Did you see a RED bird in Illinois?
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 12 birds in Illinois 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 Illinois. 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 Illinois, 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 Illinois 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 Illinois!
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. Scarlet Tanager
- Piranga olivacea
- Stocky bird with a yellowish gray and dull tipped bill.
- Males are bright red contrasted against black wings and tails.
- Females and immature males have greenish-yellow bodies and dark wings and tails. Juvenile males have darker wings and tails.
Most people have never seen this red bird before in Illinois.
But, if you have, you’re one of the lucky ones! Scarlet Tanagers are hard to see because they live high up in the trees in the forest canopy. But, listening to their distinct song will help guide you to their location.
These red birds prefer deciduous forests, parks, pine-oak woodlands, and suburban areas with large, tall trees.
Scarlet Tanager Range Map
Scarlet Tanagers are strong fliers that, can migrate long distances in the fall and spring. To attract these red beauties, you need fruit bushes in your yard. Scarlet Tanagers don’t eat from feeders. Instead, they prefer fruit-bearing plants like blackberries, mulberries, raspberries, juneberries, and strawberries.
Their song is a series of short blended whistling notes that alternates high and low pitches. Both sexes give a call note that sounds like they’re saying “chick-burr,” a dead giveaway you’re hearing a Scarlet Tanager.
#5. 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 Illinois.
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.
#6. Common Redpoll
- Acanthis flammea
- Both sexes are small, white, and brown. Look for streaks on their sides and a small red patch on their forehead.
- Males have a pale red vest on the chest and upper flanks.
These red birds visit backyard bird feeders in Illinois, especially during the winter. Due to their small bill size, they prefer eating tiny seeds like Nyjer (thistle) and shelled sunflower when visiting.
Common Redpoll Range Map
These red birds travel great distances and can turn up almost anywhere!
For example, one bird banded in Michigan showed up in Siberia. Another one in Belgium was found again in China!
#7. 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 Illinois, 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!
#8. 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 Illinois.
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 Illinois 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.
#9. Red-bellied Woodpecker
- Melanerpes carolinus
This woodpecker’s name can be confusing since their bellies don’t contain much red coloring other than a dark red wash.
Most of the red on the Red-bellied Woodpecker is on their head. In fact, the red coloring is the only way to tell males and females apart! This is because males have a bright red plumage that extends from their beaks to their necks, while females only have red on the back of their necks.
Red-bellied Woodpecker Range Map
These slightly red birds are a common sight at feeders in Illinois!
I see Red-bellied Woodpeckers almost daily in my backyard. They love eating peanuts, sunflower seeds, and suet (especially popular during the winter months).
Press PLAY below to hear a Red-bellied Woodpecker! Another great way to find this woodpecker is to learn its calls! It’s quite common to hear them in forests and wooded suburbs and parks. Listen for a rolling “churr-churr-churr.”
#10. Red-headed Woodpecker
- Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Red-headed Woodpeckers are characterized by a large red head and a larger bill than most other species. Their back is entirely black, except for white wing patches, which contrasts against the pure white belly. Because of their bold patterning, these birds are sometimes called the “flying checkerboard.” 🙂
Red-headed Woodpecker Range Map
Unfortunately, populations of Red-headed Woodpeckers have declined in Illinois by over 70% in the past 50 years! The main culprit is habitat loss due to the destruction of giant beech forests, which produce beechnuts, one of their favorite foods.
If you happen to find yourself in the correct habitat of these birds, be sure to listen for them! Their most common call is a shrill “tchur,” which sounds similar to a Red-bellied Woodpecker, except it’s a bit more higher-pitched and doesn’t roll as much.
#11. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
- Pheucticus ludovicianus
- Stocky birds with a large, triangular bill. About the size of an American Robin.
- Males have black backs and wings, with a distinctive red mark on their white breast.
- Females are heavily streaked with a white eyebrow and a pale bill.
It’s easy to see how these beautiful finches got their name. One look at the males, and you’ll immediately notice the bright red plumage topping their white breast. On the other hand, females can be hard to identify, as they look similar to many other birds.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak Range Map
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks like to visit bird feeders, where it uses its large triangular bill to crack open seeds. I’ve never seen one of these finches use a tube feeder; I don’t think the perches provide enough space for them. The best way to attract them is to set out sunflower seeds on a platform feeder.
These red birds are known for their beautiful song in Illinois. It sounds similar to an American Robin but better! Listen for a long series of notes that rise and fall. If you hear one, make sure to look for the male singing from an elevated perch.
#12. White-winged Crossbill
- Loxia leucoptera
- Crisscrossed bill–is used to separate pine cone scales to access the seeds.
- Males are rose-pink with black wings and tails. Look for two white lines of contrasting color across the middle of the wing.
- Females and young males are yellowish but with the same wing and tail pattern as the adult males.
White-winged Crossbills get their name from the shape of their bill! These finches evolved these unique beaks to open up pine cones so that they could eat the seeds inside.
Individual White-winged Crossbills can eat up to 3,000 conifer seeds each day. Some people can locate crossbills by hearing them crunching while opening cones in the trees.
White-winged Crossbill Range Map
You can sometimes attract these red birds to your backyard feeders in Illinois by offering hulled sunflower seeds.
Both sexes sing a mixture of vigorous and scattered chirps, warbles, and rattles. Listen below!
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 Illinois?
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!