Did you see a RED bird in California?
If so, I’m sure you’re wondering what type of bird it was! Luckily, you can use the guide below to help you figure it out!
There are 10 birds in California that are considered “red.”
For the purpose of this article, I included primarily red and partially red birds.
Fortunately, many species of RED birds visit bird feeders, so you have a chance of attracting them to your yard. If you’re incredibly fortunate, you may even see one at my bird feeding station right now!
I have a LIVE high-definition camera watching my bird feeders 24/7. 🙂
#1. Northern Cardinal
- Cardinalis cardinalis
- Males are a stunning red with a black mask and throat.
- Females are pale orangish-brown with red on their crest, wings, and tail.
- Both sexes have a crest on their head and a short, thick bill perfect for cracking seeds.
Without a doubt, the Northern Cardinal is one of the most popular and recognizable RED birds in California. They are not only beautifully colored, but they are common to see at bird feeders!
Northern Cardinal Range Map
And with a bit of practice, it’s easy to identify Northern Cardinals by their songs and sounds. Interestingly, unlike most other songbirds in California, even females sing.
- The most common song you will probably hear is a series of clear whistled melodies that sound like the bird is saying “birdie-birdie-birdie” or “cheer-cheer-cheer.” (Listen below!)
#2. House Finch
- Haemorhous mexicanus
- Males are rosy red around their heads and upper breasts. They have brown streaks on their back, tail, and belly.
- Females are brown with streaks on their back, tail, and belly.
- Both sexes have notched tails and conical beaks designed to eat seeds.
It’s common to see these red birds in California near people.
Look for them around buildings, backyards, parks, and other urban and suburban areas. As you can see, only males are red.
House Finch Range Map
House Finches are often the first birds to discover new bird feeders. These birds are intensely curious and rarely travel alone, so their arrival often helps other birds find your feeders too! I see them eating sunflower seed, Nyjer seed, and safflower in my yard.
House Finches have an enjoyable song, which can be heard year-round. Listen below to a series of jumbled, warbled notes.
#3. American Robin
- Turdus migratorius
- A beautiful thrush that features a rusty red breast and a dark head and back.
- Look for a white throat and white splotches around the eyes.
- Both sexes are similar, except that females appear paler.
American Robins are one of the most familiar red birds in California!
Although I think their breast looks orange, many others consider it rusty red.
They inhabit a wide variety of habitats and naturally are found everywhere, from forests to the tundra. But these thrushes are comfortable around people and are common to see in backyards.
American Robin Range Map
Even though they’re abundant, American Robins rarely visit bird feeders because they don’t eat seeds. Instead, their diet consists of invertebrates (worms, insects, snails) and fruit. For example, I see robins frequently in my backyard, pulling up earthworms in the grass!
These red birds also commonly nest near people. Look for an open, cup-shaped nest with 3-5 beautiful, distinctive sky blue eggs.
American Robins sing a string of clear whistles, a familiar sound in spring. Many people describe its song as sounding like the bird is saying, “cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up.” Listen below.
#4. Summer Tanager
- Piranga rubra
- Medium-sized bird with a blunt bill.
- Males are brilliant red with a fuller body a larger head, and a shorter bill.
- Females are medium-sized with yellow bodies, greenish on the back and wings, with a longer bill.
Summer Tanager males are one of the few COMPLETELY red birds in California.
This species is found high among treetops searching for flying insects. They also move slowly through the tree, and on the branches hunting for insects.
Look for this bird in open oak, hickory, or mixed oak-pine woodlands. You can also find this tanager in orchards, parks, or along roadsides.
Summer Tanager Range Map
Believe it or not, Summer Tanagers eat bees and wasps!
How do they not get stung? Once caught, these red birds beat their victim against a branch before eating it, so they’re less likely to suffer an injury.
Summer Tanager males sing a song with variations but typically consists of five or more parts with two to four notes. Listen below.
#5. Pine Grosbeak
- Pinicola enucleator
- Large, plump finches. Look for dark gray wings with two white lines across the middle.
- Males are reddish-pink and gray.
- Females and young males are grayish with reddish-orange or yellow tints on the head and rump.
These red birds are one of the largest finches in California!
If one lands on your feeder, they’re typically easy to identify since they’re bigger than most other birds.
Pine Grosbeaks frequently visit feeders, especially during the winter. If you want to attract them, try using a hopper or platform feeder because of the bird’s larger size. Fill the feeders with sunflower seeds.
Pine Grossbeak Range Map
Male Pine Grosbeaks sing a high-pitched warble that goes up and down. Listen below! Females don’t sing very often.
#6. Purple Finch
- Haemorhous purpureus
- Small, with a conical seed-eating bill.
- Males have a raspberry red head, breast, and back.
- Females have prominent streaks of white and brown below, with strong facial markings, including a whitish eyebrow and a dark line down the side of the throat.
Males are described as looking like they were dipped in raspberry juice.
Look for these beautiful red birds to visit feeders in California, especially during winter. Your best chance to attract them is using black-oil sunflower seeds. Having conifer trees in your yard is also a great way to encourage these finches to visit.
Purple Finch Range Map
Purple Finches can be challenging to identify because they look incredibly similar to the more common House Finch. I’ve made this mistake many times, believing that I saw a Purple Finch when it was, in fact, just another House Finch. To tell them apart, look at their back. The Purple Finch’s back has red coloring, while the back of a House Finch has none.
Males sing a rich, musical warble. Listen below!
#7. Red Crossbill
- Loxia curvirostra
- Sparrow-sized. Look for their distinctive crisscrossed bills (which means the upper and lower tips of their beak don’t align; they cross, like crossing your fingers)
- Males are red overall with darker brownish-red wings and white wing bars.
- Females are full-bodied and yellowish with dark unmarked wings.
As their name suggests, Red Crossbills have crisscrossed bills, similar to if you cross your fingers. They adapted these oddly shaped bills to help them break into tightly closed cones, giving them an advantage over other red bird species in California.
They’re found in large coniferous forests during their breeding season, mainly spruce, pine, Douglas-fir, hemlock, or larch with recent cone crops. But in winter, they wander wherever they need to go to find food. While not incredibly common, these red birds will sometimes visit bird feeders in California and eat sunflower seeds.
Red Crossbill Range Map
Red Crossbills are highly dependent on conifer seeds. They even feed them to their babies instead of insects like most other songbirds. These finches typically breed in late summer but can breed any time during the year if a large enough cone crop is available.
Males sing a variably sweet warble, which sounds like “chipa-chipa-chipa, chee-chee-chee.”Females rarely sing, but call notes are sharp and metallic.
#8. Red-naped Sapsucker
- Sphyrapicus nuchalis
These woodpeckers have black bodies, a white vertical stripe down the wing, and a red crown. Male birds have a red throat and red nape (back of the neck). Females also have a red throat, but there’s also a small white patch just under the bill, and their nape can be white or red.
Red-naped Sapsucker Range Map
Red-naped Sapsuckers are commonly found near aspen, birch, and willow trees. Look for their presence by examining these trees for tiny drilled holes.
To slurp up sap, these migratory woodpeckers have a specialized tongue. Believe it or not, they have stiff hairs on the ends, which helps drink the sap more effectively. The sap wells they create are vital to them, and they spend much of their time defending them from other birds.
The most common sound you’ll hear is a harsh, repeated “waah.” Some people think they sound like a small child crying.
#9. Hepatic Tanager
- Piranga flava
- Males are medium-size, red overall with gray-streaked on their back and wings. Their bill is long and silver.
- Females are a greenish tint of yellow with gray cheeks. They have dark gray bills and legs.
Typically, you’ll find these red birds in California in pinewood or mixed forests. A forest canopy thick with vegetation is a perfect place for nesting.
Hepatic Tanager Range Map
Hepatic Tanagers enjoy hopping through trees and shrubs, searching for food such as insects. They’ll usually feed in pairs or groups.
This bird’s songs are a series of rich, slurred, whistled notes with short pauses. Listen below.
#10. Red-breasted Sapsucker
- Sphyrapicus ruber
Red-breasted Sapsuckers are found in California in coniferous forests, typically at lower elevations. Look for a medium-sized bird with a red head and breast and a white spot in front of the eye.
Red-breasted Sapsucker Range Map
As the name suggests, sapsuckers drill wells into trees to eat the sugary liquid that leaks out. Their favorite trees are willows and birches. In addition to sap, these woodpeckers also eat insects and some fruits.
Interestingly, Rufous Hummingbirds tend to follow Red-breasted Sapsuckers around. These tiny birds enjoy feeding on the flowing sap that the sapsuckers create and are even known to nest near the sap wells.
Their call is a harsh, slurred “whee-ur” or “mew.”
Do you need additional help identifying a red bird you have seen?
If so, this field guide should be able to help you.
Which of these red birds have you seen before in California?
Leave a comment below!
The range maps above were generously shared with permission from The Birds Of The World, published by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!