Red plumage is one of the traits that make a bird stand out among its peers, so seeing one in nature is truly a treat. In this article, we’ll be going over 14 birds with red plumage that is found, exclusively and inclusively, in Missouri.
Most of the birds in this list have developed red plumage due to either a need to attract mates (sexual selection), a need to deter rivals or predators, or both. Hence, these birds will try to evolve to have the reddest plumage possible, making them all the more stunning.
1. Northern Cardinal
Scientific Name: Cardinalis cardinalis
Range: North and Central America
The Northern cardinal is a common backyard bird that consists of a red crest, a large red bill, and a long red tail, making this bird stand out in just about any environment. The males are completely red except for a black face, while females are brown plumaged with red wings and tails.
The northern cardinal prefers habitats such as woodland edges, thickets, suburban gardens, towns, and desert washes. They can be found in almost any habitat that contains dense bushes. They’re often seen in pairs or groups and may visit bird feeders as well.
The Northern cardinal is an omnivore in that they feed on both plants and insects. Plants include weed and grass seeds, waste grain, flowers, berries, and fruits, while insects include beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, ants, and flies, among other species. Young are mainly fed insects.
2. House Finch
Scientific Name: Haemorhous mexicanus
Range: North and Central America
The house finch is a small finch that, for males, consists of various shades of red (with some being yellow or orange) and, for females, consisting of a gray-brown plumage with plain faces and streaks on the underparts.
The male house finch differentiates from other similar finch species by its redder crown, throat, and breast. The red is mainly restricted to the head and chest, with the rest of the body being a more gray-brown color similar to that of the female.
Some common habitats visited by the house finch include suburban areas, open woods, field edges, deserts, and grassland. They can often be found in neighborhoods and at bird feeders.
The house finch’s diet consists mainly of plants, particularly weed seeds, buds, flower parts, berries, and small fruits. The few insects they eat are very small such as aphids.
3. Summer Tanager
Scientific Name: Piranga rubra
Range: North America, Central America, Northern South America
The summer tanager is a large tanager with a heavily built bill. The males are completely red, while the females can vary in color, ranging from a dull yellow to a bright orange plumage. Immature males are dull yellow with various spots of red. The summer tanager has a longer bill and has less contrast between the wing and body colors compared with the similar female scarlet tanager.
The summer tanager is separated into the eastern US and southwestern US/northern Mexico habitats. Eastern and southern populations tend to reside in habitats containing open oak, hickory, and other oak-pine woodlands, while western populations prefer woodlands containing more willow and cottonwood.
The summer tanager’s diet consists mainly of insects, such as bees, wasps, beetles, cicadas, caterpillars, and grasshoppers. They’ll also occasionally feed on berries and small fruit.
4. Purple Finch
Scientific Name: Haemorhous purpureus
Range: North America
The purple finch is a colorful finch that, for males, consists of a raspberry red colored body, head, and breast and, for females, consists of a contrasting colored head with pale eyebrows and darker cheeks. Compared to the previously discussed male house finch, the male purple finch lacks the streaks on its sides and is more colorful on the back and wings. Females and juveniles, on the other hand, can be identified by the streaks on their sides.
Purple finches breed in coniferous forests or a mix of deciduous and coniferous woods. When not breeding, they can be found in a variety of habitats such as shrublands, fields, forest edges, urban backyards, or any other habitat with trees. They may also visit bird feeders when in peoples’ backyards.
Purple finches are mainly herbivores, though they do include the occasional insect in their diet. During the winter, they feed mainly on seeds of trees, such as ash and elm, as well as weeds and grass. They also eat buds from trees, berries, and small fruits. Insects, such as caterpillars and beetles, are mainly eaten during the summer.
5. Scarlet Tanager
Scientific Name: Piranga olivacea
Range: North and Central America (majority in the Midwest and Eastern United States), Northern South America
The scarlet tanager is a beautiful tanager that, for breeding males, has an extremely bright red plumage with black wings and tail. Females and nonbreeding males, on the other hand, are of a dull yellow olive color with dark wings (the wings are black on males and gray on females). The female summer tanager has a longer bill and less contrasting colors between the wing and body.
The scarlet tanager breeds mainly high in the canopy in deciduous forests. When not breeding, they’re often found in woodlands. During the winter and spring seasons, they can often be found in northern South America and at backyard feeders, respectively.
The scarlet tanager is an omnivore that consumes mainly insects (especially during the summer) but also occasionally fruits and berries. Some examples of insects include caterpillars, moths, beetles, wasps, bees, and aphids. They also consume the fruits and berries of plants such as the mulberry, elder, and sumac.
6. Painted Bunting
Scientific Name: Passerina ciris
Range: United States, Central America, Occasionally in Southern Canada
The mature male painted bunting is one of the most beautiful and eye-catching birds one can see in nature, with its combination of a bright blue head, bright red underparts, and a lime green back. The females and immature males are of a green coloration without any streaks.
Painting buntings breed in shrubby fields and forest edges, where the males can often be heard singing from a high perch. They can be found in a variety of habitats during the winter, mainly those incorporating weeds or thickets, where they can be found in small, well-hidden flocks. Occasionally visits feeders.
Painted buntings are omnivores in that they consume seeds, such as those from native grasses like switchgrass, during most of the year, and protein-heavy insects, which provide them with extra energy during the breeding season.
7. Red/Common Crossbill
Scientific Name: Loxia curvirostra
Range: North America, Occasionally in Central America, Occasionally in Central Asia, Europe
The red/common crossbill is a stout finch with a large head and a unique crossed bill that is used to pry open cones and retrieve seeds. The males are of an overall dull red or orange plumage, with gray or brown highlights. The females are of a dull olive-yellow color, while immatures are streakier than adults. Their wings are brown in color and have no wing bars.
The red/common crossbill prefers habitats such as mature evergreen forests with large cone crops. Habitats with spruce, Douglas-fir, eastern and western hemlock, and pine trees are also preferred.
The diets of the red/common crossbill usually contain seeds and a variety of berries and insects. The seeds from pines and other conifers are strongly preferred. They also eat the buds of various trees and seeds from weeds and deciduous trees.
8. Common Redpoll
Scientific Name: Acanthis flammea
Range: North America, Central, and Northern Europe, Scandinavia
The common redpoll is a small finch consisting of a small yellow bill, a plump body, a long tail, a small red cap, and a black face and throat. Males sometimes have pink plumage on their breasts.
The common redpoll prefers habitats such as boreal forests with pines, spruces, or larches. They often build their nests at low elevations in a tree or a bush. They breed in open forests and tundra that contains willows. They’ll also visit the feeder occasionally.
The common redpoll mainly feeds on seeds and other plants throughout the year. Some of these include catkins, seeds and buds of willows, alders, and birches, smaller conifer seeds, and the seeds of other weeds and grasses. They may feed on insects during the summer, depending on their surroundings.
9. Two-Barred/White-Winged Crossbill
Scientific Name: Loxia leucoptera
Range: North America, Scandinavia, Few in Russia
The two-barred/white-winged crossbill is a stout finch with a large head and a crossed bill similar to that of the red/common crossbill. Males have a light red plumage with black wings and two white wing bars; females are yellowish in color. Red/common crossbills, in comparison, are of a duller color and lack white wing bars.
The two-barred/white-winged crossbill breeds in coniferous forests, where it often lays its eggs in nests built in conifers. They can also be spotted in evergreen forests. They will rarely visit feeders.
Conifer cones are the preferred food of this bird. Their bill shape has evolved to assist them in extracting the seeds from the cones. They also eat a variety of other seeds, such as those of neat and alder, as well as berries and spruce sprouts.
10. Pine Grosbeak
Scientific Name: Pinicola enucleator
Range: North America, Scandinavia, Siberia, and Central Asia
The pine grosbeak is a large finch that, for males, has overall reddish-pink plumage, two white wing bars, and pale gray highlights. Females and juveniles have gray bodies with olive, yellow, or orange heads and rumps. They all have a short and stubby bill with rounded edges.
The pine grosbeak breeds in open coniferous forests and spends its winter in various wooded habitats that encapsulate fruiting trees such as the crabapple or mountain ash. They are natives of boreal forests.
Pine grosbeak are omnivores that feed on a variety of seeds, buds, fruits, and insects. The majority of their diet is composed of buds, seeds, and fruits from trees, such as spruce, pine, birch, and maple.
11. American Robin
Scientific Name: Turdus migratorius
Range: North America, Occasionally in Mexico
The American robin is a large songbird with a round body, long legs, and a long tail. They are gray above and orange-red underneath, with a black head. They also have a white throat and white patches around their eyes. This is one of the few species on this list where the males and females are similar in appearance.
The usual habitat for the American robin includes woodlands, suburban backyards, parks, and grasslands that contain shrubs. They can be found year-round in the United States but will occasionally migrate North for the Summer.
Depending on the season, American robins consume various insects, berries, and earthworms. Their diet contains mainly insects during the Summer, which changes to fruit and berries during the winter.
12. Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Scientific Name: Melanerpes carolinus
Range: Midwest and Eastern United States, Southern Canada
The red-bellied woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker that has black-and-white barring on the back and wings, a plain buffy breast and face, and red nape. Despite the name, the red plumage on their bellies is rarely seen. Instead, males have red plumage, which extends to their crown, and a white rump visible during the flight.
Their habitats include forested and suburban areas, usually in the presence of deciduous trees, where they’ll often nest in the trees’ cavities. Their range is slowly expanding northward. They’ll also visit feeders on occasion for suet.
Similar to other woodpeckers, the red-bellied woodpecker preys on many insects. They’ll also consume plant materials such as acorns, nuts, fruits, and seeds. Other occasional foods include tree frogs, other birds’ eggs, tree sap, and small fish.
13. Red-Headed Woodpecker
Scientific Name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Range: Midwest and Eastern United States, Southern Canada
The red-headed woodpecker is a stunning bird that consists of a bright crimson head, a black back, large white wing patches, and a white belly. The white patches don’t share the intricate patterns of other similar woodpeckers. Juveniles have brown heads.
Habitats for the red-headed woodpecker include open forests with clear understories, such as pine plantations and timber in beaver swamps. They may also visit the feeder sometimes.
Common dietary items for the red-headed woodpecker include seeds, corn, acorns, beechnuts, pecans, and different kinds of fruits. They will also visit feeders for suet during the winter.
14. Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
Scientific Name: Pheucticus ludovicianus
Range: North and Central America, Northern South America
The rose-breasted grosbeak is a common species of grosbeak that, for breeding adult males, consists of a black-and-white plumage with a red triangle on the breast. For females, juveniles, and nonbreeding males, their bodies are streakier with a bold head pattern. All variations have a thick and pale pink bill.
Preferred habitats for the rose-breasted grosbeak include deciduous and coniferous forests, semi-open fields, shrubs, thickets, gardens, and orchards. They’re able to live in both urban and rural areas.
The rose-breasted grosbeak is an omnivore whose diet consists mainly of insects, seeds, and berries. Half of their diet may be insects, such as beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and others. They may also consume buds and flowers on occasion.
Sexual selection has caused many of these birds to develop some of the most gorgeous appearances ones can find in nature. Though they made be bad at camouflage, they’re certain to have other ways to survive, so there’s no reason we should worry. Luckily for us, though, we’ll be able to spot most of these birds from a mile away (not literally).