13 Types Of SMALL RED BIRDS (ID Guide With Photos)

Did you recently come across a small red-colored bird in your backyard, and want to know what species it was?

Identifying small birds that are red is not as easy as it might seem, since there are surprisingly many types of birds in North America that fit this description.

To help you identify the bird you saw, we’ll cover the most common small red birds of North America in this article.

Types of small red birds

What are the types of small red birds in North America?

There are 13 types of small red colored birds in North America, which are covered in full detail below.

Northern Cardinal

Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis

Photo of Northern Cardinal

As the state bird of no less than seven US states, the Northern Cardinal is the most well known red bird of North America.

Male Northern Cardinals have a bright crimson coloration on their head, chest, and belly, and slightly darker plumage on their back and wing feathers.

In addition, their face has a black mask extending from the brightly colored bill to the throat.

The Northern Cardinal is a common bird in large parts of the eastern United States, and can be seen year round in backyards, gardens, small forests, and parks.

House Finch

Scientific name: Haemorhous mexicanus

Photo of House Finch adult male

House Finches are common birds throughout North America, and are mostly found in settled areas, ranging from rural towns to large metropolitan centers.

Adult male House Finches can be identified by their vibrant red head and breast, although in some cases they are slightly more orange or yellowish in color.

The females lack any red feathers, and instead have grayish streaks on a brown background.

The House Finch was originally a western bird, and it wasn’t until the 1940s that this small bird was discovered in New York and other places on the east coast of the US.

These small finches are the most common red birds In North America

The eastern House Finch population began to grow in the 1950s and 60s, and by the year 2000, it had expanded so far west that it connected with the original western population.

The House Finch is entirely herbivorous, and feeds on seeds, buds, and fruits.

If you set up a backyard feeder, you can expect House Finches to be among the first birds to visit it.  

The House Finch is found in the US all year round, and while it is not a migratory bird, it does move to areas with more food outside of the breeding season.

Scarlet Tanager

Scientific name: Piranga olivacea

Photo of Scarlet Tanager

The Scarlet Tanager is a bird with a tropical appearance, due to the bright scarlet plumage of the males, which contrasts with their coal-black wings and tail feathers.

But unlike the almost entirely red body of the male, the female has a more drab appearance, and looks like a small yellowish bird.

This red bird is a summer visitor to North America, and spends its winter in Central and South America.

Both sexes sing a similar song in order to mark and defend their territory from other tanagers. 

These black and red songbirds are insectivores, and feed on spiders and flying insects (including bees and wasps) high up in tree canopies.

Summer Tanager

Scientific name: Piranga rubra

Photo of Summer Tanager

The Summer Tanager is a beautiful and alluring songbird of the southeastern United States with a peaked crown.

Adult male Summer Tanagers have entirely bright red plumage, although they have slightly darker feathers on their wings.

It can be hard to observe Summer Tanagers, since they like to forage high in the treetops of deciduous and mixed forests.

In contrast to males, females and immatures are buff yellow, although they sometimes have a few patches of orange. 

The Summer Tanager is a summer visitor and breeding species in southeastern states, and can be seen here from May through August. 

This red bird is strictly migratory, and leaves the United States in the fall to spend the cold season in Mexico and Central America.

Hepatic Tanager

Scientific name: Piranga flava

Photo of Hepatic Tanager adult male

The Hepatic Tanager is a brightly colored songbird that resembles the Summer Tanager.

Adult males are mostly scarlet, with gray undertones behind their eyes and on their back, and this gray coloration distinguishes them from males of the Summer Tanager. 

Females, immature males, and juveniles, on the other hand, are more yellow with a grayish color on their ear coverts and back.

If you’re lucky, you might be able to glimpse them in southwestern USA from May through August. They spend the remainder of the year in Mexico or Central America. 

And although these small birds are not particularly shy, their colors mix in so perfectly with the foliage that they can be difficult to spot.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Scientific name: Pyrocephalus obscurus

Photo of Vermillion Flycatcher adult male

The Vermilion Flycatcher is one of the most beautiful songbirds that can be seen in North America.

Adult males have a bright crimson underside, throat, and crown, while the rest of their body is black.

Females and immatures, on the other hand, are grayish brown on top, and pale underparts. 

It is a strict migratory bird, with most Vermilion Flycatchers migrating to Central America to spend the winter, with only a handful of individuals remaining in North America during the cold season.

The preferred habitat of the Vermilion Flycatcher is open woodland and parks in areas close to water.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Scientific name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Photo of Red-headed Woodpecker

The Red-headed Woodpecker is one of the few non-dimorphic woodpeckers, which means that males and females look alike.

Red-headed Woodpeckers are black and white woodpeckers with a red head. While their back is uniformly black, thay have a white chest, rump and belly, as well as black wings and a black tail. The bill and legs are gray.

This woodpecker favors wide-open deciduous or coniferous forest habitats, or forests with plenty of dead or rotten limbs.

It may use the same nest cavity for multiple years in a succession, in contrast to other woodpeckers that only use them once or for a small period of time.

This woodpecker used to be common throughout North America, but the population has unfortunately declined by more than 90 percent, and it is now a rare sight in most areas.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus

Photo of Red-bellied Woodpecker

The Red-bellied Woodpecker has a black-and-white “Zebra” pattern on its back, as well as a white rump.

Males have a striking red crown that goes all the way down to the base of the neck. Both sexes look similar, but the female lacks the bright cap on its head.

This woodpecker favors shady woodlands, forest edges and backyards with old trees.

During winter, this small red headed woodpecker stores berries and acorns in tree crevices and cracks. Every year, the Red-bellied Woodpecker excavates a new nest below the previous one in the same tree.

Red Crossbill

Scientific name: Loxia curvirostra

Photo of Red Crossbill

These small songbirds get their name from their distinctive bills, which resemble a bent pair of scissors with their points crossed.

Adult males have a distinctive red head, underside, and rump, while their wings and back are dark brown

Females and immature Red Crossbills are more inconspicuous, and are olive-colored with reddish streaks on their flanks and belly.

Red crossbills are able to harvest seeds from pine cones by cutting through the scales of the cones with their crossbill. 

They will use their feet to keep the cones pinned down while they use their tongues to pick the seeds out of the cones and then eat them.

These red birds breed in Canada and northern parts of the USA, and only show up as winter visitors in more southern states. 

The breeding season of these crossbills is timed to coincide with ripening of pine or spruce cones, and can sometimes start as early as February.

Purple Finch

Scientific name: Haemorhous purpureus

Photo of Purple Finch

The Purple Finch is a little songbird with a compact body, a conical beak, and a red head that is disproportionately larger than its body.

The heads and breasts of adult males are a deep shade of raspberry red, while the backs of their bodies are streaked with raspberry and brown. The flanks are cream colored with pink streaks.

Birds from the eastern part of the range have a white belly, whereas birds from the western part of the range have a gray belly.

The upperparts of females and immature birds are streaked with a grayish brown, while the underparts are a light cream color with brown streaks.

During the months of May through August, the Purple Finch is found breeding in northern parts of North America.

During the winter, however, these birds migrate south and spend the cold months in the eastern United States.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Scientific name: Pheucticus ludovicianus

Photo of Rose-breasted Grosbeak

The Rose-breasted Grosbeak is easily identifiable due to its distinct black and scarlet markings and its large beak.

During the summer, adult males have a scarlet chest, which contrasts with their jet black hood and back. Their black wings have white patches and white wing bars. 

Adult females and immature birds, on the other hand, have streaked brown plumage that is lighter on the underside than on the back. They also have a white eyebrow stripe and white wingbar.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are summer visitors in northern North America from May through August.

This small songbird is migratory, and flies to Central America to spend the winter months. Similar to other crossbill species, it specializes in feeding on the seeds of conifer cones.

Pine Grosbeak

Scientific name: Pinicola enucleator

Photo of Pine Grosbeak adult male

The Pine Grosbeak is a small red songbird with black wings and a short and stubby bill.

The adult males are raspberry colored with varying amounts of gray on their sides and bellies. The tail and the wings are black with two white wing bars.

This black bird with a red chest breeds in the mountainous regions of North America, where it is a year-round resident.

Common Redpoll

Scientific name: Acanthis flammea

Photo of Common Redpoll adult male

The Common Redpoll is a small finch of northern forests. It is a breeding bird throughout Canada, and is a winter visitor in the US, where it is more common during irruptive years.

Adult males have a gray-brown head with a crimson forehead, as well as a pinkish red underparts and flanks.

Female Common Redpolls are less colorful, but they also have a red forehead. Both sexes have brown-gray upperparts with dark streaks.

This small bird favors boreal forests all the way north to the arctic. 

Outside of the breeding season this small bird forms small flocks that move around in search of areas with plentiful seeds.

Final remarks

In summary, here are the 13 types of small birds that are red:

  • Northern Cardinal
  • House Finch
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Summer Tanager
  • Hepatic Tanager
  • Vermilion Flycatcher
  • Red-headed Woodpecker
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Red Crossbill
  • Purple Finch
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Pine Grosbeak
  • Common Redpoll

If you’ve spotted one of these red birds, but aren’t sure which species it was, check our detailed ID guide with photos above.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our guide to the types of red birds in Texas.