7 Small Red Backyard Birds

The pigments responsible for coloring the plumage of some red birds are said to be the result of a genetic mutation.

The scarlet plumage is an important asset for these birds – it can help them defend their territories and in mating.

Vermilion Flycatcher

An avid hawker of flying insects, the Vermilion Flycatcher is a small bird, measuring only 5.1–5.5 inches from tip to tail.

The bird can be found in most of Central America and much of South America. In the U.S., the Vermilion Flycatcher can be spotted in the southwestern part.

The adult male is the more spectacular one, sporting a flaming red underside, belly, chest, throat and crest. The wings and back are brownish gray.

The female Vermilion Flycatcher is missing the flaming-red crest and has salmon red underpants.

Because of their preference for open areas, you’re bound to come across these flycatchers in shrubby savannahs, riparian forests, and agricultural areas. During the breeding season, they can also be found in cottonwood or mesquite tree canopies.

If you live near these areas or have vegetation in your backyard similar to those that these birds enjoy, you may be lucky to enjoy the presence of this firecracker of a bird in your garden.

As for nesting, it’s the male that chooses the nesting site, whereas the female is tasked with the building of the nest.

They build shallow cup-like nests using soft materials, small twigs, feathers, lichen, animal fur, and even spiderwebs to bind the nest together.

Their diet is entirely insect-based, feeding on flying insects but also grasshoppers and beetles.


A bulky bird whose features remind of a bull, starting with its stubby bill, the Bullfinch has a red throat, chest and belly. Its cheeks and head are glossy black, while its back is covered in light gray plumage. The wings are also black with gray wing bars.

Although the Bullfinch will visit orchards, gardens, parks, and mixed woodlands, you’ll need to head to Europe and temperate Asia to spot one.

If you’re from these regions, you might already resent the Bullfinch because it often feeds on buds and seeds of fruit trees. This makes the Bullfinch a pest in several areas.

Besides their preference for fruit orchards, the Bullfinch also feeds insects to its young. They rarely visit feeders but putting millet, kale, and quinoa in a bird feeder might attract them to your yard.

Bullfinches favor mixed woodland for breeding. In winter, they migrate to the southern parts of Europe, favoring the warmer climate.

In terms of its singing, the Bullfinch is unobtrusive, its singing can be heard only at close range. Interestingly, tamed Bullfinches can be taught to repeat certain melodies.

Unfortunately, Bullfinches raised in captivity will lose their bright red colors.

Summer Tanager

A medium-sized songbird with plumage and vocalizations similar to birds in the Cardinal family, the Summer Tanager lives up to its illustrative name.

Its plumage is strawberry red with faint dark streaks on its wings and cheeks. It’s believed to be the only completely red bird in North America.

For their breeding habitat, Summer Tanagers choose open wooded areas – oaks, in particular – in the southern United States. In winter, they migrate to northern South America and Central America.

The Summer Tanager is a bee and wasp connoisseur, feeding on both these insects, surprisingly without being stung by them.

The reason why the Summer Tanager won’t be harmed by these insects has to do with the way it handles them before eating them – it catches them mid-flight, then kills them by beating them to the branch. Once that’s done, the Summer Tanager actually rubs the insect to the branch to remove the stinger.

Besides a diet high in insects, the Summer Tanager also enjoys berries. In its winter quarters, Summer Tanagers forage for fruit on a type of tree, the Cymbopetalum mayanum.

These trees are often planted in residential areas, attracting Summer Tanagers to these human-altered habitats.

Red Crossbill

Another small backyard bird that may grace your garden or orchard with its presence is the Red Crossbill. That’s because it feeds on seeds, especially conifer seeds.

Besides the red-orange plumage of the male of the species, there’s another feature worth mentioning – the crossbill. Thanks to the way it’s shaped, this bird can easily get into tightly closed cones and forage for seeds.

It can be found in conifer forests across North America and Eurasia, but it will wander far beyond its normal range in search of food. This phenomenon is called ‘irruption’ and it explains why they show up in evergreen forests elsewhere.

The plumage of the Red Crossbill is not entirely red – its wings and face are light brown. The female is a green yellow with brown wings.

Red Crossbills are so reliant on pine seeds, they will feed it to their young as well. When they find an abundant source of pine seeds, they’ll breed regardless of season (e.g., they may breed in winter too if food is available).

They build their nests on an outside branch of a conifer tree and around 10-40 feet above the ground. The female Red Crossbill builds the nest and relies on the male for feeding during the incubation period.

The nest has an open cup shape, it’s made of twigs and grass and various other soft materials used for lining it such as feathers, moss, and hair.

Scarlet Tanager

Possibly my favorite on this list of small red backyard birds, the Scarlet Tanager has a stocky build with a large, broad head, short tail, and a rounded, thick bill.

Its plumage is scarlet red with wings and tails in a dark black color. Its eyes are also a beady black. The female Scarlet Tanager is olive yellow with wings colored a darker shade.

During the breeding season, the Scarlet Tanager feeds mainly on insects. It consumes a varied list of insects including wasps, ants, bees, moths, butterflies, scale insects, grasshoppers, spiders, and even snails.

In its wintering grounds, it also feeds on fruit, especially if the insect population is low. The Scarlet Tanager will feed on raspberries, blackberries, mulberries, strawberries, huckleberries, and chokeberries.

Scarlet Tanagers spend their breeding season in eastern North America and have their wintering grounds in northern South America.

There are several threats to the Scarlet tanager including cold exposure, starvation, predatory birds including blue jays, American grackles, and American crows.

For their breeding habitat, they prefer deciduous forests, especially oaks. They may also wander to suburban areas planted with shade trees as well as parks and cemeteries.

Hepatic Tanager

Hepatic tanagers can be found throughout most of Central and South America and the south-westernmost parts of North America.

With dimensions between a sparrow and a robin, the Hepatic Tanager has a length of 3.5-7.9 inches and a weight of only 0.8-1.7 oz.

Males have brick red bellies and heads with grayish wings and ear patches. Females are yellowish with olive yellow backs and wings and dusty ear patches.

They prefer pine and pine-oak woodlands both as their breeding and wintering grounds. They’re foliage gleaners and their diet is made up of insects, which they often catch mid-air.

Northern Cardinal

The flaming red colors the male Northern Cardinal wears will immediately capture your attention. Even the female’s plumage features an interesting shade of red, although more subdued than the male’s plumage.

You can identify the Northern Cardinal easily by the iconic crest on its head along with the black mask in its face. This mask is gray on the female cardinal.

As for its breeding habitat, the Northern Cardinal chooses open woodlands. It’s not a migratory bird, so you can spot it year-round.

It’s a frequent visitor of bird feeders enjoying a variety of seed types. It particularly enjoys sunflower seeds. If your backyard has suitable nesting shrubs, the Northern Cardinal will not hesitate to build its nest on your property.

Northern cardinals are extremely territorial, often fighting off other birds. They can get so caught up in this territorial defense that they’ll often fight their own reflection in windows or car mirrors.

This behavior is most often observed in spring and early summer, the peak of their breeding season. After a couple of weeks, this aggressive behavior subsides.

Because it’s such an easily recognizable and beloved bird, the Northern Cardinal is actually the state bird of as many as seven states.


This concludes my overview of seven small red backyard birds. You may have seen that even when it comes to a single color, the diversity of shades found in these birds is remarkable.

Of all the birds in this article, the Summer Tanager is the only completely red one. The other red birds I mentioned have either black wings or darker colored wings, chests, heads or cheeks.

Most of these birds are migratory, with the Northern Cardinal being the only one that stays put even in winter, showing off their unmistakably red plumage in the white winter scenery.

You can encounter many of these red birds in your backyard, either because of your yard’s proximity to areas they inhabit or when you put bird feeders in your garden.

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