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14 Red Birds in Alabama

red birds in alabama
Northern Cardinal in Shelby, Alabama: Photo by N KC

Introduction

Alabama’s mosaic of habitats spanning woodlands, thickets, backyards and coastal wetlands sustains a diversity of over 450 bird species playing vital ecological roles. Among favorites, numerous birds display brilliant red and pink plumage, making them visible signatures of their environments while also aiding plant reproduction through seed dispersal and pollination. This article explores 14 red birds in Alabama and its environs.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis)

  • Features: Tall, long-necked duck with reddish bill and legs. Bright pink to orange bill, throat and feet. Black feathers cover most of the body with white wing flashes. Crepuscular and nocturnal activity. 
  • Locations: Found throughout southern Alabama during spring and summer, favoring wetlands, agricultural and urban areas with ponds, impoundments, reservoirs, rice fields and golf course water hazards providing habitat. Migratory in northern states.
  • Fun Fact: Gives loud, two-noted “whistle” call variously trilled earning its name. Gregarious behavior entails flocking in large groups flying in “strings” often noisily together between feeding areas.

Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)

  • Features: Compact, short-necked duck with slightly upturned tail feathers. Breeding males sport iridescent chestnut red color across the body, black caps, bright blue bills, and signature puffy white cheek patches. Females are grayish-brown.  
  • Locations: Year-round inhabitant on Alabama’s larger inland lakes, reservoirs, rivers and coastal bays. Nests in thickly vegetated aquatic habitats. Most active during dawn and dusk. 
  • Fun Fact: Breeding males rapidly drum their bills against their chest bulging out ear plumes while making cackling vocalizations and splash displays to attract females and compete with rival males.  

American Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber)  

  • Features: A huge pink-feathered waterbird with exceptionally long pale neck, legs and specialized beak adapted for filter feeding in coastal areas. Most widespread in the Caribbean, but some occur in Florida and wild flamingos spotted extremely rarely along the Gulf Coast. 
  • Locations: Accidental and exceptionally rare along Alabama’s Gulf Coast after recent sightings in nearby Florida, Louisiana and Texas waters. Any reliable observation would most likely be an escaped bird from a zoo or private collection. Natural vagrant from Mexican or Caribbean populations.
  • Fun Fact: Wild and introduced populations found in Florida occupy saline lagoons, mangrove islets and mudflats where their beak filtering feeding methods turn them pink from carotenoid pigments ingested through zoobenthic organisms and blue-green algae. 

Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus)  

  • Features: A tiny bright orange and green-backed migratory hummingbird with a ruby-red orange throat patch and crown. Males show more vibrant rufous upperparts. Perching frequently reveals their extremely short dark legs before vanishing again in a frantic blur of motion.  
  • Locations: Fall and winter rare vagrant along northern Gulf Coast across Alabama. Most sightings concentrated across northwest Florida and coastal Louisiana. Regular spring through summer breeding in the Pacific Northwest then southward migration into Mexico overwintering areas.  
  • Fun Fact: Among the longest avian migrations given such minute stature. Their saw-like wing strokes beat up to 60 times per second! Survival depends on brief stopovers to consume high energy foods like flower nectar.

Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens)  

  • Features: A slender medium-sized wading bird sporting a long tapering neck and bold red-orange stabbing bill matched by lanky reddish orange legs. Feeds primarily upon small fish species concentrated in shallow estuaries and lagoons accessed at low tide. They walk or run energetically stirring prey then plunge headfirst jabbing once movements are spotted.  
  • Locations: Alabama’s Gulf Coast region offers small localized suitable breeding and foraging habitat mostly on protected islands and along backwater tributaries feeding into coastal wetlands like Perdido Bay and Mobile-Tensaw River Delta. Most nest semi-colonially in shrubs, mangroves or low trees on marshy islands. 
  • Fun Fact: Two regional color phases occur a dark and white morph with the dark phase outnumbering the pale version nearly 10 to 1 in the eastern Gulf populations. Twilight feeding maximizes diminished light to enhance visual acuity spotting movements.

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)   

  • Features: Medium-sized woodpecker with vibrant crimson red head, neck and breast contrasting snowy white belly and black and white spotted folded wings. Nimble acrobatic flight shows amazing flexibility darting erratically hawking flying insects often returning to favored high perching poles.  
  • Locations: Year-round resident across much of Alabama near open grassy woodlands including oak forests, fencerows, riparian areas and scattered lone dead trees in rural pasturelands essential for nesting or roost holes. Northern birds migrate into southern wintering populations statewide.
  • Fun Fact: This visually flashy woodpecker species seeks out trees with smooth bark over limbs sporting sap flow they lap up. Males offer females enticements of food upon courtship occasionally entering nest holes together while cementing fertile pair bonds.  

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)  

  • Features: Medium-sized black and white barred woodpecker sporting brilliant cardinal red plumage from upper crown to the upper breast. Their namesake red belied stripe proves typically quite subtle. White forehead stripe above the bill and white edges on black wings and tail.
  • Locations: Found year-round throughout Alabama in extensive range of open forests and woodlands with dead stands mingled amid mature trees down into semi-wooded suburbs with sufficient tall trees containing nesting holes not overly bothered by nearby residential activity. 
  • Fun Fact: Primarily eats insects like beetle larvae excavated from dead and dying wood, but supplements with fruit and berries from elderberry or poison ivy. The male assists the female with incubation duties between nest hole territorial chases against interloping squirrels, raccoons and other birds competing over cavities.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  

  • Features: Familiar thrush with orangey-red breast and white eye circles contrasting gray crown feathers and black head often first noticed pulling pale roundworms from rain softened lawns flanking messy mud cup nests. Gregarious in wintering flocks aside breeding pairs defending large feeding and nesting territories.
  • Locations: The state bird of both Alabama and neighboring Mississippi remains abundant year-round occupying parks, forests, suburbs, backyards and other habitats offering suitable food sources like insects and fruits plus nesting opportunities across shrubs and manmade structures. Massive migratory flocks swell southern numbers each winter. 
  • Fun Fact: One of earliest birds vocally proclaiming spring coupled with the arrival of blooming fruit trees promising nourishment needed for producing clutches of green-blue fertilized eggs up to thrice annually dusted in cinnamon highlighting laid carefully inside their secured woven bowls lashed securely to an ample tree fork.

House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)   

  • Features: Originally limited only to southwestern states before captive caged populations expanded dramatically across eastern states first colonizing 1940’s Long Island then proliferating inland. Red male head, breast and rump decorates streaked brown flanks with females quite plain overall. Large flocks frequent backyard feeders taking smaller seeds. Cheery warbling song broadcasts from high perches.
  • Locations: Following a remarkable self-introduced rapid expansion in recent decades, House Finches now permanently and cheerfully inhabit urban and rural areas statewide anywhere mature trees shelter nest sites plus accessible feeds.
  • Fun Fact: Males offer nourishment displays with seed tidbits attempting to entice admiring females onto chosen nesting grounds as the quality provenance of victors. Meanwhile defending mates and territory against persistent challengers or other intruding House Finches commands attention through passionate vocalizing and unending chases.

Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus)  

  • Features: Warm red washed head feathers fade descending breast and flanks amid muddled streaky brown back and wings on these specialist conifer seed eating finches named more for romantic aspirations than any actually purple costume like their rosier red cousins. Females and young clad neatly throughout in delicate streaked brown and white plumage. 
  • Locations: Despite their boreal origins, yearly snowbird migrants descend escaping harsher northerly climes across Canada for replenishing southern forests like those cloaking Alabama’s mountain apexes into foothills where prime conifer stands offering ample winter seed crops attract flocks southward ranging through the Appalachians.
  • Fun Fact: Capable of cracking open hard-shelled black oil sunflower seeds. Spring males perform elaborate mating song flights chasing females through towering pines while delivering a crooning complex warbling melody compared often with the playful phrase “Purple finch go spark your heels!” expressing hopeful wooing exuberance.

Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra 

  • Features: Brilliant velvet red males nearly glow like festive Christmas bows contrasted only slightly by darker brick red wings not quite matching their gray mate’s far more modest olive yellow spring dress accented in dingier red tones along the wings and tail. Both sport thick cone shaped beaks. 
  • Locations: Found nesting statewide across extensive mature forests with ample open spacing below arboreal heights allowing room displaying noisy awkward flight patterns from their small wings ferrying these neo-tropical migrants between Caribbean southern wintering forests back to lowland southern Yellowhammer breeding woodlands come late April. 
  • Fun Fact: Their staccato raspy bee buzz songs sometimes interspersed in pairs separates their haunting vocalizations from the Scarlet Tanager’s version. Pairs occasionally seize intrusive bees carrying them back awkwardly toward hungry screeching nestlings.

Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)  

  • Features: Infamously dazzling male tanagers living up their name arrived each spring flashing brilliant blood crimson feathers starkly contrasting night black wings stirring up Alabama’s greening forest canopies as the two dramatically differently looking sexes reunite. Meanwhile his female disguises any attraction in her far plainer and aptly safer yellow olive green plumage speckled in darker sooty wings and tail. 
  • Locations: Male Scarlet Tanagers loosely return each April from their South American wintering forests to rejoin mates across scattered mature deciduous treed Alabama breeding woodlands statewide where their gaudy pigments now camouflage better amid bright red maples and oaks contrasting any left jade magnolia leaves from last season left unshed by periodic rains and winds. Their gray females blended far better only yesterday against the darker dormant bark and pine needles making her plumage choice today appear suddenly gaudy now as well.
  • Fun Fact: Their staccato songs reduce chances alarming competitive males nearby as scarlet tanagers confine energetic territorial defense to solely against their own splendid kind as spring breeding urges take wing.  

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)   

  • Features: Familiar backyard visitors certain to appear anytime heavy snow falls or ledgers deplete each winter, the flashy crested male Northern Cardinal remains Alabama’s state bird reigning all red outside black masks coupled with fierce orange triangle beaks equally inclined feeding either backyard buffets, wild pine seeds or assertively protecting nesting grounds against encroaching rivals after his muted brown mate diligently builds an anchored cup low hidden securely inside dense shrubs come late April. 
  • Locations: From suburban gardens through any brushy field, forest edge or scrubby ravine statewide Northern Cardinals now thrive year-round anywhere supporting both winter provender and ample tangled spring nesting cover with occasional access to feeders or dried seed husks scattered about ensuring these songbirds remain Alabama’s quintessential year-round avian ambassador.
  • Fun Fact: While pairs remain together also sharing winter ground flock shelters, breeding season urges still trigger anew each spring every bright red male Northern Cardinal to prominently sing his loud signature metallic slurred songs repeating “Who it cheer cheer” from high perches defending fertile territory against less handsome intruders bold enough to spy his parading presence. 

Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris)  

  • Features: Plush stout vivid blue heads cap bright crimson red underparts and emerald green backs decorating only the males while their female partners dress entirely green ideal for disappearing inside favorite brushy thickets they adorn southeastern across coastal states like Alabama truly feathered jewels best admired from afar despite resembling exotic escaped caged birds. 
  • Locations: Summer breeding visitors when males gleam incredibly ornamented amid Alabama’s scattered brushlands and overgrown fields statewide specializing in bramble and grass seeds taken from low clumps still within easy sight of concealing refuges nearby before these technique migrants retreat each fall back to northwestern Mexican wintering woodlands. 
  • Fun Fact: Despite flashy decadence male Painted Buntings remain remarkably quiet keeping nest locations secret throughout the entire egg laying and brooding stages while his emerald partner attends their concealed cup nest until the awkward clumsy fledglings appear briefly noisy begging parents to stuff beak gullets faster with another tasty plump spider or seed snacks.

Threats and Conservation

Habitat loss poses serious threats to the diverse ecosystems red birds occupy, as expanding development degrades essential mature forests, wetlands, thickets and grasslands required for breeding and migrations. Vehicle collisions also take a major toll during annual migratory journeys. Allowing domestic cats outdoors leads to hundreds of millions of wild bird deaths annually, devastating natural fledgling success. Careful stewardship and policy protections of vital intact habitats combined with more bird-friendly built architecture can help stabilize at-risk populations.

Citizen Science and Conservation 

Alabama birders and researchers provide vital data assisting proper management for population sustainability:

  • Uploading checklists to shared databases shows regional status allowing smarter decisions mitigating threats  
  • eBird submissions help analyze trends determining where intervention tactics succeed  
  • Atlassing projects expand mapping breeding ranges needing additional habitat protections
  • Building nest boxes offsets losses providing more nesting cavity availability  
  • Banding birds reveals migratory routes, landfall sites and mortality factors 
  • Christmas Bird Counts establish baseline abundance assessing winter survivorship
  • Outreach programs for youth develops future generations valuing environmental ethics

Conclusion

Alabama celebrates great bird diversity across forests, thickets and backyards with over 450 nesting and migrating species tallied so far. Range shifts continue even recently as temperatures warm and urban feeding proliferates. Among most beloved visitors, the cardinal reigns supreme while scarlet tanagers and ornamented Painted Buntings steal brief seasonal acclaim dazzling devoted birdwatchers through their airs paces by day before fading anonymity returns during migrations northward then southward again come winter. Maintaining healthy habitat remains key securing future stability for these cherished winged ruby jewels. Care, study and thoughtful protections offer the best chance retaining vibrant red birds long-term.