch
Blue jay on a branch | Image: cadop |

Scientific name: Cyanocitta cristata

From the midwestern states all the way to the eastern shore from the north into Canada to the southern tip of Florida, you’ll find another highly recognizable bird — the Blue jay. These birds have multi-hued blue upperparts with white underparts, with a black circle around their neck.

The Blue jay also sports a blue tuft on top of its head. These omnivorous and intelligent birds are loud and bold, eating everything from veggies, nuts, and seeds to insects, frogs, small rodents, eggs, and baby birds. They love oak and beech trees but can be found in mixed wood pine forests, gardens, parks, and suburbs as well.

5. Tufted titmouse

Scientific name: Baeolophus bicolor

The Tufted titmouse showcases a prominent crest on its head, slate gray plumage, round black eyes, and distinctive black markings above its beak and on its wings. Found in eastern and southeastern woodlands, they’re known for their curious and sociable nature.

Both genders share similar appearances. You might see these active birds hopping in branches of trees or hanging upside down from leaves while nimbly looking for food. Listen for their “peter-peter,” which should alert you to their presence.

6. Pileated woodpecker

pileated woodpecker on a tree stump
Pileated Woodpecker | image by Patrice Bouchard via Unsplash

Scientific name: Dryocopus pileatus

If you’ve ever seen the old Woody Woodpecker cartoon, you’re already familiar with the look of the Pileated Woodpecker. This impressive creature, which lives mostly in the eastern part of the country and a few places in the west, boasts a striking red tuft on its head.

Pileated Woodpeckers remain in the U.S. year round. They can be found east of the Mississippi River, across Canada, and in areas of the Pacific Northwest and California. These huge woodpeckers are crow-sized, and striking with their black body, white striped face and bright red head crest.

One of their tell-tale signs is the large, rectangular holes they drill into trees to reach insects. 

7. Tufted Duck

tufted duck
Tufted Duck (male) | image by James Petts via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific name: Aythya fuligula

The tufted duck is a small diving duck that is found in northern Eurasia, and occasionally winters along the coasts of the U.S. and Canada. It is named for the distinctive tuft of feathers that trail off the back of its head, giving it a unique appearance. The male tufted duck has a black head and neck, white sides, and a black back, while the female has a brown head and neck, and a mottled brown body.

Both males and females have bright yellow eyes and a blue-gray bill, but only the males sport the tuft. Tufted ducks are typically found on freshwater lakes and ponds, where they dive to feed on aquatic plants and invertebrates. 

8. Great Horned owl

great horned owl
Great Horned Owl | image by USFWS Pacific Region via Flickr

Scientific name: Bubo virginianus

Tufts don’t just come in one single clump. A good example of this is the Great Horned Owl. This populous owl is known for its familiar hoots, but also for it’s iconic “horns”. These aren’t actual horns, or ears, they are just tufts of feathers that stick up. They may aid in communication between owls, used as a warning against predators, and to help them camouflage their face against tree trunks while they sleep. 

Great horned owls live all across the United States, preying on rodents, snakes, frogs, rabbits, and even other birds like geese, hawks, and ducks. They have mottled brown and gray feathers with stripes on their underbodies, which helps them blend seamlessly into their surroundings.

9. Long-eared owl

long-eared owl
Long-eared Owl | image by Seth Topham / Bureau of Land Management via Flickr

Scientific name: Asio otus

Another owl with tufts that look like ears is the Long-eared owl, recognized by its slender body and yellow eyes. Their bright yellow eyes, white V shaped facial pattern, round facial disc, and long feather tufts that point straight up can give them a constantly surprised expression. The very rounded face with white V is a great way to tell them apart from great horned owls. 

Their preferred habitat is pine stands or woods near grassland and pastures. The species lives across most of the US, but not the southeast, and is not as widespread as the Great Horned Owl. 

10. Steller’s Jay

stellers jay
Steller’s Jay | image by Veronika_Andrews via Pixabay

Scientific name: Cyanocitta stelleri

Rounding up the list is the Steller’s jay, with its black head, tall tuft and beautiful blue hues. This bird, which lives primarily in the West and Midwest, is known for its intelligence and mimicry skills. 

The Steller’s jay loves conifer and pine-oak forests in the mountains and the coast, hunting beetles, bees, and spiders, and enjoying seeds and nuts. The black and blue markings help them hide in the shadows, but you might see a group of them flying one by one, swooping in a single file from tree to tree.