If you want to see birds with red heads, look no further than your own backyard. Even in the coldest and driest areas, there are birds so vibrant that even inexperienced birdwatchers can recognize them.
These are the 28 birds with beautiful red heads discussed in the article below:
- Acorn woodpecker
- Andean cock-of-the-walk
- Anna’s Hummingbird
- Arizona woodpecker
- Barn swallow
- Black woodpecker
- Brazilian tanager
- Cassin’s finch
- Common redpoll
- Common rosefinch
- Crimson sunbird
- Crimson-crested woodpecker
- Crimson-headed partridge
- House finch
- Northern cardinal
- Pine grosbeak
- Purple finch
- Red-bellied woodpecker
- Red-breasted sapsucker
- Red-crested cardinal
- Red-headed woodpecker
- Scarlet honeyeater
- Scarlet tanager
- Summer tanager
- Vermilion flycatcher
- Western tanager
- White-winged crossbill
1. Acorn Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes formicivorus
Acorn woodpeckers are found in the western and southwestern areas of the United States and Mexico. They are just one of many woodpeckers with red heads.
Unlike many other species, though, acorn woodpeckers don’t excavate for insects. Instead, they dig into trees for their sap.
As their name suggests, they also eat a lot of acorns; acorns make up about half of this woodpecker’s diet. They do also eat insects, but usually by catching them in the air or scooping them up from the surface of a tree.
2. Andean Cock-Of-The-Rock
Scientific name: Rupicola peruvianus
Found in the Andes mountains between Venezuela and Bolivia, the cock-of-the-rock gets both its common and scientific names from its preference for nesting in rock walls. The “peruvianus” epithet means “of Peru;” it’s often considered the country’s national bird.
Their vibrant red heads are surprisingly not the only distinct physical feature of the Andean cock-of-the-rock.
The male birds also have a huge fan-like crest that covers up most of their bill. Females, on the other hand, have a much smaller crest and their coloring is much more rust-like.
3. Anna’s Hummingbird
Scientific name: Calypte anna
Anna’s hummingbirds are common along the west coast of the United States.
Like most hummingbirds, their feathers have an iridescent sheen that gives them a vibrant appearance. On Anna’s hummingbirds, this sheen gives them the appearance of having pinkish-red heads.
Thanks to suburban gardens and made-made feeders, Anna’s hummingbirds now winter as far north as British Columbia and south into Mexico. They’ve even begun to be more common year-round east in Arizona.
4. Arizona Woodpecker
Scientific name: Dryobates arizonae
Speaking of Arizona, there’s another bird with a red head that makes its home along the state’s border and into Mexico. The Arizona woodpecker behaves like its cousin the Hairy woodpecker but is not quite as loud.
This is partially because Arizona Woodpeckers don’t drill quite as deeply into wood for their food.
5. Barn Swallow
Scientific name: Hirundo rustica
These red-headed swallows are a sight to see throughout most of North America. They’re so common and so used to human civilization, in fact, that they rarely make their own nests or roosts in natural areas.
Instead, barn swallows house themselves in manmade structures such as bridges and garages. They’re still wild birds, but they have little fear of humans, who provide food and shelter and little danger.
6. Black Woodpecker
Scientific name: Dryocopus martius
Black woodpeckers are entirely black except for their bright red heads. They live exclusively in Eurasia, North Africa, and in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains.
It can be difficult to tell males and females apart, as they both have all-black plumage. The main difference is that only the back part of a female’s head is red, while males have crowns that are entirely red.
7. Brazilian Tanager
Scientific name: Ramphocelus bresilius
The Brazilian tanager makes its home in eastern Brazil as its name suggests, but also northeastern Argentina. The males are the only ones with red heads; the females are usually brown with orange chests.
Bird trappers in Brazil will sometimes catch these vibrant tanagers to sell as pets. This can affect their populations somewhat, but in general these are adaptable birds. They can tolerate ecological changes well and experts don’t consider them to be in danger.
Scientific name: Aythya valisineria
Whether they’re wintering in the southern states and Mexico or breeding in the north around Canada, canvasback ducks are a common sight across the entirety of North America.
These ducks have brownish-red heads and are the largest diving duck in the Aythya genus. Even so, they face great danger from predation. Females will protect their nest from nearby predators by swimming away to distract them.
If there are hatchlings in the nest, the mother uses a special call to instruct them to hide in thick vegetation nearby.
9. Cassin’s Finch
Scientific name: Haemorhous cassinii
These red-headed birds live most of the year in the western and midwestern parts of the United States. However, they usually breed further north, in Canada.
Males are not very territorial, usually only driving away other males of the same species while the female nests. They may even tolerate other nests nearby, but only if the other nests already have their own eggs or hatchlings.
10. Common Redpoll
Scientific name: Haemorhous cassinii
With a surprising resistance to cold temperatures, this tiny redhead lives in the far north of North America. When they migrate south, it’s usually due to a lack of food sources, not the cold.
During the winter, the males are more dominant, but common redpolls switch roles during breeding season. Females take charge when it’s time to court a mate.
11. Common Rosefinch
Scientific name: Carpodacus erythrinus
Also known as the scarlet rosefinch, common rosefinches breed throughout northern Asia and eastern and central Europe.
The male rosefinch doesn’t gain its rosy red head until it reaches maturity after about one year. Their red coloring is more subtle after molting between September and November.
As winter progresses, however, their red gets bright due the natural wear of their feathers.
12. Crimson Sunbird
Scientific name: Carpodacus erythrinus
Crimson sunbirds are tropical birds, living mostly in southern Asia and India. The males have bright red heads and bodies, while the females are an olive-green color.
They’re very tiny birds, reaching about 11 centimeters (four inches) long. They’re similar to hummingbirds in both size and diets: a sunbird’s diet is primarily nectar from flowers.
To eat the nectar, sunbirds also have developed a beak and tongue like hummingbirds. Their beaks are thin and curve downwards to reach deep into the flowers. Then, their tube-like tongues brush the nectar up into their mouths.
13. Crimson-Crested Woodpecker
Scientific name: Campephilus melanoleucos
The crimson-crested woodpecker lives exclusively in the northern areas of South America, including Panama and Argentina.
These birds differ from many others on this list because their red crests are shared by both males and females. The red on the heads of males extends all the way down to the throat and to the front of their head. Female crimson-crested woodpeckers only have the crest on the top and back of their heads.
14. Crimson-Headed Partridge
Scientific name: Haematortyx sanguiniceps
One of the rarest birds on this list, the crimson-headed partridge is found only in Borneo. It lives in the mountain forests in the northern and central areas of the island.
These redheads are omnivorous, eating berries as well as insects. They even eat small crustaceans that wander in from the coasts.
15. House Finch
Scientific name: Haemorhous mexicanus
House finches are some of the most common small birds with red heads across North America. They have a close history with human beings; part of their spread across the continent was from illegal selling.
Pet shop owners brought the Southwest-native birds to the east coast and sold them illegally. To avoid legal trouble, they would sometimes release the birds into the wild, where they began to colonize in human suburbs.
Within 50 years, the released birds spread back towards the Southwest, covering the entire United States.
They are now so comfortable with humans that they prefer to live in cities, suburbs, and on farms. Humans provide good shelter and an abundance of food for the foraging finches.
16. Northern Cardinal
Scientific name: Cardinalis
A common sight in the eastern areas of North America, the Northern Cardinal is unmistakable with its vibrant red head and feathers.
These red birds live year-round in the same areas, and their plumage doesn’t dull from molting. This means they’re more visible than most birds in snowy winter weather. The females are also some of the few North American songbirds that actually sing.
Their songs, striking color, and enthusiasm for bird feeders have made the Northern Cardinal very popular; in fact, seven states claim the cardinal as their state bird.
17. Pine Grosbeak
Scientific name: Pinicola enucleator
Pine grosbeaks like the cold and live in the northern parts of North America and eastern Asia all the way to Scandinavia.
These birds with the pinkish-red heads are monogamous during their breeding season. Males will perch in the trees and sing warnings to other males to defend their territory.
Male and female pine grosbeaks form such strong bonds that mated pairs will share the same flight song.
18. Purple Finch
Scientific name: Haemorhous purpureus
Purple finches have an unusual habitat distribution; they’re common in both the northeastern and west coast of the United States year-round.
Their breeding grounds, however, are up north in Canada, while they’ll sometimes winter in the southeastern parts of the U.S.
Their red heads do have a more purple tone than their house finch cousins, but that’s not the only difference. House finches are more aggressive and numerous than purple finches.
This has actually led to a decline in the number of purple finches in North America as they compete with house finches for food and shelter.
19. Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus
The red-bellied woodpecker breeds almost exclusively in the eastern United States, from the edge of Canada to Florida.
These woodpeckers enjoy eating from bird feeders with nuts and seeds, and even the nectar from hummingbird feeders. But they’re more than smart enough to find food on their own.
In fact, they know how to wedge large nuts into cracks in a tree’s bark to help open them. The crevice holds the nut in place while they crack it with their beaks into smaller pieces.
20. Red-Breasted Sapsucker
Scientific name: Sphyrapicus ruber
Red-breasted sapsuckers have a limited habitat range along the west coast of North America. It stretches from the north of Canada down to the border of Mexico but doesn’t go any further east than California.
Similar to woodpeckers, red-breasted sapsuckers will drill holes into tree trunks to eat insects. However, their main reason for drilling is to release the sap from the tree, which it then laps up.
21. Red-Crested Cardinal
Scientific name: Paroaria coronata
Though native to South America, the red-crested cardinal has also been introduced to Puerto Rico and Hawaii.
Male and female red-crested cardinals don’t differ much in the color of their plumage like many other birds. They both have the same dark gray top feathers with a red face, crest, and chest.
22. Red-Headed Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Red-headed woodpeckers live in the eastern United States, although their population has been decreasing for many years. Even so, they’re easy to spot due to their bold black, white, and red coloring and the sounds they make.
In addition to harsh calls, red-headed woodpeckers use their beaks to drum on trees for communication. Males will establish their territory by drumming. During breeding, males select their winter roost for nesting or excavate a new cavity.
If their female partner accepts the proposed nesting site, she’ll drum on the tree to let the male know.
23. Scarlet Honeyeater
Scientific name: Myzomela sanguinolenta
Also known as the scarlet myzomela, this honeyeater is native to Australia, and is the smallest honeyeater in the country. The males have vibrant red heads and chests, while the females are completely brown.
They’re not very common pets in Australia, but it’s not unheard of. They’re tricky to keep with other birds because they’re territorial and aggressive.
In order to keep them, certain areas in Australia require special licenses. New South Wales even requires proof of multiple years of experience in caring and housing these birds.
24. Scarlet Tanager
Scientific name: Piranga olivacea
The scarlet tanager is immediately noticeable due to its coloring: a red head and body, contrasted by jet black wings. Scarlet tanagers live in the northeastern parts of the U.S. but migrate to South America during the winter.
These bright birds need a lot of forest territory to survive. Unfortunately, their numbers are declining as more and more of their habitat is lost to deforestation.
In addition, they are often the victims of parasitic cowbirds. Cowbirds will push a tanager egg out of its nest and replace it with one of their own.
The tanager’s numbers decrease, while the cowbird young are raised instead.
25. Summer Tanager
Scientific name: Piranga rubra
This tanager lacks the black wings of the scarlet tanager; instead, it has an entirely red head and body. It also lives further south in the U.S., from Virginia to Florida, all the way west to Texas.
Like many birds, the summer tanager is an omnivore, eating insects as well as berries. However, this red-headed tanager is interesting because it likes to eat stinging insects.
In the summer, these birds will often raid the nests of bees and wasps.
26. Vermilion Flycatcher
Scientific name: Pyrocephalus rubinus
One of the most brilliantly colored flycatchers, these birds live throughout Mexico and South America, all the way to Argentina.
They will sometimes stray further north, though; Tucson, AZ in particular has the highest US population density.
The vermillion flycatcher is a solitary bird, though birdwatchers sometimes see them in pairs around urban parks and backyard birdbaths.
Males have the bright red heads that give them their names, along with a black mask-like strip across the eyes. Females aren’t red but do have a soft yellow underside with hints of pink.
27. Western Tanager
Scientific name: Piranga ludoviciana
Though they look tropical, western tanagers live in the western areas of North America, from northern Canada to southern Mexico.
The western tanager gets the color of its orangish red head from rhodoxanthin, a rare pigment. They can’t produce this pigment themselves, so it’s likely it comes from certain insects in their diet.
They also enjoy eating fruit and were once shot to protect cherries and other crops. It’s now illegal to kill native western tanagers, however.
28. White-winged Crossbill
Scientific name: Loxia leucoptera
White-winged crossbills are common throughout Canada and the northern areas of the United States. Researchers have a hard time pinpointing their population numbers because these crossbills like to move around.
They don’t migrate with any regularity, instead moving based on the local spruce cone crop. The seeds inside these cones are their main food source, along with other conifer seeds.
They have unique crossed bills that are specialized for cracking open the cones.
White-winged crossbills have the most vibrant red heads in the spring and summer. This is because when they molt in the autumn, their feathers have unpigmented barbules covering up their color.
As the barbules wear away, the birds turn from pale pink to bright red.
The tropics aren’t the only place birdwatchers can see colorful and vibrant birds. Some of the most beautiful birds have brilliant red heads and can be found all over the world.
Use this list to learn where to find these colorful birds, and how to use their red heads to identify them.