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12 Red Birds in Georgia

red birds in georgia
Summer Tanager in Milledgeville, Georgia: Photo by Nathan Mixon

Introduction

The diverse habitats of Georgia, from coastal marshes to pine forests to backyard feeders, host a remarkable variety of birds exhibiting brilliant red plumage. From woodpeckers to tanagers, we’ll explore some eye-catching red species to observe across Georgia.

Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens

  • Features: A medium heron with a shaggy neck and bill. Plumage color ranges from dark to pale reddish-orange. It has a unique energetic feeding style, actively stirring up prey.
  • Locations: Found along the Georgia coast year-round, breeding in shallow lagoons and marshes. Population estimated at only about 5,000 pairs. 
  • Fun Fact: Morphs exist – dark individuals use umbrellalike shade to spot prey and white morphs run and stir with wings or feet. 

Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja)

  • Features: Large wading bird with pale pink plumage and bright orange tail coverts. Distinctive spatulate bill used for tactile feeding in shallow water. 
  • Locations: Rare local breeder in coastal Georgia, more common on wintering grounds in coastal marshes and lagoons. 
  • Fun Fact: Sweeps bill back and forth to catch small fish, shrimp, and insects. Nest is a platform in shrubs and small trees over water.

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

  • Features: Unmistakable woodpecker with entirely crimson head and neck. Mainly black body with large white wing patches. 
  • Locations: Found year-round in open woodlands, groves, and parks across Georgia. Cavity nester. Population has declined.
  • Fun Fact: Hawking insects in flight makes up large portion of diet. This woodpecker is very aggressive in defending nest sites.

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

  • Features: Crow-sized woodpecker with black plumage and bright red pointed crest. White stripes on face and black mustache.
  • Locations: Year-round resident across Georgia in mature forests. Drums loudly on trees and excavates deep nest cavities. 
  • Fun Fact: Feeds heavily on carpenter ants and wood-boring beetle larvae. Rotating head allows this bird to drill at any angle on a tree.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

  • Features: Familiar medium thrush with gray upperparts and head, contrasting reddish-orange underside and face. Yellow bill. Melodious spiraling song.
  • Locations: Abundant year-round across Georgia in urban areas as well as more open woodlands and fields.  
  • Fun Fact: Nests commonly on ledges or in nooks of human structures. Also nests in shrubs and trees.

House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus

  • Features: Small finch with brown streaked plumage, bright red forehead and brown crown. Female dull brown overall with buffy eyebrow. Gregarious at feeders.
  • Locations: Introduced exotic now found year-round across Georgia in urban areas, parks and on forest edges.  
  • Fun Fact: Originally a western species, house finches spread east after release from the pet trade and now very common. Male has elaborate, wavering song.

Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus)

  • Features: Distinctively shaped conical bill. Male is deep red head to breast with streaked brown back and tail. Female is uniform brown-gray with blurry head streaks.
  • Locations: Uncommon winter visitor across northern Georgia and sporadic breeding in the mountains. Breeds more commonly farther north. 
  • Fun Fact: Breeds in coniferous or mixed forests. Forages for seeds and buds in treetops. Melodic warbled song.

Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra

  • Features: Medium songbird with entirely crimson-red body and darker wings and tail. Heavy pointed bill. Unmusical chatters and buzzy phrases for song. 
  • Locations: Found during summer across Georgia in mature deciduous forests. Winters in the tropics.
  • Fun Fact: The male and brighter female share duties building a nest high in tree canopy. Eats bees and wasps encountered while foraging.

Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea

  • Features: Slightly smaller than summer tanager. Male is bright red with black wings and tail. Female is yellow-olive with darker wings.
  • Locations: Nests in summer across northern Georgia in deciduous and mixed coniferous forests. Winters in South America.  
  • Fun Fact: The male’s song is a relaxed, hoarse series of notes interspersed with brief buzzes. This tanager eats flying insects during aerial sallies.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

  • Features: One of our most recognized birds. Male is vivid red with a pointed crest and red bill. Female has buffy crest and red only in wings, tail and tri-lobed crest.
  • Locations: Year-round resident across Georgia. Found in diverse habitats with dense shrubbery, including residential areas. 
  • Fun Fact: Bright red color signals dominance and fitness. Mated pairs remain close throughout the year.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus

  • Features: Large songbird with big triangular bill. Male has black head, back and tail with deep rose-red triangle on breast. White patches in wings. 
  • Locations: Summer resident across northern Georgia. Winters in Central and South America. Forages in forest canopy.
  • Fun Fact: The subtler female builds an open-cup nest. Male sings exuberant, robin-like phrases from treetops. 

Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris)  

  • Features: Male is unmistakable with bright red underparts, green back, and blue head. Female is green above with yellow-green underparts. Thick finch-like bill.
  • Locations: Summer resident in scrub, thickets and forest edges in coastal and southwestern Georgia. Winters to tropics.
  • Fun Fact: Bright plumage colors are pigment-based, not from feather structures. Often sings from high bare perch. Nests low in dense shrubs. 

Threats and Conservation

Habitat loss and fragmentation affect many of Georgia’s specialized red bird species. Coastal species also face increased storm damage and sea level rise pressures. Conserving key remaining habitat areas and improving habitat connectivity through corridors can aid populations of these vulnerable species.

Citizen Science

Georgia birders contribute greatly to knowledge and conservation of red bird populations:

  • eBird sightings provide valuable data on species distribution, abundance, migration timing, and population trends. Photos help document rare visitors.
  • Breeding Bird Surveys and atlases monitor populations long-term and compile nesting data. Route coverage is still sparse in some areas.
  • Nest box programs collect data on cavity-nesting species like Wood Ducks. Monitoring informs research on nest success. 
  • Banding stations help provide information on survivorship, migratory patterns and demographics.

Conclusion

From tanagers flashing through sun-speckled forests to cardinals visiting backyard feeders, observing Georgia’s diverse red bird life is a treat. Conservation of their unique habitats provides hope that future generations will continue to enjoy these crimson-colored avian jewels.