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12 Red Birds in Minnesota

red birds in minnesota
Pine Grosbeak in the Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota: Photo by Melissa James


Minnesota’s assorted ecosystems nurture over 450 bird species, many with fabulous red, orange and pink hues brightening the landscape. This piece explores over a dozen resident and migratory red birds likely soaring across the skies or visiting backyards statewide.  

Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis

  • Features: Spiky blue bill and rusty red spiked head on this small stiff-tailed diving duck most visible on spring breeding males.
  • Locations: Best witnessed courting in migration and winter wetland rafts before females lead ducklings to insect-rich nurseries.  
  • Fun Fact: Floating flocks protect against bald eagle attacks.

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)   

  • Features: Males boast rich red plumage from crown to breast visible while clinging upright to trees statewide. 
  • Locations: Found year-round occupying open woods near streams after a northern expansion.
  • Fun Fact: Prizes elderberry crops and excavates woody larvae using uniquely barbed tongues.

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

  • Features: Namesake vibrant crimson red head and breast contrasts black and white wings on these acrobatic flyers attracted to forests hosting oak savannas and ample dead standing snags for nest excavation.  
  • Locations: Scattered year-round below the boreal zone wherever requisite habitats allow. Northern birds withdraw from harsh winters farther south including colorful males fiercely defending warmer territory. 
  • Fun Fact: Fly out from high bare perches to hawk insects then return while making sure to stash surplus acorns in strategically drilled storage holes anticipating bitter snowy days ahead. 

Pine Grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator)

  • Features: Male’s red head and rump rest between grayish vertical brown striping topping these sporadic winter finches wandering south irregularly during frustrating boreal seed crop failures seeking temporary salvation from Minnesota conifer forests just across the Canadian border. 
  • Locations: Various northern finch irruptions swell winter flocks feasting upon abundant cones when spruce budworms devastate mature stands episodically while raising twins appreciating fruity shadbush and crabapples or down at feeders devouring loose sunflower debris. 
  • Fun Fact: Beaks specially adapted to extract dormant inner pine seeds make crossing frozen landscapes worthwhile towards temporary southern forests during years lacking sufficient subarctic stores. 

House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)  

  • Features: Bold red washed faces and breasts fading to softer streaked flanks on the males make these sleek brown females chase backyard offerings swallowing smaller oily seeds readily. Sweet rhythmic male warbling delivers pleasant wakes up calls.  
  • Locations: Since expanding recently from Southwestern provenance across the entire continent, these early adaptable colonizers now permanently occupy farms, parks or suburban yards statewide wherever mature trees shelter nests sites plus accessible feeders provide easy access towards plentiful provender.
  • Fun Fact: Courting spring males offer classic nourishing displays by provisioning prospective feminine companions with any nearby seed snacks or fresh caught insects to showcase paternal quality proofs towards selective breeding partners newly invited to critique and judge nesting capacities.

Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus)

  • Features: Rose red males lose brilliance during complete summer molts while females retain evenly streaked brown plumage year-round. Courting pairs perform elaborate mating flights chasing each other through soaring pines.
  • Locations: Northern evergreen forests host breeding from April through August then see winter snowbird migrants descend irregularly from Canadian provenance towards temporary southern feeding grounds when boreal cone crops fail periodically.  
  • Fun Fact: Musical males’ lyrically perform elaborate warbling tunes while displaying by puffing crimson chest feathers captivating admiring females to appraise their prospective nesting agility.

Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea)

  • Features: Namesake red capped males sport a jaunty pinkish forehead their brown streaked puzzlingly similar looking feminine companions lack. These boreal black-masked foragers swarm shrubs when visiting far southern locales after migrating here from barren Canadian tundra nest locations. 
  • Locations: Mass winter movements see invading flocks arrive extremely variable years across central and northern Minnesota near abundant food like birch or alder catkins plus neglected backyard seeds.
  • Fun Fact: Highly gregarious redpolls travel, forage, and roost together in tightly packed groups during nomadic wanderings reaching towards 42nd parallel in remarkable eruptive influxes linked partially towards setting up breeding territories come spring.

Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)  

  • Features: Uniquely crossed mandibles pry pine cone scales obtaining hidden seeds to feed young in bulky enclosed nests. Brick red males sing distinct flight calls than their female counterparts year-round as pairs sometimes twin-brood attempting to synchronize bountiful boreal resources with raising next generations.
  • Locations: Less predictable interspersed across conifer stands with periodic irruptions wandering variable distances when food proves scarce closer towards their core unglaciated conifer forest strongholds centered upon Alaska and Canada.  
  • Fun Fact: Their specially adapted beaks allowing pine nut extraction remain imperfectly matched to any specific tree species keeping these birds semi-nomadic while seeking quality crops amidst struggling stands during years lacking adequate cone production.

Two-barred (White-winged) Crossbill (Loxia leucoptera)  

  • Features: Large powerful crossed bill specialized to open dormant spruce cones and extract seeds shows an obviously upturned lower mandible on males. Namesake white patches flash along black wings in flight. 
  • Locations: Locally common within northern spruce bogs yet quite unpredictable farther south throughout Minnesota in winter while scouring patchy evergreen forests during seasonal movements triggered by widespread cone crop failures across vast Canadian boreal zones. 
  • Fun Fact: Distinct vocalizations and larger female body size separates these birds from very similar appearing Red Crossbill cousins. Pairs bond intensely to cooperatively raise offspring.

Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)   

  • Features: Brilliant blood red males chased by lemon muted females collecting insects to feed loudly begging chicks high along historical north pointing forest migratory routes crossing Minnesota’s arrowhead region near the Canadian border zones.  
  • Locations: Summertime nests built higher within deciduous and mixed canopies see these neotropical songbirds depart towards Andean wintering grounds by early August.  
  • Fun Fact: Committed pairs selectively reunite on territorial breeding grounds after staggered spring migrations along central Americas flyways spanning thousands of miles. 

Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra)

  • Features: Rich ruby red velvet males conspicuously molt by late August into similar nondescript yellow female coats perfect for discreetly overwintering closer towards the tropics after raising multiple broods along loosely bonded successful summer pairings.  
  • Locations: Breed in scrubby open oak savannas statewide before undergoing a complete appearance overhaul into far less obvious plumage morphs come fall migration time.
  • Fun Fact: Couples occasionally snatch stinging bees carrying them onto branches where juvenile tanagers clamor to claim these awkwardly buzzing protein snacks. 

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)  

  • Features: Official Minnesota state bird with males prominent red crests and thick orange cone-shaped bills defending backyard nesting territories year-round against intruders one snowy winter day after another.  
  • Locations: Found everywhere breeding across woodland fringes into most parks and suburban yards where ample food allows some resilient cardinals to remain through the harshest north winds compared to their more sensitive tropical migrants avoiding seeing frozen precipitations.
  • Fun Fact: Spring breeding urges still trigger each bright head red male to prominently sing trademark metallic whistling songs from high poles proclaiming backyard dominance against inferior interlopers bold enough to confront defending fathers peering down over fragile nests hidden carefully inside dense shrub thickets.

Threats and Conservation  

Habitat fragmentation displaces forest birds while climate shifts disturb breeding cycles. Window strikes cause many migrating casualties. Public policies emphasizing large mature forest tracts plus stringent migration friendly infrastructure around glass buildings aid conservation.

Citizen Science  

Data from birds reveals environmental health. Using platforms such as eBird to record what you see or hear is an excellent addition to data. Expanding sightings track range shifts. Nest atlases uncover threats for remedies. Mapping collisions informs structural alternatives. Banding illustrates survivorship challenges. Interpretation promotes future caretaker ethics.  


Birding reveals nature’s hidden jewels present along routine life paths. Scarlet tanagers disappear through the canopy yet cardinal families charm from backyard feeders. Ensuring stability for these feathered beauties challenges policies prioritizing dwindling habitats required for sustaining their nesting and epic migrations. However away from political squabbles elsewhere, a resident chickadee sipping mountain streamwater sustains far greater meaning worth celebrating through thoughtful conservation partnerships.