5 Black Birds with Red Head

Scarlet feathers on some black birds makes them instantly recognizable. Who doesn’t know the Red-headed Woodpecker, for example?

The red plumage on several species of birds has long been the subject of study for ornithologists. It turns out that the scarlet feathers are produced by a genetic mutation.

Molecules called carotenoids are responsible for producing a yellow pigment in feathers and some birds have a genetic mutation that makes them able to transform said carotenoids into red pigment.

Red plumage has been observed to help male birds to attract mates and protect their territories.

Below, I’ll be discussing the most iconic black birds with a red head:

Red-Headed Woodpecker

You may not have seen a Red-headed Woodpecker, but you’ve most certainly heard one chiseling away at trees in the forest and even on trees in your backyard.

This medium-sized bird, with a rounded head and a powerful, spike-like beak sports a red feathered head, white belly, black back and large, white patches on its wings.

As for their habitat, Red-headed Woodpeckers are found in temperate North America. They prefer pine forests and other forests with clear understories.

Their pecking is linked to their appetite for insects, which they can source either by hammering away at the bark of trees or catching insects in flight or on the ground.

Apart from insects, the Red-headed Woodpecker also feeds on seeds, grains, berries, fruit, and nuts. It may even sample small rodents or the eggs of other birds.

The Red-headed Woodpecker is known to store food under the bark of trees, under roof shingles, or cracks in wood.

Another interesting thing about them is that they’re territorial birds and will go as far as to remove or destroy eggs and nests of other bird species.

Red-Headed Finch

A chunky bird with a heavy beak, the male Red-headed Finch features an unmistakably red head, while the female’s head is a brownish gray.

The plumage on the belly of this bird features white and black stripes, while the rest of the body is grayish brown.

The Red-headed Finch is found in South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Lesotho. It’s often seen on dry savannahs. It’s a ground-feeder bird that feeds on seed and insects and has a distinctive call.

You can often notice these birds at waterholes, which they visit often. They feed and drink companionably with other species.

Red-Crested Cardinal

Possibly the most impressive bird with a red head, the Red-Crested Cardinal is native to several countries in South America including Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, the Rio Grande do Sul state in Brazil and Pantanal’s southern region.

The Red-crested Cardinal has also been introduced to other places as well including Chile, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

The bird can be found in tropical and subtropical shrublands, enjoying areas close to marshes, rivers, and lakes.

Apart from the red head, this songbird also features white underpants and a grayish black back. The head of the Red-Crested Cardinal is adorned with a crested feather, hence the name of the bird.

As for its diet, the bird eats insects, seeds, and fruit.

Red-Faced Warbler

Photo by Dominic Sherony CC BY-SA 2.0

A small bird that’s only around 5.5 inches long, the Red-faced Warbler has bright red plumage on its upper breast, face and neck. Other parts of the plumage feature black, on the crown and sides of the head, and gray or white-speckled gray on the belly and wings.

They’re found in coniferous and oak forests at an elevation of 6,600-9,800 ft above sea level.

In summer they’re found in northern Mexico and the states of Arizona and New Mexico. During winter they migrate south to Central American nations.

The Red-faced Warbler is a foliage gleaner feeding on insects that they find in the foliage of the trees or which they catch in mid-air.

A trait that I found peculiar in these birds is the fact that they move their long tail sideways when feeding.

They construct their small, cup-shaped nests from leaves, pine needles, and grass. You’d think that they might build their nests on the trees like other warblers, but it turns out they prefer hiding their nests on the forest floor, sheltered under a log or buried in the ground.

Pileated Woodpecker

Larger than the Red-headed woodpecker, the Pileated woodpecker is a large bird, nearly the size of an American Crow.  It’s one of the largest woodpeckers in North America and the third largest in the world.

The black feathers on its body might induce you to think you’re spotting a crow. However, the flaming-red crest in its head and the black and white stripes on the neck will unmistakably indicate that you’re, in fact, looking at a Pileated woodpecker. The underwings of the Pileated woodpecker are also white.

As forest birds, they prefer forests with large trees and downed wood. They can be found in evergreen, deciduous, or mixed forests. They can and sometimes will venture to partially wooded suburbs and backyards.

They build their nests high in the trees and they’re territorial throughout the breeding season but will tolerate other species during winter.

Their main prey is carpenter ants, hence their habit of hammering away at dead trees and fallen logs. Due to this activity, they leave rectangular holes in the wood, which serve as valuable nesting spots for a variety of bird species including owls and swifts.

Because of the damage they can inflict on trees, especially slender ones, it’s not uncommon for trees to break in half after a Pileated woodpecker makes its visit.


Whether for attracting mates or fending off other bird species, it’s unquestionable that birds with scarlet crests or fire-engine red feathers on their heads are extremely attractive.

They’re usually easy to spot because of their peculiar coloring, but also because of their singing, and in the case of woodpeckers, because of their feeding habits when they merrily whack away at forest trees.

Some of these birds are highly adaptable like the Pileated woodpeckers, others can face a decline in population due to extensive habitat loss (e.g., Red-headed woodpecker).

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