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6 Red-headed Birds in Missouri

red-headed birds in missouri
House Finch in Platte, Missouri: Photo by Nic Allen

Introduction

Missouri is home to a variety of stunning bird species with vibrant red plumage, adding color and charm to its landscapes. From the striking red-headed woodpecker to the elegant redhead duck, these birds captivate birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike. Let’s delve into the world of red-headed birds in Missouri and explore their unique features, behavior, habitat, conservation status, and fun facts.

Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca)

red-headed birds in missouri
Photo by Paul McKenzie
  • Features: The green-winged teal are small dabbling ducks with distinctive red heads (in males). They have colorful iridescent patches on their wings and a mottled brown body.
  • Behavior: These ducks are typically found in shallow freshwater wetlands, where they forage for aquatic plants, seeds, and small invertebrates by dabbling and upending in the water.
  • Habitat: Green-winged teals inhabit a variety of wetland habitats, including marshes, ponds, lakes, and rivers, during migration and wintering periods. Breeding populations are found in northern regions with suitable nesting sites near water.
  • Conservation Status: Both species are evaluated as Least Concern by the IUCN. However, habitat loss, pollution, and hunting pose threats to their populations in some areas. Conservation efforts focus on protecting wetland habitats and implementing sustainable management practices to ensure their long-term survival.
  • Fun Fact: During courtship displays, male green-winged teals perform elaborate mating rituals, including head bobbing, whistling calls, and synchronized swimming.

Redhead (Aythya americana)

red-headed birds in missouri
Photo by Ian Hearn
  • Features: The redhead is a medium-sized diving duck with a distinctive red head and gray body. Males have a bright red head and neck, while females have a duller brown head.
  • Behavior: Redheads are proficient divers and feed primarily on aquatic vegetation, seeds, and invertebrates. During the breeding season, they nest in marshes and prairie potholes, often using the abandoned nests of other waterfowl.
  • Habitat: Redheads breed in prairie pothole regions of the northern United States and Canada. During migration and winter, they can be found in a variety of freshwater habitats, including lakes, reservoirs, and coastal marshes.
  • Conservation Status: The redhead is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN due to declines in breeding populations caused by habitat loss and degradation. Conservation efforts focus on protecting breeding habitat and implementing sustainable management practices to mitigate threats.
  • Fun Fact: Redheads are known for their synchronized feeding behavior, forming large flocks that dive simultaneously to forage for food.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

red-headed birds in missouri
Photo by Henry Gorski
  • Features: The turkey vulture is a large bird with dark plumage, a featherless red head, and a wingspan of up to six feet. It is well-known for its distinctive soaring flight and keen sense of smell.
  • Behavior: Turkey vultures are scavengers, feeding primarily on carrion. They use their keen sense of smell to locate decaying carcasses and are often seen soaring high in the sky, riding thermal updrafts in search of food.
  • Habitat: Turkey vultures inhabit a variety of open habitats, including forests, grasslands, deserts, and urban areas. They are commonly found near areas with abundant food sources, such as landfills, highways, and agricultural fields.
  • Conservation Status: The turkey vulture is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN due to its wide distribution and large population. However, they face threats from habitat loss, poisoning, and collisions with vehicles and structures.
  • Fun Fact: Turkey vultures have an extraordinary sense of smell, allowing them to detect the scent of carrion from great distances, sometimes up to a mile away.

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

red-headed birds in missouri
Photo by Tina Nauman
  • Features: The red-headed woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker with striking plumage, including a bright red head, black-and-white wings, and a solid black back.
  • Behavior: Red-headed woodpeckers are skilled foragers, using their strong bills to extract insects from tree bark and catch flying insects in mid-air. They also store food by wedging it into crevices in trees for later consumption.
  • Habitat: Red-headed woodpeckers prefer open woodlands, including forests, woodlots, orchards, and parks, with mature trees for nesting and foraging. They are also commonly found in savannas and along woodland edges.
  • Conservation Status: The red-headed woodpecker is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN due to population declines caused by habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and competition for nest sites with invasive species like European starlings. Conservation efforts focus on habitat restoration and providing artificial nest cavities to support breeding populations.
  • Fun Fact: Red-headed woodpeckers are known for their unique habit of storing acorns and other nuts by wedging them into crevices in tree bark, fence posts, and other structures.

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

red-headed birds in missouri
Photo by Juan Miguel Artigas Azas
  • Features: The red-bellied woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker with a red crown, a black-and-white barred back, and a pale red wash on its belly.
  • Behavior: Red-bellied woodpeckers are omnivorous and feed on a variety of food items, including insects, fruits, nuts, seeds, and sap. They are known for their distinctive “churr” calls and drumming sounds, which they use for communication and territory defense.
  • Habitat: Red-bellied woodpeckers inhabit a variety of forested habitats, including deciduous forests, mixed woodlands, and wooded urban areas with mature trees. They are adaptable birds and can also be found in parks, orchards, and suburban neighborhoods.
  • Conservation Status: The red-bellied woodpecker is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN due to its large population and widespread distribution across North America. However, habitat loss and fragmentation pose localized threats to their populations.
  • Fun Fact: Despite their name, red-bellied woodpeckers often have only a faint reddish wash on their bellies, with the red extending to the back of the head and neck.

House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

red-headed birds in missouri
Photo by Timothy Jones
  • Features: The house finch is a small songbird with a reddish head and throat, brown streaked back, and thick conical bill. Males have brighter red plumage than females.
  • Behavior: House finches are social birds that often forage in flocks, feeding on seeds, grains, fruits, and small insects. They are frequent visitors to backyard feeders, where they feed on sunflower seeds and other seeds.
  • Habitat: House finches are adaptable birds that inhabit a variety of urban, suburban, and rural habitats, including gardens, parks, farmland, and open woodlands. They are commonly found near human habitation, where they nest in trees, shrubs, and building ledges.
  • Conservation Status: The house finch is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN due to its large population and widespread distribution across North America. However, they face threats from habitat loss, disease, and predation by invasive species like house sparrows.
  • Fun Fact: House finches were originally native to western North America but were introduced to the eastern United States in the 1940s. They have since become one of the most common and widespread birds in North America.

Threats and Conservation

The red-headed birds of Missouri face various threats, including habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, pollution, climate change, and human disturbance. Conservation efforts focus on protecting and restoring critical habitats, implementing sustainable management practices, raising public awareness, and supporting research and monitoring initiatives.

Citizen Science

Birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts play a crucial role in monitoring bird populations, contributing valuable data to citizen science projects like eBird. By reporting their bird sightings and observations, citizens help scientists track population trends, assess habitat changes, and inform conservation decisions.

Conclusion

Missouri’s red-headed birds contribute to the state’s biodiversity and ecological richness, captivating birdwatchers with their stunning plumage, unique behaviors, and diverse habitats. As stewards of our natural environment, it is our responsibility to protect and conserve these species for future generations to enjoy. Through collaborative conservation efforts and citizen science participation, we can ensure the continued survival of Missouri’s red-headed avian treasures.