Birds with yellow heads really stand out from the crowd. These feathered friends are easily recognizable by their vibrant plumage, which ranges from bright lemon yellow to deep golden hues. Within this article, we’ll explore birds with yellow heads that live in the United States. Believe it or not, there are quite a few. In order to identify these feathered beauties in the brief time they often come to visit, it’s important to know what you’re looking for. Here are some species to look for, where you might find them, and some specific characteristics that can help you spot them.
13 Birds With Yellow Heads
In the tapestry of American birdlife, the color yellow adds vibrancy and charm. Which ones can you find near your home?
1. Yellow warbler
Scientific name: Setophaga petechia
The cheerful Yellow warbler is a small songbird with bright yellow plumage, and males have distinct red streaks on their chest. Found across much of North America during the spring and summer, these little explorers make their homes in woodlands, gardens, and wetlands — tending to stick to the edges.
Their nests can often fall victim to cowbird parasitism. To combat this, females will often just build a new nest right on top of the old one.
2. American goldfinch
Scientific name: Spinus tristis
The American goldfinch is easily recognizable with its vibrant yellow body, orange beak and black wings. Their coloration varies seasonally, with males displaying their brightest hues during the summer.
Found in meadows and gardens, they are skilled acrobats at bird feeders. American goldfinches are late nesters, taking advantage of thistle and plant fibers to create cozy nests where they lay pale blue eggs in the middle of summer.
3. Prothonotary warbler
Scientific name: Protonotaria citrea
The Prothonotary warbler graces summertime wetlands in the southeastern U.S. with its stunning yellow head and underparts, offset by its beautiful blue-gray wings. They love the wooded swamps, breeding in hardwoods like sweetgum, elm, and red maples.
They build their nests in cavities, often using abandoned woodpecker holes, and lay clutches of pale pink or cream eggs. You’ll find them by the water. They get their name from the yellow ‘hood’ of feathers, which was reminiscent of Roman Catholic scribes called prothonotaries, who wore yellow hoods.
4. Yellow-headed blackbird
Scientific name: Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
With its striking yellow head contrasting with its black body, the Yellow-headed blackbird is a marshland staple found in the central and western U.S. Look for them among cattails.
Males, of course, have more vibrant yellow tones than females. They gather in noisy flocks. The Audubon Society says they might just have the worst song amongst the bird population in North America.
Still, they fill the air with their distinctive calls. These birds nest in tall reeds, crafting nests anchored amid aquatic plants. They feast on insects and seeds, and the blackbird’s eggs are interesting shades of gray, blue to green, blending seamlessly with their surroundings.
5. Yellow-throated vireo
Scientific name: Vireo flavifrons
The Yellow-throated vireo stands out with its lemon-yellow throat that extends around its eyes and above its beak. The vireo’s wings and tail are gray and white, while its head and back are a mixture of yellow and gray.
Its beauty graces the deciduous forests of eastern North America during the breeding season, although its population is down in the northeast and up in the midwest. Males and females have similar appearances and are vocal through spring and summer. Recognizable by their melodic and persistent songs, they often nest in treetops.
6. Pine warbler
Scientific name: Setophaga pinus
Pine warblers look a bit similar to the Yellow-throated vireo, and they can also be found in the eastern part of the United States. So, how can you tell them apart? Rather than finding them in the deciduous forest, these little guys love pine trees — as their name suggests — and winter in the south.
You can spot them from the bottom all the way to the top of the pines. In fact, I’ve spotted these little fellas in the pine forest behind my house and in my yard this summer.
The birds have a yellow head and body with an olive hue, gray wings, and a tail with white wing bars. One way to identify them is by the very subtle stripes extending from their beak to behind their eyes.
7. Scarlet Tanager
Scientific name: Piranga olivacea
Females boast bright yellow-green plumage year round. Scarlet tanagers visit the eastern U.S. during the breeding season, and while here males will be bright red with black wings. However once they migrate back south for the winter, they will lose their red feathers and look yellow like the females. While the bird’s primary food source consists of insects, they may be attracted to a yard with berry bushes.
8. Summer Tanager
Scientific name: Piranga rubra
While males are known for their bright solid red plumage, females are entirely yellow. The summer tanager spends winters far to the south, then travels up to the U.S. to spend the summer breeding season. They can be found along the southeast and mid-Atlantic region.
While they are fairly common, they can be hard to see since they like to remain at the tops of leaf-heavy trees searching for insects. They even eat bees and wasps!
9. Wilson’s Warbler
Scientific name: Cardellina pusilla
While they spend the breeding season north of the U.S., Wilson’s Warblers migrate through the states to reach their wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America. They make a return trip north in the spring, too. This means they may be spotted during migrations.
Both males and females are yellow, but males are brighter and have a circular black patch on the crown of their heads.
10. Black-throated Green Warbler
Scientific name: Setophaga virens
Although they are called a “green” warbler, they really have more of a greenish-yellow color on their back and top of their head, with a bright yellow face. This tiny singer spends the summer in mountain forests and swamps across eastern Canada and the northeastern U.S.
In areas where several warbler species breed within close proximity, the black-throated green warbler often maintains dominance.
11. Orange-crowned Warbler
Scientific name: Leiothlypis celata
Both male and female orange-crowned warblers look the same, with an all-over, somewhat drab yellow coloring and grayish wings. As their name suggests they do have an orange spot on the top of their head, but it is often hidden beneath other feathers and hard to spot. These warblers spend the breeding season the west then head for Mexico and the southern U.S. states in the winter. For the rest of the country, you can catch them during the spring and fall migration.
12. Blue-winged Warbler
Scientific name: Vermivora cyanoptera
Blue-winged warblers spend summers in the northeast, but only pass through the southeast during migration. They love to search for food in the tree canopy with acrobatic hopping and fluttering. Males and females look similar, both having yellow heads, backs and underparts with blue-gray wings. As the landscape has changed over the years to shrubbier habitat, this species has expanded further north, and may hybridize with the Golden-winged warbler in areas where they overlap.
13. Orchard Oriole
Scientific name: Icterus spurius
The orchard oriole lives in the eastern United States during the summer, then heads south from Mexico to northern South America for the winter. Adult males are a dark, rusty orange with a black head. Females however are similar to many other oriole females, with an all-over dull yellow coloring. Immature males are also yellow, including a yellow head with a black face and throat.
The orchard oriole is the smallest of the U.S. orioles, falling between the size of a sparrow and a robin. They love bushes alongside streams or scattered stands of trees in open meadows.