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11 Red Birds in Maryland

red birds in maryland
Northern Cardinal in Allegany, Maryland: Photo by Ben McGrew

Introduction

From flashy cardinals to subtle ducks, a variety of striking red-hued birds make their homes in the Old Line State. Their fiery tones stand out brilliantly against Maryland’s canvas of forest, field, and waterways. Let’s explore some of the top red birds gracing the diverse landscapes of Maryland.

Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)

  • Features: This compact diving duck has rich reddish-brown plumage in the breeding season. The male has a sky-blue bill, puffy white cheek patches, and a stiff tail that sticks up. In winter, they appear drab gray-brown overall. 
  • Locations: Found year-round on Maryland’s coastal bays, rivers, and lakes. Nests in freshwater marshes. 
  • Fun Fact: Courting males slap their bill on the water and slap their cheeks with splayed tail feathers erected. 

Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja

  • Features: This large wading bird has bright pink plumage, a red lore spot between the eyes, and a long flat bill used to sift mud for food. Long legs and neck folded in flight.
  • Locations: Rare visitor found in coastal marshes and tidal flats. Occasionally breeds in Maryland’s coastal bays. 
  • Fun Fact: Sweeps its bill back and forth feeling for aquatic prey like shrimp, snails and small fish. Nest in mixed colonies with other waders.

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

  • Features: This woodpecker has a crimson red head, pale bill, black back and wings, and white belly and rump. Flight shows large white wing patches. Makes acorn-like caches of nuts in bark crevices. 
  • Locations: Found in open woodlands such as oak savannas, groves, golf courses, parks and agricultural areas in Maryland. 
  • Fun Fact: Hawks for flying insects from perches. Well-adapted to disturbance and fragmented habitats.

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

  • Features: This black and white barred woodpecker has rich red on the head and nape, with just a wash of pinkish on the belly. The black tail has white outer feathers seen in flight. Calls include a rolling “churr” and loud “kwirr.”
  • Locations: Found year-round in woodlands, groves, parks and residential areas across Maryland. 
  • Fun Fact: Stores food like acorns and nuts in bark crevices. Nest is a cavity excavated in a dead tree. 

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

  • Features: This familiar thrush has gray upperparts, black head, and bright reddish-orange underparts. The white eye rings and white spots on the tail tips are noticeable in flight. Sings a string of exuberant whistled phrases from high perches. 
  • Locations: Found statewide in lawns, parks, golf courses and most open habitats. Partial migrant, with northern birds wintering in Maryland.
  • Fun Fact: Males arrive early on breeding grounds to establish and defend nesting territories. Nest is an open cup of grass and mud.

House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus

  • Features: The male has a red head, breast and rump contrasting brown back and streaked underside. Females are brown overall with subtle striping. This finch has a conical beak for consuming seeds and fruit.
  • Locations: Found year-round in urban areas, parks, backyards, farms and orchards statewide.  
  • Fun Fact: Formerly native to the Southwest, but now widespread across North America after accidental introductions. Quite sociable at bird feeders.

Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus

  • Features: Males have deep magenta red plumage with slightly browner back and tail, and barring on the belly. Females are mostly streaked brown. More pointed beak than House Finch.
  • Locations: Found year-round in Maryland’s conifer and mixed forests. Visits feeders for sunflower seeds. 
  • Fun Fact: Breeds in northern forests, migrating south for winter. Males sing a warbled song mixing whistles, trills and buzzes.

Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra)

  • Features: The male is velvety crimson-red overall with a thick pointed bill. The female is yellowish-olive with darker wings and tail. Sits upright while foraging for bees and wasps.
  • Locations: Found breeding in Maryland’s mature open woodlands. Winters in South America. 
  • Fun Fact: The bright red male stands out against green forest as he sings a hoarse, buzzy “pi-tuck” song to defend his nesting territory. 

Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)

  • Features: The male has stunning vermilion red plumage with jet black wings. The female is olive-yellow with dusky wings. The pointed bill implies an insectivorous diet.  
  • Locations: Breeds high in the canopy of Maryland’s mature deciduous forests. Winters in South America.
  • Fun Fact: The male’s brightly colored plumage stands out against green foliage. Song is a different pattern of chipping notes than Summer Tanager.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

  • Features: The male is brilliant red overall with a piercing crest, black face, and heavy red conical bill. The female is pale brown with some red tinges in wings and tail. A frequent backyard visitor. 
  • Locations: Found year-round in woodland edges, thickets, parks, and feeders statewide.
  • Fun Fact: A year-round resident that proclaims its territory with loud metallic “cheer cheer” song phrases. Forms monogamous pair bonds.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus

  • Features: The male has a black head, back, and tail, with a red triangle on a white breast. The female is streaked brown and white overall. The thick seed-cracking bill gives clues to its diet.
  • Locations: Found breeding in woodland edges and visiting feeders statewide. Winters in South America. 
  • Fun Fact: The male sings a pleasant, warbled song often associated with the musical flute phrase “Three Blind Mice.”

Threats and Conservation 

Habitat loss poses significant threats, as development degrades forests and wetlands. Collisions with buildings and vehicles takes a toll. Cats kill millions of fledglings and migrants annually. Climate change may impact food supplies and migration timing.

Protecting a diversity of natural vegetation provides essential habitats. Reducing collisions through bird friendly architecture helps mitigate dangers to migratory species. Keeping pet cats indoors protects birds. Monitoring contributes to knowledge.

Citizen Science Opportunities

Maryland birders make key contributions:

  • Uploading eBird checklists tracks populations and informs conservation decisions. 
  • Nest box monitoring provides breeding success data.
  • Banding reveals migratory routes and life histories.
  • Participating in breeding bird atlases maps species distributions.
  • Annual Christmas Bird Counts tally wintering bird populations.
  • Outreach inspires future generations to value conservation.

Conclusion

From vibrant cardinals to subtle ducks, Maryland’s diverse red birds fill valuable niches in natural ecosystems. Protecting habitats and reducing collisions are key steps to ensure these flashes of color keep gracing the landscape for generations.