There are very few small red birds in the world as the color red makes you obvious to predators and offers very little camouflage. Nevertheless, there are a few species worth taking a look at.
Read on to learn about the nine species of small red birds:
- Northern Cardinals
- Scarlet Tanagers
- Summer Tanagers
- Hepatic Tanagers
- House Finches
- Cassin’s Finches
- Pine Grosbeaks
- Red Crossbill
- Vermilion Flycatcher
1. Northern Cardinals
- Length: 8.3-9.3 inches (21-23.5 cm)
- Weight: 1.20-2.30 ounces (33.6-65 grams)
Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis
The northern cardinal is a North American species of bird, named after the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, who wear a hat (very similar to the bird’s mohawk) and distinctly red robes.
They’re probably the most well-known small red birds in the world for several reasons. Northern cardinals are widespread in the eastern half of the United States, the Canadian Southeast, as well as parts of Mexico.
On top of that, they love bird feeders. If you put out a bird feeder full of sunflower seeds, you’re almost guaranteed to attract northern cardinals into your backyard.
You can recognize them because of their mohawk and by their color, as they’re entirely red with a little bit of black around the beak.
In the wild, they nest in shrubs, usually in open woodlands, where they feed on seeds that they find on the ground.
2. Scarlet Tanagers
- Length: 6.4-7.5 inches (16-19 cm)
- Weight: 0.83-1.34 ounces (23.5-38 grams)
Scientific name: Piranga olivacea
Another distinctly red bird, scarlet tanagers are almost entirely red. The only non-red parts of the body are the wings and the tail, which are usually black. Females are almost entirely green with gray wings.
The range of the scarlet tanager is great – they can be found anywhere from southern Canada, through the eastern half of the United States, Cuba, Mexico, Central America, and parts of northwestern South America.
They don’t eat seeds, but they love insects and berries. If you have a berry garden (no matter what type of berries you have), they’ll most certainly pay you a visit. However, this can be a problem as they can cause damage to crops if they congregate in numbers.
These small scarlet birds usually nest in oak forests, usually staying out of sight. They’ll fly out of their nests to catch insects in the air.
3. Summer Tanagers
- Length: about 6.7 inches (17 cm)
- Weight: about 1 ounce (29 grams)
Scientific name: Piranga rubra
While they are related, there’s a major difference between the summer and the scarlet tanager – summer tanagers are entirely red. Even their wings and tail are red, and the only non-red body part is the beak.
Females, on the other hand, are almost entirely yellow, with some darker coloring on the wings.
You can find them in the American South and Southeast, as well as Cuba, Mexico, almost all Central American countries, and the North and Northwest part of South America.
Just like scarlet tanagers, they live in open woodlands where they like to stay in the nests for as much time as possible. They eat insects and berries, not seeds, so you can attract them to your yard with berries.
During the winter, these small crimson birds aren’t afraid of exploring human-populated habitats for food.
4. Hepatic Tanagers
- Length: about 8 inches (20 cm)
- Weight: about 1.3 ounces (38 grams)
Scientific name: Piranga flava
The final tanager species on the list, hepatic tanagers are very similar to both scarlet and summer tanagers. Their entire bodies are red, but the color is a little bit pale and the wings have a shade of gray on them.
These tanagers rarely cross paths with the other two species, as they’re mostly found in Brazil and Argentina, as well as some places near the South American West Coast.
A separate population exists in Mexico and Central America, but it’s much smaller, and they very rarely visit the southern states of the USA.
They usually live in forests where they nest in trees and feed on insects and some fruits, albeit rarely. They’re known to follow swarms of army ants and eat them.
Because of their secretive behavior, not much else is known about these small maroon birds.
5. House Finches
- Length: 5-6 inches (12.5-15 cm)
- Weight: about 0.75 ounces (21 grams)
Scientific name: Haemorhous mexicanus
A bird with unique coloring, the house finch can be found all over the United States and the majority of Mexico. Unlike 99% of other animals, these birds prefer urban and suburban areas, choosing them as their primary breeding habitat.
They were sold illegally in New York, with the owners and sellers releasing the birds to avoid prosecution. The released birds have since formed a population all over the country.
House finches are small birds with brown tails, wings, and stomachs, all gradually becoming redder towards the head. The chest, neck, and head are completely red.
They often swarm birdfeeders filled with black sunflower seeds – it’s possible that a flock of more than fifty birds will eat from your birdfeeder all at once.
These rosy small birds don’t feed on insects, sticking to seeds and berries.
6. Cassin’s Finches
- Length: about 6.3 inches (16 cm)
- Weight: 0.8-1.2 ounces (24-34 grams)
Scientific name: Haemorhous cassinii
While similar to house finches, Cassin’s finches are distinctly different. They’re a bit smaller and the only truly red part of the body is the head. The neck, chest, and back are a combination of red and brown, while the stomach is white.
Females are entirely brown and white with no red feathers.
These small red birds can be found from southwestern Canada through the western states, all the way to Mexico. They usually nest in trees, where they sometimes forage for food, mainly feeding on seeds and berries.
They’re likelier to visit a birdfeeder during the winter when food is more scarce. They’re attracted to sunflower seeds and berry shrubs.
Interestingly, males develop their red heads because of pigments that they acquire by eating colorful foods (usually berries).
7. Pine Grosbeaks
- Length: 8-10 inches (20-25.5 cm)
- Weight: 1.8-2.8 ounces (52-78 grams)
Scientific name: Pinicola enucleator
Another softly-colored bird, the pine grosbeak is ruby-colored all over its body aside from the wings, tail, and underbelly, which are black and white. Females are almost entirely gray, aside from the head, which is orange.
Pine grosbeaks can be found all over Canada and northern parts of the USA (including Alaska), as well as in northern European countries and the majority of Russia and Japan.
They mostly stick to forests where they become permanent residents, migrating only if they’re in danger. These tiny red birds are omnivorous, feeding on seeds, berries, and insects.
They’re attracted to feeders filled with sunflower seeds during the winter when food is scarce.
There’s great variety among male pine grosbeaks – adults can be of different sizes and the intensity of the red coloring differs from one specimen to the other.
8. Red Crossbill
- Length: about 7.9 inches (20 cm)
- Weight: about 1.6 ounces (45 grams)
Scientific name: Loxia curvirostra)
Depending on the specimen, the coloring of a male red crossbill can range from orange to red, while females are usually yellow and brown. The male’s wings are the only non-red part of his body.
These birds are found all over the world. In North America, they’re found anywhere from Alaska through Canada, all the way south to Mexico. In Eurasia, they’re found anywhere from Portugal and Ireland, through Russia, India, and China, towards Japan.
A smaller population exists in northern Africa.
They usually inhabit forests, nesting in trees and feeding on seeds.
Unlike most other birds, red crossbills can open cones, essentially eating more food than other finches. They’re a migratory species, readily changing their habitat if food becomes scarce.
Once they find a place with enough food, these small crimson birds settle there for a while and leave once they eat all the food.
9. Vermilion Flycatcher
- Length: 5-5.5 inches (13-14 cm)
- Weight: 0.39-0.49 ounces (11-14 grams)
Scientific name: Pyrocephalus obscurus
The vermilion flycatcher is somewhat similar to the scarlet tanager, but telling them apart is easy enough. It has a small, subtle, red mohawk, and a red chest, belly, and underbelly. The wings, back, and the area around the eyes are black.
They’re found in the American South, Mexico, Central America, and parts of the South American North and West Coasts. There, they like to stay in open areas as there are more flies there, particularly areas near water.
Vermilion flycatchers are solitary birds that mostly feed on flies, as the name suggests, but on other insects as well. In extremely rare cases, it will feed on very small fish.
They’re impossible to attract to the yard as they feed on insects and build their own nests out of twigs and soft materials.
Out of all the small red birds in the world, the northern cardinal is the most well-known one. They’re also easy to attract to a backyard feeder and observe them as they eat. However, house finches are also very common in North America and unafraid of approaching people.
There are three species of tanagers that you might find, as well as the red crossbill, the pine grosbeak, and the vermilion flycatcher. While they’re all red in their own way, these birds differ in size and pattern, making it easy to tell them apart.