The color of a bird’s plumage is critical for many reasons. Birders frequently use color and markings to identify a bird, and birds have excellent color vision that helps them select a mate or repel an intruder. Brighter plumage often signals strength and good health, and many birds complete annual molts prior to the breeding season to refresh their colors in the hopes of attracting the most desirable mate.
Of all colors, red is one of the most vibrant and easily seen shades, and there are many beautiful red birds throughout the world. The species represented here are the reddest, most colorful birds on the globe, and each one would be a colorful addition to any birder’s life list.
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The northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is one of the most familiar red songbirds in North America, so familiar that it has been honored as the state bird of seven states. Male northern cardinals are brilliantly red all over with a contrasting black facial mask, and even the bill is red. Females are dull brown but show a distinct red tinge or wash over their plumage, particularly on the head, tail, and wings. These birds are particularly well known for their color because they do not turn a duller shade in different seasons. The bright red of a northern cardinal is often a welcome sight in winter backyards throughout the eastern, central, and southeastern United States, as well as eastern Mexico.Continue to 2 of 12 below.
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Most flycatchers are relatively dull and drab, but the vermilion flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus) is the most brilliantly colored specimen. Males have striking red underparts that contrast strongly with the brown back, tail, and wings, and may even seem to glow in bright sunlight. Females are less bold, but still have a red wash on their underparts that can be eye-catching. These birds can be found in the summer throughout Mexico and in parts of South America, with their range extending as far north as the southwestern edge of the United States. In winter, many populations migrate to Brazil or the Gulf coast of Mexico.Continue to 3 of 12 below.
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The summer tanager (Piranga rubra) is distinctive in that the males are almost purely red, without markings or patterns, though the wings may appear slightly darker. Females are also plain but a dull yellow instead of red, and both genders keep the same coloration throughout the year. Juvenile birds often show a curious mottling of the red and yellow plumage as they mature. These birds prefer treetops and tall forests, and can be found in the northeast and midwestern United States in the summer. In the winter, these birds migrate to tropical regions of Mexico and Central America.Continue to 4 of 12 below.
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The scarlet ibis (Eudocimus ruber) is one of the most brilliantly colored wading birds in the world, and both males and females show this bright plumage. Even these birds' legs and bills have a reddish hue, though they may appear duller reddish-gray in the non-breeding season. These wetland birds are native to coastal wetlands, swamps, and estuaries of northern South America from Venezuela to Brazil, but they are also popular residents of zoos and wildlife attractions throughout the world. The scarlet ibis is the national bird of Trinidad and Tobago.Continue to 5 of 12 below.
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The crimson rosella (Platycercus elegans) is a richly colored parrot native to southeastern Australia. While many parrot species have brilliant plumage, none have as striking red coloration than the boldly contrasting red, blue, and black patterns of this species. These bold colors are all the more stunning when the birds gather in large communal flocks for feeding. Both males and females show similar coloration, though males are generally larger.Continue to 6 of 12 below.
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Sunbirds are similar to hummingbirds in that they feed on insects and nectar, and their small size and impressive speed can turn them into a colorful blur. The crimson sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja) is only four inches long, but the male’s bright red plumage and electric blue markings make it instantly noticeable, no matter how small it may be. Females, however, have no red coloration and instead are a dull olive-green for better camouflage. This species is found in forests throughout southeast Asia and Indonesia.Continue to 7 of 12 below.
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The scarlet macaw (Ara macao) is one of the most familiar tropical birds and can be found in forests, jungles, and broken woodland of Central and South America. The red plumage with blue wings and yellow accents is unmistakable, and both male and female birds have similar coloration and markings. The most brilliant red is seen from underneath as these birds fly, however, when they appear solidly red. While wild numbers of scarlet macaws are declining in many areas because of trapping and poaching, these are familiar birds in zoos and aviaries around the world.Continue to 8 of 12 below.
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The pine grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator) is a common winter finch found in boreal and taiga habitats throughout the northern regions of Canada, Scandinavia, and Siberia. These bold raspberry red birds have regular irruption years when large populations will extend much further south than usual, bringing a burst of color to many yards. It's important to note that only the males are red, however. Females are a dull yellow instead, which helps hide them while nesting.Continue to 9 of 12 below.
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The red-billed firefinch (Lagonosticta senegala) is aptly named for its fiery plumage and matching red bill and eye. The bird’s only distinctive marking, other than slightly duller color on the wings, is its brilliantly yellow eye ring, and even the legs and feet are red. Female birds lack the red coloration and instead are a more camouflaged olive yellow. These birds can be found throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and are common in mixed flocks near urban and suburban areas.Continue to 10 of 12 below.
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The painted bunting (Passerina ciris) not only has a brilliant red chin, chest, abdomen, and rump, but the rest of its plumage is similarly bold in shades of green, yellow, and blue. As with most brightly colored species, however, females are much plainer and lack the bright colors of the male. Instead, females are an allover yellow-green. Painted buntings can be found year-round in the southern United States as well as throughout coastal Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean during the winter months.Continue to 11 of 12 below.
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The Cassin’s finch (Carpodacus cassinii) is a boldly colored finch of the mountains of western North America. While these birds do not have the strong allover red color of many other red birds, they are a perfect example of a color “wash” that adds an instantly recognizable tinge to a bird’s plumage. Cassin’s finches, which are named for John Cassin, do have a bright red cap, and the red wash continues over the head, cheeks, chest, and flanks. Females lack all the red coloration, however, but are boldly streaked with buff and brown.Continue to 12 of 12 below.
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For some birds, while their plumage may not be entirely red, specific red markings are their most noticeable feature. The red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) is a prime example, with the bold red head, chest, and upper throat standing out against the bird’s neutral black and white back, wings, and abdomen. Both males and females share this bold coloration. These woodpeckers are bright spots of color in the eastern and central United States, as well as the southern edge of central and eastern Canada.