How to Identify Birds with Red on Their Head

It’s not always easy to tell the difference between birds with red on their head.

There are so many different types of birds in our world, and they all have something in common. The color red! But it can be hard to identify which type of bird you’re looking at if you don’t know what characteristics to look for.

We’ve put together a list of some of our favorite birds that have bright red feathers on their heads, along with some tips for identifying them based on size, shape, song, habitat, and more. Let’s get started!

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Woodpeckers That Have Red on Their Head

Many of us remember our buddy, Woody Woodpecker, managing to get into trouble time after time on cartoon TV. Yes…that was many years ago! Actual woodpeckers don’t have a plume quite that large, but there are two species that stand out as those with a red head:

Red-Headed Woodpecker

a red-headed woodpecker

Here are some identifying features of the red-headed woodpecker:

  • The bird’s whole head is red except for a small white stripe running all the way across its head.
  • It has a large, pointed beak that it uses to get insects out of trees.
  • Its body is black with white spots on its back and rump.
  • Its wings are black with one white bar on the back of each wing.
  • It has a red nape, or neck area.

You’ll find the red-headed woodpecker in the eastern United States and Canada.

Red-headed Woodpeckers are known for their bright red heads and napes.

They have a black and white pattern which makes them look like they’re wearing the letter ‘M’.

Red-headed woodpeckers have sharp, pointed bills that can be used to find grubs in trees.

These birds make their homes in dead or dying trees where insects are plentiful.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

red-bellied woodpecker

The red-bellied woodpecker is similar to its cousin the red-headed woodpecker.

Here are some identifying features of the red-bellied woodpecker:

  • It’s a little smaller than the red-headed woodpecker
  • The main difference is that it has a pale, salmon/red belly instead of the fiery red head.
  • They have small black patches on their shoulders and white spots across their tails.
  • The red-bellied woodpecker has a red belly and white spots on its wings and tail.
  • They have a black line on their head that is usually in the form of an ‘M’.
  • They make a call that sounds like “ki ki kik”.

This woodpecker is found in southeastern United States and also in Mexico and Central America.

It likes to live near rivers, lakes and in suburban areas.

They make their homes in live or dead trees with lots of woodpecker holes.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are often found near suet feeders when the weather gets cold.

It is not uncommon for people to see these birds wintering in North Carolina when they travel to warmer climates.

Red-Bellied Woodpeckers are active year-round, but they’re most visible in spring and summer when they search for food.

They can be found on the ground scratching for insects, digging up grubs, or feeding on the side of trees where sap is running freely.

Red-bellied woodpeckers often gather around backyard feeders for suet, crackers, and cornmeal.

Tanagers That Have Red on Their Head

Another bird species with red on their heads is the Tanager.

Scarlet Tanager

a scarlet tanager - birds with red on their head

Here are some identifying features of the Scarlet Tanager:

  • The male has a scarlet red head, back and under parts.
  • Its wings are black
  • They are almost entirely red except for their black wings and tails
  • They are the only bird in the United States with this color pattern
  • You’ll find Tanagers throughout eastern United States during summer months.
  • Scarlet Tanagers prefer to live near deciduous forest, in trees that have a lot of leaves.

Summer Tanager

a beautiful summer tanager bird - it is bright red

Here are some identifying features of the Summer Tanager:

  • It has a bright red head and small black patches on its wings.
  • Their body is bright red, and stays that way all year round
  • The summer tanager can be found from eastern Mexico through Central America up to southeastern United States in the winter months.
  • They make their homes in deciduous trees that grow in damp areas such as swamps or along rivers and lakes.
  • Winter Tanagers like to eat insects like bees and wasps, berries, and flower petals.
  • They tend to hang out in groups around large trees where they can easily find their favorite foods.
  • It has a ‘robin-like‘ song

Redpolls That Have Red on Their Head

Redpolls are small finches. They can be found in the northern and western United States, as well as Northern Canada during autumn and winter.

Common Redpoll

bird with a red head - common redpoll

Here are some distinguishing characteristics of the Common Redpoll, also known as a ‘winter finch’:

  • The red cap on it’s head makes it easily identifiable, but there are other things you can look for
  • The rest of the redpoll is white and brown, with darker wings. The female has greyish-brown streaks on her back.
  • Redpolls are small birds that have short tails. They are also very chatty they make a soft twittering sound, similar to that of a chickadee.
  • Redpolls are often found in small groups during the winter and can survive cold temperatures.
  • They primarily feed on seeds and some insects, and buds of willows and seeds of other weeds and grasses.
  • You may see them hanging around birdfeeders where they primarily eat sunflower seeds, cracked corn and millet.

Arctic Redpoll

an arctic redpoll bird

The Arctic Redpoll is a subspecies of the common redpoll.

Here are some identifying features of the arctic redpoll:

  • The male has a bright red cap and can be easily recognized by its bright red color.
  • It also has a broad white stripe cutting through its dark brown wings and across its chest
  • They can have a fluffy look about them, and have a white underbelly
  • You will find this bird in North America during winter months, particularly in Canada
  • They sometimes flock with Common Redpolls
  • It is not common to find them near birdfeeders during winter, but you may find them at feeders that offer black-oil sunflower seeds or thistle.
  • They eat seeds and insects, but the birds mainly feed on weed seeds.

Cardinals That Have Red on Their Head

We probably think of cardinals first when we consider birds that are red or birds with red on their head. We’ll take a closer look at the northern cardinal, also known as the redbird, common cardinal, red cardinal, or just plain cardinal!

This beautifully vibrant bird is the official state bird of at least seven states.

Northern Cardinal

a northern cardinal as an example of a bird with a red head

Here are some identifying features of the Northern Cardinal:

  • The Northern Cardinal is a medium-sized songbird with a distinctive crest on its head, which makes it’s red color stand out.
  • Males are vibrant red, and females are more of a reddish olive color.
  • Male cardinals have a black ‘mask’ on their face; females have a gray mask.
  • It has a large bill and a tail with white outer feathers that are noticeable when it flies.
  • During the winter months they have a more dull grayish-blue coloring on top of their body and around their crest and on their face and a pale grey coloring on the underside of their body.
  • They also have black around their eyes and on top of their beak, with a hint of red on the bottom of it.
  • The Northern Cardinal likes to make its home in deciduous trees such as elm or oak that grow near water sources.
  • Male cardinals mark out their territory with their song, and feeds the female seeds beek-to-beek during courtship.

You can find them from throughout the eastern half of the United States.

Their diet typically consists of weed seeds and insects such as beetles or grasshoppers, as well as fruit.

They are often found in birdfeeders that offer sunflower seeds, nyjer seed, cracked corn, and hulled sunflower kernels.

Finches That Have Red on Their Head

There are birds in the finch family with a red head. Let’s consider two of them.

Purple Finch

a purple finch - it is not really purple!

Here are some details about the Purple Finch (although they are not purple in color!):

  • The male has a rose-colored head and breast, with gray wings and back
  • Adult females look like they have olive-colored feathers on their head and upper body. The rest of the female is brown and white.
  • You will find this bird throughout North America where deciduous trees grow, such as crabapple or serviceberry trees. They also prefer to be near water sources.
  • This bird likes to eat seeds, plant bulbs and vegetation, or insects that it can find on trees or shrubs.

Red Crossbill

bird with red on it's head - a red crossbill

Another member of the finch family with a red head is the Red Crossbill. Here are some details about this bird:

  • The male has a bright reddish color head, with an orange belly and yellowish marks on his wings
  • Adult females have dark gray feathers on their heads that are speckled with white, along with yellow or green markings
  • This bird has an unusual twisted bill that crosses when it is closed
  • The shape of their bill enables them to separate the scales of conifer cones and get the seeds out that they feed on.
  • You will find this bird in coniferous or deciduous trees that are evergreen, such as spruce, fir pine, larch, juniper, or hemlock.
  • This bird eats seeds that it finds on trees, and will also eat berries and some types of insects

The red crossbill is one of only two species of crossbills found in North America, inhabiting forests as far north as Alaska, and south to Georgia, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Conclusion: Birds with Red on Their Heads

Whether you’re a birdwatcher, nature enthusiast, a bird dude, or just someone who likes to wander around outside looking for interesting feathered friends – it’s always exciting when we spot a red-headed bird.

Hopefully, you’ve gained some helpful knowledge when it comes to deciding which species of red-headed bird is in your sights!

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