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11 Red Birds in North Carolina (with Photos)

North Carolina, also known as the Tar Heel State or the Old North State, is nestled on the coast of the Southeastern United States. From the coast, across the Piedmont Plain, to the Appalachian Mountains in the west, North Carolina is rife with beautiful landscapes. The state is home to several species of red birds, and this article will give you more information about which red birds call North Carolina Home.

11 Red Birds in North Carolina

North Carolina is home to several red bird species. Our list includes common species regularly seen in the state, as well as a few rare ones. These red bird species include the northern cardinal, summer tanager, scarlet tanager, house finch, purple finch, red crossbill, red-headed woodpecker, rose-breasted grosbeak, painted bunting, vermilion flycatcher and the white-winged crossbill. 

1. Northern Cardinal

Male Northern Cardinal | Image: Jean Beaufort,

Scientific Name: Cardinalis cardinalis

The Northern cardinal is an iconic red bird in North Carolina. So much so, it became the official state bird. The males of this species have bright red feathers and a distinct crest that is hard to miss. The males are also characterized by a black mask across the eyes. Females are a more muted brown color with only the slightest hint of red on their crest, wings, and tail. These birds usually travel in pairs in the summer and small groups in the winter, and are common visitors to backyards and bird feeders throughout the entire state. If you are looking to attract these beauties to your backyard, using black sunflower seeds is the trick. Northern cardinals remain in North Carolina all year.

2. Summer Tanager

summer tanager male
Male Summer Tanager

Scientific Name: Piranga rubra

Summer tanagers are medium-sized songbirds found throughout North Carolina. Male summer tanagers plumage is completely red, making them the only completely red bird in North America. In contrast, the female has a yellowish-green hue, which helps camouflage her during nesting. The juvenile males are yellowish-green as well, developing beautiful red hues as they mature.

As the name suggests, these birds are seen in the U.S. during the summer when they travel north for the breeding season. They migrate south to the warmer climates of South America during the winter. These birds are experts at catching bees and wasps, snatching them mid-flight without getting stung, and removing the stinger before eating. After killing the adult bees and wasps, summer tanagers may attack the nests to consume the larvae inside. 

3. Scarlet Tanager

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

Scientific Name: Piranga olivacea

Another striking red bird found throughout much of North Carolina during the summer is the scarlet tanager. The males of this species are bright red with black wings and tails. Like many other red birds, the females are more subdued. In this case, they are yellowish-green to help them blend in with their forest surroundings.

Scarlet tanagers primarily feed on insects but also eat wild berries and fruit. These birds spend much of their time in the canopies of tall oak trees, so they may be a little harder to spot than some of the other birds on this list. If you learn what their “chick-burr” call sounds like, you’ll be able to listen for them in the woods even if you can’t spot them.  

4. House Finch

Male House Finch (Image:

Scientific Name: Haemorhous mexicanus

The house finch is a small, charming songbird that has established a year-round presence in North Carolina. House finches are relatively small birds with stout bodies and conical beaks adapted for seed-eating. Both males and females have brown and cream steaks all over their body, but males also have a red wash on their head and chest. Sometimes the red is faint, other times it can be quite deep.

House finches remain in North Carolina all year, and are very common at backyard feeders. They have a sweet, long, twittering song, and are known for nesting close to human activity such as in potted plants or outdoor wreaths. 

5. Purple Finch

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

Scientific Name: Haemorhous purpureus

Purple finches are small songbirds found in North Carolina mainly during the winter months. Though not as common as the house finch, sightings have been reported throughout much of the state.

The males of this species have striking raspberry-colored plumage on their heads that runs down their bodies, fading into brown and cream-colored feathers. Females are just brown and white. If you want to try catch a glimpse of these red birds, put black oil sunflower seeds in your feeders. 

It can sometimes be hard to tell them apart from male house finches, but here are a few things to look for. Purple finches have a much more raspberry/pinkish/purple hue while house finches are more red/brick red. Purple finches have color on more of their body, including their entire face and back. 

6. Red Crossbill

Red-Crossbill (male) | image by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Loxia curvirostra

Unlike some of the more vibrant red birds on this list, the male red crossbill features dull red plumage, with some individuals being more on the red-orange side. This reddish color is prominent on most of the male’s body, but they have brown or gray wings. The females are muted yellow with gray mixed in. 

A unique feature of the red crossbill is its criss-crossed bill, hence the name. The upper and lower mandibles of their beaks are twisted and crossed over each other at the tip. This unique beak structure allows them to pry open conifer cones and extract the seeds within. Since this their main food source, conifer forests are where you will most likely find them.  Most North Carolina sightings occur along the western edge of the state, but some are also sighted in the lake regions around Raleigh-Durham.

7. Painted Bunting

male painted bunting standing on log

Scientific Name: Passerina ciris

Painting buntings are truly beautiful birds! While not entirely red, male painted buntings have bright red chests, bellies and rumps, earning them a spot on this list. In addition to red plumage, these striking birds have vibrant blue and green feathers along their heads and wings. The females and immature males are a beautiful greenish-yellow color. 

Painted buntings spend their winters in more tropical climates, then some travel into the U.S. in the spring to breed. In North Carolina, you will mainly spot them along the coastline. 

8. 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 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 North Carolina you’ll find them all summer in the western half of the state. In the eastern parts of the state, 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.

9. 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. 

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. Red-headed woodpeckers remain in North Carolina year-round.

10. Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion flycatcher | Image by Ely Penner from Pixabay

Scientific Name: Pyrocephalus rubinus

While not native to North Carolina, the vermilion flycatcher makes rare appearances in the state. Male vermilion flycatchers are a brilliant shade of red with black feathers running from the back of their heads down their back and wings. They also have a black stripe along each eye. They have a small crest on their heads and a long, slender bill adapted for catching insects in mid-air. Females, on the other hand, have more subdued plumage. They are mostly grayish-brown with light red hues on their bellies. 

Some vermilion flycatchers spend the winter in parts of Florida and the Gulf coast, so every now and then a vagrant may travel off course and end up in North Carolina. But it would be considered quite rare for the east coast.

11. White Winged Crossbill

Male White-Winged Crossbill (Image: John Harrison | CC BY-SA 3.0 | Wikicommons)

Scientific Name: Loxia leucoptera

Similar to the red crossbill on this list, the white-winged crossbill has a uniquely adapted crossed bill to help them consume conifer seeds. This species only makes rare appearances in North Carolina but has been reported in some places along the coast, near Raleigh, and in the mountain regions. Their true range is far to the north.

The males have red bodies with black wings with distinctive white patches. Like the many other birds on this list, the females of this species are more muted and lack vibrant red colorations.