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8 Red Birds in Pennsylvania

red birds in pennsylvania
Scarlet Tanager in Carbon, Pennsylvania: Photo by Jeff Hapeman

Introduction

From the wooded ridges of the Appalachians to the sweeping wetlands of the Allegheny River, Pennsylvania provides prime habitat for a variety of birds graced with striking red plumage. Ranging from vivid woodpeckers to tanagers and finches, red-hued birds add a pop of color to any birding adventure across the Keystone State. Let’s explore some of the most eye-catching resident and migratory red birds finding homes in Pennsylvania.

Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)

  • Features: Compact, stiff-tailed diving duck with a blue bill and cheek patch. Male has rich ruddy-red body plumage in breeding season, turning drabber in winter. Female is gray-brown overall. Both sexes have puffy cheeks. 
  • Locations: Found year-round on wetlands across Pennsylvania, especially during migration and winter. Breeds primarily on prairie marshes to the west and north. 
  • Fun Fact: Male has unique courtship display, rapidly tapping bill on chest to create drumming sound. Nests in dense reeds near water. Dabbles for aquatic plant foods by immersing head and tipping up.

American Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber)

  • Features: Unmistakable large pink wading bird with elongated neck, legs and curved bill. Brilliant crimson-pink plumage comes from carotenoid pigments in crustacean diet. Jet black flight feathers are visible in flight. 
  • Locations: Rare visitor, with occasional escaped captive birds seen along the southeastern Pennsylvania coast. Native to tropical areas.
  • Fun Fact: Feeds upside down underwater, filtering small invertebrates from mud. Breeds colonially in large noisy groups. Perches and nests in saline lakes. Has been a zoo escapee in the state.

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

  • Features: Medium-sized woodpecker with stunning completely crimson head, neck and upper breast. Mainly black body with large white wing patches. Bluish-black tail. Raspy rolling call. 
  • Locations: Found year-round in open deciduous woodlands and oak groves across much of Pennsylvania. Cavity nester dependent on mature treed landscapes.
  • Fun Fact: Stores seeds and nuts in bark crevices to eat later. Will sally from high perch to swoop and catch insects mid-flight. Very territorial, chasing intruders from nest sites. 

American Robin (Turdus migratorius

  • Features: Medium-sized thrush with gray upperparts, black head, and bright reddish-orange breast. White eye rings and white spots on the tips of outer tail feathers. Melodious whistled song.
  • Locations: Extremely abundant and familiar year-round across Pennsylvania from lawns to woodlands. Sometimes nests on human structures.
  • Fun Fact: Often follows lawn mowers to catch stirred up insects. Also consumes earthworms and berries. Aggressively defends nests from intruders and predators. 

House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

  • Features: Small lively finch with red forehead, breast and eyebrow. Females lack red coloration and are plain gray-brown overall with heavy streaking. Short conical bill. Very social, with twittering calls.
  • Locations: Abundant introduced species found year-round across Pennsylvania frequenting feeders, parks and urban areas. Originally from western North America. 
  • Fun Fact: Males have elaborate, wavering flight songs ending in a warbled flourish to attract females. Nests woven from vegetation placed in sheltered spots near buildings.

Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus

  • Features: Medium finch with bright raspberry-red head and upper breast contrasting sharply with brown back streaked in white. Short deeply notched bill. Sweet high call note. 
  • Locations: Uncommon winter visitor in Pennsylvania, breeding farther north. Some remain to nest in higher elevation forest areas. 
  • Fun Fact: Females perform a courtship display, crouching with wings quivering. She builds a neat nest high up in conifers. Warm red plumage comes from pigments in fruit diet.

Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)

  • Features: Medium-sized songbird with brilliant scarlet red body and black wings and tail. Female is dull yellow-green overall with darker wings. Song starts with chick burrs then buzzy phrases. 
  • Locations: Summer breeder in interior deciduous and mixed forests across Pennsylvania. Winters in South America.
  • Fun Fact: The male’s bright red plumage really contrasts against the green forest canopy. Nest is built solely by female in upper branches of a tree.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

  • Features: One of Pennsylvania’s most recognized birds. Male is vivid red overall with a tall peaked crest and red bill. Female has buffy red crest and red accents only in wings, tail and crest.
  • Locations: Extremely abundant year-round resident across the state. Found everywhere from forests to backyards. 
  • Fun Fact: Bright red color declares dominance and fitness. Strongly monogamous, pairs remain closely bonded throughout the year. Female builds cup nest and feeds incubating male.

Threats and Conservation

Habitat loss and fragmentation puts pressure on forest specialists like the scarlet tanager and red-headed woodpecker which require intact mature woodlands for breeding. House finches and other backyard species benefit from native plantings and maintained feeders providing key resources. Allowing pet cats outdoors increases predation on birds. Using bird-friendly glass on buildings reduces collisions. Careful use of pesticides ensures food chains remain intact. Monitoring populations informs wise conservation initiatives.

Citizen Science

Pennsylvania birders make essential contributions to knowledge and conservation:

  • Submitting checklists to eBird tracks species distribution, abundance, survival rates, and population trends. Photos document rare visitors. 
  • Nest box programs aid cavity nesters like chickadees and woodpeckers while gathering breeding data. Regular monitoring is key.
  • Feeder surveys help follow irruptive winter finches like the Purple Finch and map the spread of introduced species such as House Finches. 
  • Banding reveals lifespan, site fidelity, migration routes and demographics. Band returns show individual movements.
  • Christmas Bird Counts analyze trends in wintering birds across the continent over long time periods.

Conclusion

Whether delighted by a dazzling scarlet tanager passing through spring woods or a crimson cardinal lifting the spirits on a winter day, Pennsylvania’s stunning red birds provide ample rewards for birders. Protecting habitats, reducing threats, and continued monitoring will help ensure future generations can enjoy their beauty.