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8 Red Birds in Oklahoma

red birds in oklahoma
Painted Bunting in Hughes, Oklahoma: Photo by RJ Baltierra


Oklahoma’s diverse landscapes support almost 500 bird species playing vital roles in local ecosystems. Among the avian kaleidoscope, some beloved birds display brilliant ruby-hued plumage making them highly visible signature species. Red birds hold special symbolism across cultures, evoking vitality and passion. This article explores the regular red birds in Oklahoma.

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

  • Features: Medium woodpecker with vivid scarlet head, throat and breast. Mainly black and white barring on their back and long wings contrasts sharply. These acrobatic birds use specially adapted claw-tipped feet and purpose-built skull anatomy allowing a wraparound tongue to mine insects. Their diet includes emerging cicadas, aerial insects, fruit, seeds and nuts. These woodpeckers make a cheerful squeaky vocalization and excavate unlined tree cavities for nesting and winter roosting shelter.
  • Locations: Found breeding in open oak woodlands, parks, scattered groves, fencerows and semi-rural farms statewide where mature trees abut grasslands.  
  • Fun Fact: Though dramatic, Red-headed Woodpecker numbers have declined over 70% since 1970 mostly from habitat pressures, making them a Species of Conservation Concern. Still they greatly benefit agriculture through pest control and nutrient cycling. 

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

  • Features: This familiar 10 inch thrush has gray upperparts, black head, and rich orange-red breast bordering a paler throat. Often first detected by its enthusiastic melodic whistled song phrases, these birds have a sharp clawed hind toe that aids perching. Abundant migrants swell local numbers in early spring, occupying open grassy habitats optimal for feeding and building their signature mud-lined nests in trees. 
  • Locations: Found year-round statewide in lawns, parks, pastures and most areas with scattered trees. Huge winter influxes arrive from farther north to overwinter.  
  • Fun Fact: Early spring male returnees vociferously stake out the best worm and insect-rich territories to entice females as breeding partners. Harsh squabbles break out between competing males in late winter and early spring.

House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

  • Features: Native to the southwestern U.S. and Mexico, House Finches expanded eastward occupying habitats around human structures after escaped cage birds established around NYC then self-introduced across the eastern states. Adult males have vivid red heads, breasts and rumps, females are more subtly brown. These very social birds build sturdy woven nests in protected sites that later serve the whole flock as winter roosts. 
  • Locations: Found year-round statewide in both rural and urban areas frequenting bird feeders across a variety of open habitats including parks and farms. 
  • Fun Fact: Courting male finches offer tidbits to sweethearts showing their nest provisioning skills. Territorial males arcade their bodies and sing passionate blurry warbling songs to defend breeding resources.

Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus)

  • Features: Showier than House Finches, Purple Finch males flaunt rosy-red heads, throats and upper breasts fading towards Their brown wings and tail. Females are elegantly streaked with few red highlights. These birds have thick conical beaks specialized for seeds. 
  • Locations: Year-round in northern Oklahoma’s higher elevation mature conifer and mixed forests. Winters farther south after migrating down from Canadian breeding grounds.  
  • Fun Fact: The male sings a rich warbling springtime breeding song with one common mnemonic sounding like “Go get her caps and mitts!” as their notes cascade across mountain branches announcing nest sites.

Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra)

  • Features: The male Summer Tanager is crimson red overall with some darker gray wings and tail, appearing almost like a feathered candy while the female is lemon-lime in coloration. As Neotropical migrants favoring mature open deciduous woods, they winter in Central and South America after raising young in Oklahoma’s forests during summer. 
  • Locations: Found breeding statewide in mature open deciduous forests and woodlands before migrating south in September ahead of colder weather.  
  • Fun Fact: The brightly colored male sings a repetitive hoarse rasp song from high branches advertising his forest territory. Their awkward flight style through the canopy helps balance poorer long-distance migratory aerodynamics.

Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)

  • Features: The Scarlet Tanager male has rich blood red body plumage contrasting jet black wings and back. Females wear simpler yellow-olive attire ideal for secrecy while incubating eggs. As taxpayers they construct careful hidden nests to breed in Oklahoma’s mature forests each spring before heading to South America for the winter.   
  • Locations: Breeds in Oklahoma’s mature deciduous forests. Winters in South America.
  • Fun Fact: The male’s staccato song differs from the similar Summer Tanager in pattern and tempo. To acquire his bright red pigments, he eats certain carotenoid-rich insects and berries.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

  • Features: Familiar backyard visitors, male Northern Cardinals appear all red with a black face mask and prominent peaked crest. Females are more subtly brownish with soft red accents on the wings, tail and crest. Their short conical bill is adapted for seeds and insects caught near dense brush. 
  • Locations: An abundant statewide year-round resident across brushy semi-open habitats including suburbs with feeders or other seed sources available nearby. 
  • Fun Fact: As the pair rebuilding seasonal bonds in spring, the fiery territorial males sing a loud, metallic echoing song. The female hides her woven cup nest low down securely placed inside dense shrubs to nurture eggs and nestlings.

Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris)

  • Features: The brightly colored Painted Bunting male glows with a blue head, red underparts and green back feathers looking like an artist’s palette. By contrast, the female is entirely lime green in tone. These seed-eating songbirds forage low, often scratching and hopping along the ground hunting for choice grasses and weed seeds. 
  • Locations: Found during spring and summer breeding months in western Kentucky’s scattered thickets and open woodlands before migrating back south for the winter again each year. 
  • Fun Fact: The creatively pigmented males still manage to keep a low profile, guarding their hidden nests built by their green female partners who exclusively incubate eggs and camouflage the location.

Threats Facing Oklahoma’s Red Birds

Oklahoma’s special red birds face significant survival hurdles across inhabited ecosystems:

  • Habitat fragmentation through development damages essential mature deciduous and riparian forests, open oak savannas, and wetlands needed for nesting and hunting by particular species.
  • Invasive species outcompete and displace native birds from historic niche habitats and food sources.
  • Free-roaming pet and feral cats prey on hundreds of millions of wild fledgling and adult birds annually.
  • Vehicle strikes contribute to around 200 million bird collisions causing injury or death nationally each year.
  • Climate change disrupts migration timing and threatens food chain ecosystems that avian fauna rely upon.

Citizen Science & Conservation Opportunities

Conservationists employ diverse interventions to preserve imperiled populations:

  • Land conservancy organizations purchase intact habitats via acquisition from willing sellers protecting ancestral breeding grounds.
  • Enhanced policy protections reduce threats, disturbance and cats near refuges and parks.
  • Ongoing bird surveys, counts and banding provide population data to inform management and identify declines that could merit protections or captive breeding efforts. 
  • Installing bird-friendly architecture promotes safety for migratory and local nesters vulnerable to daytime glass collisions.

Members of the birdwatching community contribute greatly:

  • Uploading sightings to platforms such as eBird helps generate real-time mapping of species distribution shifts signaling threats.
  • Nest box availability offsets losses augmenting sites for cavity nesters like bluebirds. 
  • Educating others expands environmental awareness across generations to inspire ongoing thoughtful stewardship.


Oklahoma’s habitats support over 400 bird species playing ecological roles both locally and during migrations. Among beloved backyard species, brilliant red cardinals, tanagers and finches donate splashes of color, fruit dispersal and insect control where they settle seasonally, as pairs bonding April through August tend successive fledgling replacements. Protecting fragile ecosystems remains essential for preserving vulnerable wildlife along interconnected migratory routes traveled twice annually. Through conscientious bird stewardship and wise policy decisions we can maintain healthy diverse habitats benefiting all feeling a shared vested interest.