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Red Birds in Missouri (11 species with photos)

Located in the heart of the United States, Missouri is a state known for its rich history, diverse landscapes, and vibrant culture. Bordered by eight states, Missouri occupies a central position within the country, earning it the nickname “Gateway to the West.” The state is home to both bustling cities and serene rural areas, and is home to several species of red bird. This article tells you more about the 11 red bird species you can find in Missouri.

11 Red Birds in Missouri

Missouri is home to several red bird species, including the northern cardinal, house finch, summer tanager, purple finch, scarlet tanager, painted bunting, red crossbill, common redpoll, white-winged crossbill, rose-breasted grosbeak and red-headed woodpecker.

1. Northern Cardinal

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

Scientific Name: Cardinalis cardinalis

The northern cardinal is a year-round resident of Missouri found in forests, parks, gardens, and backyards. The male cardinal is easily recognizable, with bright red feathers on most of its body. The males also have a black mask on their faces.

The females are brown with shades of deeper red along their wings and tails. Both sexes have a distinctive crest on the top of their heads and an orange beak. Cardinals are easy to attract to backyard feeders by leaving out their favorite, black oil sunflower seeds. 

2. Summer Tanager

summer tanager banana
Summer Tanager attracted by a banana | image by Rolf Riethof via Flickr

Scientific Name: Piranga rubra

The males of this species are quite a sight. They are the only completely red birds on this list. The males have scarlet plumage all over their bodies with slightly deeper red shades on the wings. Females are a greenish-yellow. Juvenile males start yellow and slowly transition, so they may appear mottled red and yellow for a time.

As the name suggests, these red birds can be seen during the summer in Missouri when it is time to breed. They usually arrive in the state in late spring and stay until the first week of October. 

3. House Finch

male house finch
House Finch (male) | image by NPS | N. Lewis via Flickr

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 year-round residents throughout the entire state of Missouri. This species is a common visitor to bird feeders, where they like to snack on seeds, especially sunflower seeds and nyjer. 

4. Purple Finch

purple finch male
Purple Finch | image by Alan Schmierer via Flickr

Scientific Name: Haemorhous purpureus

Male purple finches are beautiful birds with raspberry-red plumage on their heads, chests, and backs with brown and cream-colored streaks on their wings and tail. The females do not have red plumage but instead are cream and brown to help them blend in with their surroundings when nesting.

Like other finch species, purple finches have a short, stout beak adapted for cracking open seeds. These birds are winter visitors in Missouri, arriving in September and staying until late spring. 

5. Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet tanager
source: Kelly Colgan Azar | CC BY-ND 2.0 | flickr

Scientific Name: Piranga olivacea

This beautiful red bird can be found statewide in Missouri during the summer months. Male scarlet tanagers have bright red plumage on most of their bodies with black wings and tails, while the females are yellow-green.

This species prefers wooded areas with mature trees, such as state parks, nature reserves, and forested regions. In the winter, scarlet tanagers leave Missouri and migrate south, so look for them between spring and early fall.

6. Painted Bunting

male painted bunting standing on log

Scientific Name: Passerina ciris

Male painted buntings are quite the visual treat in Missouri. With bright blue heads, yellowish-green backs, and purple wings, they are quite colorful. In addition to these colors, male painted buntings have vibrant red feathers along their throat, chest, and belly.

Female painted buntings aren’t nearly as colorful. They are green overall with yellowish chests. While not as common as some of the other birds on this list, painted buntings can be seen in Missouri during the summer months. They are more prominent in Southwest Missouri. 

7. Red Crossbill

red crossbill male
Red-crossbill (male) | image by Charles Gates via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Loxia curvirostra

Red crossbills are rarer red birds in Missouri, but they have been reported in several areas throughout the state during the winter months. Male red crossbills have red plumage with darker brown wings and tails. Females are yellowish-green in color.

This species has a unique bill that is crossed at the tip. This crossed bill is specialized for prying open conifer cones to get to the seeds. These conifer seeds are the main part of their diet, so find them in conifer forests with pine, fir and spruce trees.

8. Common Redpoll

male common redpoll
Common Redpoll (male) | image by Tom Koerner/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Flickr

Scientific Name: Acanthis flammea

The common redpoll is a finch species that can sometimes be seen during the winter months, primarily in the northern regions of Missouri. These small birds measure between 4.7 and 5.5 inches and feature a distinct red patch on the top of their heads.

The males also feature pinkish-red coloring on their throats and chests. During their time in Missouri, they forage in trees and on the ground. They also like to visit bird feeders in mixed flocks with other finches and small birds, especially those with thistle or sunflower seeds.

9. White-winged Crossbill

white winged crossbill
White-winged Crossbill (male) | image by Ryan Mandelbaum via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Loxia leucoptera

Another somewhat rare winter visitor to Missouri is the white-winged crossbill. These members of the finch family measure 5.5 to 6.5 inches long and have compact bodies and short notched tails. Male white-winged crossbills feature red plumage on their heads and chests, while the females are yellowish brown.

Both sexes feature dark wings with two distinct white wing bars on each, which is where they get their name. Like the red crossbill, this species has a unique crossed bill adapted for extracting seeds from conifer cones.

10. Rose-breasted Grosbeak

rose-breasted grosbeak
Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak | Image: theSOARnet |

Scientific name: Pheucticus ludovicianus

Technically, there isn’t a lot of red on the rose-breasted grosbeak. But 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 Missouri you’ll find them all summer in most of the state. The further south in Missouri 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.

11. Red-headed Woodpecker

red-headed woodpecker clinging to tree
Red-headed woodpecker | image by Jim Hudgens/USFWS via Flickr

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 Missouri. 

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.