Illinois is a state in the midwestern U.S. with a location that can include northern birds, southern birds, and those that migrate in-between. The “land of Lincoln” features cypress swamps, prairies, forests, and aquatic areas, creating a variety of bird habitats. In this article we will look specifically at the red birds that can be found in the state, whether they live there all year or are just seasonal visitors.
11 Red Birds in Illinois
Some of the common and rare red bird species found in Illinois include the northern cardinal, scarlet tanager, summer tanager, house finch, purple finch, red crossbill, white-winged crossbill, common redpoll, pine grosbeak, red-headed woodpecker and rose-breasted grosbeak. Let’s dive into each species below.
1. Northern Cardinal
Scientific Name: Cardinalis cardinalis
The males of this species are easily recognizable by their bright red plumage, distinctive pointed crest and black face mask. Females are a more subdued brown shade with hints of red coloration on their wings, tails, and crests. Cardinals are a common sight in Illinois year-round and can be seen hopping among branches and shrubs, searching for seeds, fruits, and insects. They are easy to attract to backyard feeders by leaving out their favorite, black oil sunflower seeds.
2. Scarlet Tanager
Scientific Name: Piranga olivacea
The scarlet tanager is a songbird that visits much of eastern North America in the summer, including Illinois. The males are known for their striking scarlet feathers that cover their bodies, except for their black wings and tails. In contrast, females and immature males exhibit a more subtle combination of yellowish-green feathers.
Scarlet tanagers are primarily found in forest habitats where they hunt for insects. This species travels to Central and South America during the winter months, so if you are hoping to see one in Illinois, look for them between spring and early fall.
3. Summer Tanager
Scientific Name: Piranga rubra
Another red bird found in Illinois is the summer tanager. Adult males of this species are completely red, making them quite a sight for bird enthusiasts. Female summer tanagers and immature males can range in color from yellowish-green to bright orange.
Like scarlet tanagers, summer tanagers spend the winter months further south in Central and South America. But, during the summer breeding season, you can find these beauties in mature forest regions throughout Illinois. They are most populous in the southern half of the state.
4. House Finch
Scientific Name: Haemorhous mexicanus
While not completely red, the male house finch still presents obvious red coloring on his head and chest. The shade and intensity of this red color varies by individual. Females have more subdued plumage with streaks of brown and gray, and lack any red hues.
House Finches are seed eaters that will readily visit backyards, and seem to be particularly fond of sunflower seeds, millet, and Nyjer. Adding these to your backyard feeder can be a great way to attract this species. They are common throughout all of Illinois and remain there year-round.
5. Purple Finch
Scientific Name: Haemorhous purpureus
While purple is in the name, male purple finches actually display more rosy red hues on their head, chest, and back. Like the house finch, the intensity and color can vary, with some displaying deeper, more purplish red coloration. Females and immature males have brown and white feathers.
If you’re trying to tell a purple finch from a house finch it can be tricky, but purple finches tend to have color covering more of their body, especially their head and back. Purple finches can usually be seen in Illinois during their non-breeding months in the fall and winter.
6. Red Crossbill
Scientific Name: Loxia curvirostra
Male red crossbills are red in color with brownish-gray wings and tails. Females display more subdued olive or yellow-green feathers. The most distinctive feature of this species is its criss-crossed bill, which is specially adapted for prying open and extracting seeds from the scales of conifer cones.
In Illinois, this species is most common in mature forest areas full of evergreen trees. They tend to only travel down to Illinois during the non-breeding months. While they have been seen throughout the state, they are slightly more common in the north.
7. White-Winged Crossbill
Scientific Name: Loxia leucoptera
White-winged crossbills are named for the distinctive white bars found on their black wings. The males are overall pinkish-red in color, which provides a stark contrast to their black and white wings. Females are brown with hints of yellow.
Like the other crossbills on this list, white-winged crossbills have bills that are crossed at the tips, which helps them extract seeds from the cones of coniferous trees. They aren’t particularly common in the state, but when visiting Illinois, they are usually found in areas with a lot of cone-bearing trees in the northern half of the state. Most likely to be seen from fall to early spring.
8. Common Redpoll
Scientific Name: Acanthis flammea
Another red bird that is a winter visitor in Illinois is the common redpoll. These birds are part of the finch family, and while not as obviously red as other birds on this list, they still feature enough red to have it be a distinguishing feature. Both males and females feature a red patch of feathers on top of their heads, but only males have a wash of pinkish-red feathers that run down their chest and sides.
Common Redpolls winter range extends to neighboring Wisconsin. However some winters they extend further south into Illinois, especially the northern half of the state. Look for them in mixed flocks of other finches foraging for seeds in dry fields or at backyard Nyjer, millet and sunflower feeders.
9. Pine Grosbeak
Scientific Name: Pinicola enucleator
This red bird is an uncommon and temporary visitor to northern Illinois during the winter months. Male pine grosbeaks have beautiful red heads and bodies accented with gray wings and tails. The females and immature males have gray and white tails and wings with yellow or orange coloration on their heads and chest. This species has thick, conical bills that are adapted for crushing seeds and berries.
10. Red-headed Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus
This woodpecker earns a spot on our red birds list due to its entirely red head. Both male and female red-headed woodpeckers have white undersides, a black back with a large white band on the wings, and solid red head. These woodpeckers aren’t as common in suburban areas, so you may have to head toward the woods to find them. However they do reside year-round throughout Illinois.
You may be able to attract them to a backyard feeder, especially during the winter, with suet, acorns, beechnuts, pecans or fruits. They are known to hide food in caches for later, usually under bark or cracks in trees.
11. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Scientific name: Pheucticus ludovicianus
Technically, there isn’t a lot of red on the rose-breasted grosbeak. But their bright red patch pops so much against their otherwise black and white plumage, that the birds were named after it. When describing this bird the red breast patch is usually the first thing people think of, so we thought they deserved a place on this list. Males have a black head and back, white underparts with the signature rosy-red chest patch. Females are streaky brown.
Rose-breasted grosbeaks are migratory, and only visit the U.S. during the spring and summer months. In Illinois you’ll find them all summer in the northern half of the state. The further south into Illinois you get, you may only be able to see them in spring and fall as they migrate through. If you leave out sunflower seeds, you may be able to attract them, especially in spring and late summer.
Mary is an outdoor enthusiast, nature lover, and amateur birdwatcher that enjoys sharing her knowledge and experiences with others.