Oklahoma has diverse habitats like tallgrass prairies, woodlands, vast plains, wetlands, and the Ouachita Mountains region. These breathtaking landscapes are home to a variety of wildlife, including several species of vibrant red birds. Red birds add splashes of color to the landscape and are a visual treat for nature lovers and birdwatching enthusiasts. This article details the types of red birds you may be lucky enough to see in Oklahoma. Some are more common than others, but all have distinctive red markings that make them worthy of this list.
12 Red Birds in Oklahoma
The most common red birds in Oklahoma are the northern cardinal, house finch, summer tanager, scarlet tanager, purple finch, red-headed woodpecker and rose-breasted grosbeak, while some more rare species to spot are the red crossbill, vermilion flycatcher, common redpoll, and Cassin’s finch. Let’s look at each one.
1. Northern Cardinal
Scientific Name: Cardinalis cardinalis
With its striking red plumage and distinctive crest, the northern cardinal is an easily recognizable red bird species in Oklahoma. Of course, only the males have these vibrant red feathers. The females are a more subdued brown with deeper red tones on their wings and tail.
These cardinals are year-round residents in Oklahoma and can be seen in many different habitats, including woodlands, backyards, parks, and gardens. They prefer areas with dense shrubs and trees, which provide shelter, nesting sites, and food sources. Offer black oil sunflower seeds to attract them.
2. House Finch
Scientific Name: Haemorhous mexicanus
Another common red bird species in Oklahoma is the house finch. The males of this species have red heads and chests with brown and cream-colored streaks along the rest of their bodies. The females lack red feathers, so they don’t stand out from their surroundings. This makes it easier for them to stay hidden while nesting. The house finch is a common visitor to backyard bird feeders throughout the state and can be seen all year round.
3. Summer Tanager
Scientific Name: Piranga rubra
The summer tanager is the only bird on this list that is completely red. Male summer tanagers are beautiful birds with solid red plumage that ranges from a deep scarlet to a lighter, orange-red shade. The females and immature males are beautiful in their own right, but rather than red, they are a yellow-green color.
While this species spends the winter months in Central and South America, they migrate to the U.S., including Oklahoma, to breed in the spring and summer. Most of them occur in the eastern half of the state, east of Oklahoma City. Summer tanagers tend to spend much of their time high up in the forest canopies, and are adept at eating bees and wasps.
4. Scarlet Tanager
Scientific Name: Piranga olivacea
Male scarlet tanagers have vibrant red feathers on their head, neck, and body. Some people may confuse this species with the summer tanager, but to tell the difference, all you have to do is look at the wings. While male summer tanagers are entirely red, male scarlet tanagers have black wings and darker-colored feathers on their tails.
The females and immature males are yellowish-green with darker wings. This species isn’t as commonly seen in Oklahoma as the summer tanager. They are migratory and only visit during the spring and summer, typically in the far eastern part of the state. Not a frequent backyard visitor, look for them in forested areas.
5. Purple Finch
Scientific Name: Haemorhous purpureus
Purple finches are small songbirds found in Oklahoma mainly during the winter months. Though not as common as the house finch, sightings have been reported throughout much of the state, especially the eastern half.
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
Scientific Name: Loxia curvirostra
Another beautiful red bird sometimes seen in Oklahoma is the red crossbill. The males of this species are primarily scarlet with darker brown wings and tails. The females are olive-green to yellow in color. The key characteristic of the crossbill is its unique criss-crossed bill that they use to get seeds out of conifer cones.
Oklahoma isn’t within the red crossbill’s main range, but they are sometimes seen here during the winter and early spring. If you want to catch a glimpse of a red crossbill, your best bet is to find a forest full of conifer trees.
7. Red Headed Woodpecker
Scientific Name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus
While not entirely red, the red headed woodpecker is on this list because of its striking, crimson head. This deep red head starkly contrasts with the black and white feathers on the rest of their bodies. Red headed woodpeckers are found throughout Oklahoma year-round, and can sometimes be attracted to backyard suet feeders in the winter. These birds can be seen clinging to the sides of trees, using their strong beaks extract insects from the bark.
8. 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 Oklahoma you’ll find them all summer in the northeastern part of the state. Otherwise, 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.
9. Vermilion Flycatcher
Scientific Name: Pyrocephalus rubinus
Vermilion is a red pigment derived from the mineral cinnabar. The vermilion flycatcher gets its name from the males reddish-orange coloring on its head, breast and belly. Their wings and tail are predominantly dark, and they have a black eye mask. The female has a duller appearance with grayish-brown feathers on the head and back, a reddish tint underneath near her tail, and a pale eye ring.
Although a rare sight in Oklahoma, sightings of the vermilion flycatcher have been reported around Tulsa, the panhandle and other random locations. Some wanderers may stray off-course while migrating through neighboring Texas. These insect eaters tend to perch out in the open, so you may get lucky and spot one.
10. Common Redpoll
Scientific Name: Acanthis flammea
The common redpoll is a small finch species that breeds in the far north and spends winters in Canada and the northern U.S. states. Oklahoma is certainly a long way off from their typical range, but some winters they are “irruptive”. This means populations of them will travel further south than usual following a food source. So while Oklahoma is about as far south as they go, there are some winters where they will make it all the way down there. Most sightings in recent years have been by savvy backyard birdwatchers around Oklahoma City that noticed them mixed in with other finches at their feeders.
One of their distinguishing features is a small red cap or “poll” on its forehead. The male’s throat and chest have a rosy, reddish tint. These are highly social birds and are more commonly seen in large flocks.
11. Cassin’s Finch
Scientific Name: Haemorhous cassinii
Cassin’s Finch is a stocky finch with a conical bill. The males have a rosy-red crown, head and breast, blending into a brown back and wings. They look very similar to the house finch, but their coloration is more of a raspberry, purplish-red. Females and immature birds have streaked brown plumage with hints of red on the crown and rump. This red bird is an extremely rare visitor to Oklahoma, but it is sometimes spotted in the panhandle region, which is closest to the edge of their range in New Mexico and Colorado.
12. Painted Bunting
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 summers in Oklahoma, then heads south to more tropical climates for the winter. They like to stay hidden in dense vegetation along edge habitats, brushy roadsides and overgrown fields. They’ll be looking for insects in the summer, but by late summer they switch back to seeds, and may visit backyard feeders before migration.