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11 Red Birds in Wisconsin

red birds in wisconsin
Scarlet Tanager in Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Photo by Lorri Howski

Introduction

Wisconsin’s diverse habitats from northern forests to urban parks host over 400 bird species in vital ecological roles. Among favorite backyard visitors, brilliant red cardinals, tanagers and finches provide color while controlling insects and dispersing seeds. This article explores stunning resident and migrating red birds in Wisconsin.

Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)

  • Features: This small diving duck shows rich reddish-brown breeding plumage with a crisp blue bill and bold white cheek patches. In winter, it appears gray-brown. 
  • Locations: Found year-round on Wisconsin lakes, reservoirs, rivers and ponds. Often floats low in the water. 
  • Fun Fact: The male thrashes his stiff tail and puffs cheek feathers during courtship displays while rhythmically beating his bill on his chest.

Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)  

  • Features: This lean raptor has a large white rump patch, black wingtips, and orange-red streaked undersides with dark wing bands. An owl-like facial disk directs sounds to ears to precisely locate prey while coursing over fields. 
  • Locations: Found year-round in Wisconsin’s open habitats like grasslands, marshes and agricultural fields. Nests on the ground.
  • Fun Fact: The male performs a dramatic circular sky dance, plunging repeatedly while calling to attract the female’s attention near the nesting site. 

Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)  

  • Features: A crow-sized forest accipiter with reddish barring on their long tails and vertically streaked white undersides used for disguise while ambushing small woodland birds that visit feeders. Orange eyes stand out.   
  • Locations: Found year-round breeding mostly across Wisconsin’s forested areas. Winters near backyard feeding stations. 
  • Fun Fact: The male makes a loud “kik-kik-kik” mating call from treetop perches during late winter and early spring.

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)  

  • Features: This woodpecker has vibrant red plumage on the head, throat and breast. Black and white barring on wings and back provides contrast. Makes a melodic squeaky call.
  • Locations: Found breeding in open woodlands, parks, groves and semi-rural areas across Wisconsin. 
  • Fun Fact: Stores acorns and nuts in tree cracks to recover later. Catches insects on the fly from high exposed perches.

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus 

  • Features: This common woodpecker has vivid red head plumage and “ladder-back” black and white wings. The red belly stripe is usually subtle. Makes a rolling “churr” call.
  • Locations: Found year-round in Wisconsin’s open and mature forests, suburbs, parks and backyards. 
  • Fun Fact: Both parents work together to excavate a nest cavity in dead trees, with the male taking the lead role while the female incubates eggs.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  

  • Features: This familiar red-breasted thrush has gray upperparts, black head, and rich orange belly, known for melodic whistle song phrases.  
  • Locations: Abundant year-round statewide from parks to backyards. Huge winter influxes arrive from farther north areas. 
  • Fun Fact: Early spring male returnees claim the best breeding territories with ample food to attract females who then construct secure mud-lined nests.

House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)   

  • Features: The House Finch male has strong red coloration on the head, breast and rump. Females are subtly brown-streaked. This sociable backyard finch has a lively musical song.
  • Locations: Found abundantly year-round statewide visiting bird feeders, farms, orchards and parks.
  • Fun Fact: Originally limited to the Southwest, these finches expanded east after escaped caged birds established around New York City then flourished.

Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus)  

  • Features: The Purple Finch male exhibits rosy-red head feathers fading downwards towards brown wings. Females show delicate streaking with few red markings. 
  • Locations: Year-round in northern Wisconsin’s conifer and mixed forests, wintering farther south after migrating down from Canada.
  • Fun Fact: The male sings a rich romantic warbling song sometimes sounding like human speech saying “Go get her caps and mitts!”

Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)  

  • Features: The Scarlet Tanager male has brilliant red body contrasting darker wings and tail. Females are yellowish-olive with darker wings. The male sings a repetitive staccato song.  
  • Locations: Breeds in Wisconsin’s mature deciduous forests. Winters in South America.
  • Fun Fact: The male eats certain carotenoid-rich insects and berries to achieve bright red breeding coloration, while the female builds a careful hidden nest out of plant materials.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)   

  • Features: The male Northern Cardinal boasts all red plumage with a black face mask and prominent crest. Females are more subtly reddish-brown with some crest highlighting. 
  • Locations: An abundant backyard visitor year-round statewide needing brushy semi-open habitats with small trees and feeders.
  • Fun Fact: Life-long mate pairs share wintering and breeding territories. The female hides her woven cup nest low inside dense shrubs to nurture eggs and nestlings while the flashy male sings loudly and guards the vicinity. 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)  

  • Features: The male has black and white plumage with a bright pink triangle on the breast. Females are brown-striped overall with strong conical beak suited for seeds. Beautiful song.
  • Locations: Found breeding in open woodlands and visiting feeders statewide. Winters in South America.  
  • Fun Fact: The male sings exuberant flute-like phrases often interpreted as saying “Three Blind Mice” reminding birders to put seed out. 

Threats and Conservation   

Habitat degradation with development pressures poses serious threats for red bird populations dependent on mature forests and wetlands across Wisconsin. Careful habitat stewardship, building bird-friendly architecture, and policy protections can help stabilize threatened species. 

Citizen Science and Stewardship

Wisconsin birders and researchers contribute conservation data:

  • Uploading checklists to platforms such as eBird 
  • Participating in breeding bird atlas projects mapping nest locations  
  • Building nest boxes providing alternative cavities  
  • Banding birds revealing migratory habits and survivorship
  • Conducting annual Christmas Bird Counts tallying wintering bird numbers
  • Educating others to promote appreciation and inspire habitat conservation

Conclusion

Wisconsin sustains awesome bird diversity with over 400 nesting and migrating species playing vital ecological roles. Protecting essential habitats remains crucial to ensure the state’s dazzling red birds from woodpeckers to iconic cardinals keep brightening backyards and landscapes into the future through thoughtful conservation policy and persistent stewardship efforts.