9 Adorable Small White Birds (Species ID Guide & Pictures)


Believe it or not, there aren’t too many small white birds out there – only a few animals developed the white coloring we know and love. 

Most of these birds live in cold, snowy environments where their coloring keeps them safe from predators.

Below, you can learn all about nine small white birds:

  • Willow Ptarmigan
  • Rock Ptarmigan
  • Snow Bunting
  • Red-vented Cockatoo
  • Forster’s Tern
  • Snowy Plover
  • Piping Plover
  • Sanderling
  • White Wagtail

1. Willow Ptarmigan

  • Length: 14-17 inches (35-44 cm)
  • Weight: 15-29 ounces (430-810 grams)

Scientific name: Lagopus lagopus

Willow ptarmigans are interesting miniature white birds that change their plumage as needed. During the summer, their feathers are brown and red, but they change them during the winter.

As the temperatures drop, ptarmigans change the color of their entire plumage to white, with only the tail feathers remaining black.

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These birds live in the coldest territories on the planet – ranging from East Russia, all the way through Asia to Scandinavian countries, into Canada and Alaska.

Since those areas are predominantly white because of the snow, the white coloring keeps these masters of camouflage from being spotted by predators.

They’re herbivorous, mostly feeding on berries, flowers, leaves, and seeds. During their early days, they may feed on insects, but that doesn’t last for long.

2. Rock Ptarmigan

  • Length: 13-14 inches (34-36 cm)
  • Weight: 15-22 ounces (440-640 grams)

Scientific name: Lagopus muta

A cousin of the willow ptarmigan, these birds also display seasonal camouflage. In winter, their plumage is entirely white, but it becomes brown in spring. This ability allows the tiny white birds to remain undetected in the snow.

Most of their territory overlaps with the willow ptarmigan, but they’re less common in Europe and western Russia.

Since it has very few natural predators in the area it inhabits, barring the golden eagle, the rock ptarmigan is relatively docile.

They can be found on rocky mountainsides, especially underneath high cliffs where they look for holes in the cliffs to establish a nest and vegetation to feast on.

They feed on buds, leaves, seeds, and berries. Younglings will eat snails and insects, but they stop this practice when they grow older.

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3. Snow Bunting

  • Length: about 6 inches (15 cm)
  • Weight: about 1.23 ounces (35 grams)

Scientific name: Plectrophenax nivalis

Snow buntings are miniature white birds found in the northern half of North America, coasts of Greenland, Iceland, and across Europe and Asia. They usually inhabit cold, snowy regions.

The bird is almost entirely white, with some black feathers on the tail and the wings. When snow covers the ground, this coloring makes them almost invisible. Females are usually a bit darker and their wings are almost entirely black.

Snow buntings feed on various weeds, seeds, berries, and small insects (which are, admittedly, harder to find in cold areas).

Just like most birds that live in cold climates, they nest on the ground, usually in tall grass where they’re hidden from predators.

They’re very vocal birds, regularly exchanging information, and their call is reminiscent of a whistle.

4. Red-vented Cockatoo

  • Length: about 12 inches (30 cm)
  • Weight: about 10 ounces (290 grams)

Scientific name: Cacatua haematuropygia

The red-vented cockatoo is a representative of the cockatoos (there are more than 40 species, about a dozen of which are entirely white and they’d need their own list).

Also known as the Philippine cockatoo, this is one of the few white birds that doesn’t live in an extremely cold climate. They’re endemic to the Philippines, where they’re currently critically endangered, but their numbers are growing.

They’re usually found in lowland forests in the Philippines, this bird can be easily confused with larger white bird species that reside in the Philippines when observed from a distance.

These white birds with mohawks have a characteristic bleating call, but they’re not as vocal as other cockatoo species.

5. Forster’s Tern

  • Length: 13-14 inches (33-36 cm)
  • Weight: 4.6-6.7 ounces (130-190 grams)

Scientific name: Sterna forsteri

Some of the smallest terns in the world, Forster’s terns are found in Central Canada, all over the United States (barring the Northeast), Cuba, Mexico, and the coasts of Central America.

They’re almost entirely white, with the only non-white part of their plumage being the characteristic black cap on top of the head.

These petite white birds are usually found in marshes and swamps – they don’t make a distinction between freshwater and saltwater, so they can be found in both. Since marshes aren’t a stable environment, they often migrate.

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Forster’s terns mostly feed on fish, especially carp, minnow, and trout, among other species. They hunt by plunging into the shallow waters headfirst when they spot the fish.

They nest on ponds within the marsh and they’re capable of building floating nests, made of marsh grasses.

6. Snowy Plover

  • Length: 6-6.7 inches (15-17 cm)
  • Weight: 1-2 ounces (32-58 grams)

Scientific name: Charadrius nivosus

One of the smallest birds on the list, the snowy plover is usually found near the coast. Particularly alongside the West Coast, Gulf Coast, coasts of Mexico and Central America, and South America’s West Coast.

Only a few inner populations are recorded in Central Mexico and the American South and Southwest.

The underside of these birds is entirely white, while the back and head are gray or stained white. There are a few black marks on the head as well.

These miniscule white birds can be found on coasts near salt water or brackish water – they don’t stay close to fresh water. There, they usually feed on crustaceans, worms, flies, and other insects.

They nest on the ground, usually in the sand, where they also look for food.

7. Piping Plover

  • Length: 6-7.5 inches (15-19 cm)
  • Weight: 1.5-2.3 ounces (42-64 grams)

Scientific name: Charadrius melodus

A species very similar to the snowy plover, the piping plover is arguably whiter.

They have the same pattern of white, black, and gray, but their backs are noticeably closer to white than to the color gray. They also have a characteristic black ring around the neck, which snowy plovers don’t have.

They inhabit the eastern half of the United States, a few coastal areas in Mexico, and parts of southern Canada.

During the winter, more than a third of all piping plovers migrate to the Bahamas. There, they live on sandy and rocky beaches, not staying as close to the water as snowy plovers.

Because of their coloring, these little white birds can camouflage very well with the sand and are almost impossible to spot.

8. Sanderling

  • Length: 7.1-8.7 inches (18-22 cm)
  • Weight: about 2 ounces (60 grams)

Scientific name: Calidris alba

Just like a few other species on this list, this bird can change the color of its plumage according to the season. During the winter, it’s almost entirely white (barring its shoulder patches), but it becomes brown-red in the summer.

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They can be found almost on every coast around the world.

They’re common on both coasts of South and North America, Africa, Australia and Oceania, and the coasts of southern Asia. In Europe, they can be found on the coasts of Spain, Portugal, France, the UK, Ireland, Italy, and Greece.

There, they mostly feed on crustaceans that they find in the sand by probing it with their long beaks. These small white birds usually nest on the ground, right by the shore.

9. White Wagtail

  • Length: 6.5-7.5 inches (16.5-19 cm)
  • Weight: about 0.88 ounces (25 grams)

Scientific name: Motacilla alba

There are many subspecies of this bird with variations in coloring among them, but they all have a similar pattern – the stomach is white, while the head and the wings are a combination of black and white.

These birds are found in Iceland, all over Europe, Asia, and parts of northern and eastern Africa. There, they inhabit almost all types of habitats, except for deserts.

These tiny white birds prefer staying close to manmade habitats and water as they’re provided with constant access to food.

Their feeding habits depend on location, but they normally feed on different types of insects and small fish.

To End

Most small white birds evolved the color of their plumage to keep them safe from predators by camouflaging them after settling in their respective habitats. Taking this into account, it’s no wonder most of these birds live in snowy or sandy areas.

Other birds, such as various cockatoos, stick out because of their white plumage and it doesn’t help them at all, and it’s still unclear why that  exactly is their natural color.

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James Goodman

James is a native Texan with a love for birding and outdoor adventures. When he's not birdwatching, you can find him hiking, camping or playing the piano.

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