Skip to Content

8 Red-headed Birds in Michigan

red-headed birds in michigan
Green-winged Teal in Oakland, Michigan: Photo by Isaac Polanski

Introduction

Michigan is home to a diverse array of bird species, including several striking red-headed birds that capture the imagination of birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike. In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the fascinating red-headed birds in Michigan, from the vibrant redhead duck to the charismatic red-headed woodpecker.

Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca)

red-headed birds in michigan
Photo by Matt Misewicz
  • Features: The green-winged teal is a small dabbling duck with intricate plumage. While males sport a chestnut-colored head with a gleaming green eye patch, females have mottled brown plumage for camouflage. Both genders display a striking emerald green wing patch, visible in flight.
  • Behavior: Green-winged teals are highly migratory birds, traveling long distances between their breeding and wintering grounds. They are primarily dabblers, feeding on aquatic vegetation, seeds, and invertebrates in shallow wetlands and marshes.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, green-winged teals inhabit freshwater marshes, lakes, and ponds in boreal forests. In winter, they can be found in a variety of aquatic habitats, including coastal estuaries, tidal flats, and flooded fields.
  • Conservation Status: The green-winged teal is abundant and widespread, with stable populations throughout its range. However, habitat loss and degradation due to wetland drainage, pollution, and urban development pose ongoing threats to this species.
  • Fun Fact: Despite their small size, green-winged teals are strong fliers capable of covering impressive distances during migration. Some individuals migrate from breeding grounds in North America all the way to wintering areas in South America.

Redhead (Aythya americana)

red-headed birds in michigan
Photo by Matt Misewicz
  • Features: The redhead is a medium-sized diving duck with a distinctive red head and neck, contrasting with gray body plumage. Males have a bright red head and neck, while females have a subtler cinnamon-brown hue. Both genders have pale blue bills with black tips.
  • Behavior: Redheads are proficient divers, using their specialized bills to forage for aquatic plants, seeds, and invertebrates beneath the water’s surface. They are often seen diving in shallow lakes, ponds, and marshes, where they can find ample food resources.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, redheads inhabit freshwater marshes, prairie potholes, and shallow lakes in the northern United States and Canada. In winter, they migrate to warmer coastal habitats, including bays, estuaries, and tidal flats.
  • Conservation Status: The redhead is considered a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, with stable populations overall. However, habitat loss and degradation, as well as hunting pressure, may pose localized threats to this species in some regions.
  • Fun Fact: Redheads are known for their synchronized courtship displays, which involve pairs swimming together in tight circles while bobbing their heads and vocalizing. These displays help strengthen pair bonds and reinforce territorial boundaries.

Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)

red-headed birds in michigan
Photo by Isaac Polanski
  • Features: The common merganser is a large diving duck with a long, slender body and a distinctive serrated bill adapted for catching fish. Males have a striking green head and white body, while females have a gray body with a rusty-red head.
  • Behavior: Common mergansers are expert fishers, using their powerful wings and webbed feet to propel themselves underwater in pursuit of prey. They feed primarily on fish, crustaceans, and aquatic insects, hunting in lakes, rivers, and coastal waters.
  • Habitat: Common mergansers breed in forested areas near freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams, where they can find suitable nesting sites in hollow trees or nest boxes. In winter, they migrate to open water habitats, including coastal bays and estuaries.
  • Conservation Status: The common merganser is considered a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, with stable populations overall. However, habitat loss and degradation, as well as water pollution and overfishing, may pose threats to this species in some regions.
  • Fun Fact: Common mergansers are known for their dramatic courtship displays, which involve males swimming in front of females with their heads held high and their bills pointed skyward. These displays help attract mates and establish pair bonds.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

red-headed birds in michigan
Turkey Vulture in Livingstone, Michigan: Photo by Robert Bochenek
  • Features: The turkey vulture is a large, dark-colored bird of prey with a distinctive red head and a bald, wrinkled face. It has broad wings for soaring and gliding, as well as keen eyesight and a highly developed sense of smell for locating carrion.
  • Behavior: Turkey vultures are scavengers, feeding primarily on carrion and carcasses of dead animals. They soar high in the sky, using thermal updrafts to glide effortlessly while scanning the ground below for food. They play a vital role in cleaning up the environment by disposing of carrion and recycling nutrients.
  • Habitat: Turkey vultures inhabit a variety of open and semi-open habitats, including forests, grasslands, deserts, and urban areas. They are commonly seen roosting in trees, on cliffs, or on the ground in large communal groups, especially during the winter months.
  • Conservation Status: The turkey vulture is considered a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, with stable populations overall. However, they may be vulnerable to threats such as habitat loss, poisoning from ingesting lead ammunition, 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. This keen olfactory ability helps them locate food more efficiently and compete successfully with other scavengers.

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

red-headed birds in michigan
Photo by Manny Salas
  • Features: The red-headed woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker with a striking red head, white body, and black wings and tail. It has a strong, chisel-like bill for drilling into wood and extracting insects, as well as a long, barbed tongue for capturing prey.
  • Behavior: Red-headed woodpeckers are skilled foragers, using their sharp bills to excavate holes in trees and probe for insects, larvae, and sap. They are also known to cache food by storing it in crevices or under bark for later consumption.
  • Habitat: Red-headed woodpeckers inhabit a variety of open woodlands, including deciduous forests, orchards, and wooded wetlands. They are often found in areas with a mix of mature trees, open fields, and water sources, where they can find ample food and suitable nesting sites.
  • Conservation Status: The red-headed woodpecker is considered a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, with stable populations overall. However, habitat loss and degradation, as well as competition for nest sites with invasive species such as European starlings, may pose threats to this species in some regions.
  • Fun Fact: Red-headed woodpeckers are known for their unique habit of catching insects in flight. They will sally out from a perch to snatch flying insects with their bill, displaying impressive agility and coordination in mid-air.

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

red-headed birds in michigan
Photo by Jocelyn Anderson
  • Features: The red-bellied woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker with a red cap and nape, a black-and-white striped back, and a pale belly with a faint red wash. Despite its name, the red belly is often difficult to see in the field.
  • Behavior: Red-bellied woodpeckers are versatile foragers, using their strong bills to probe for insects, excavate cavities in trees, and extract sap from sap wells. They are also known to eat fruits, seeds, and nuts, supplementing their diet with a variety of plant materials.
  • Habitat: Red-bellied woodpeckers inhabit a wide range of forested habitats, including deciduous and mixed woodlands, parks, and suburban areas with mature trees. They are often found in wooded areas with a mix of tree species and dense understory vegetation.
  • Conservation Status: The red-bellied woodpecker is considered a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, with stable populations overall. However, habitat loss and fragmentation due to urbanization and deforestation may pose threats to this species in some regions.
  • Fun Fact: Despite their name, red-bellied woodpeckers do not have a truly red belly. Instead, their belly feathers are pale with a faint red wash, which is often obscured by the bird’s wings and body posture.

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

red-headed birds in michigan
Photo by Joey Hausler
  • Features: The pileated woodpecker is the largest woodpecker species in North America, with a striking black body, white stripes on the face and neck, and a vibrant red crest. Its powerful bill and long, barbed tongue are adapted for drilling into wood and extracting insects.
  • Behavior: Pileated woodpeckers are skilled excavators, creating large rectangular-shaped cavities in dead or decaying trees for nesting and foraging. They feed primarily on wood-boring insects, including beetles, ants, and larvae, which they locate by drumming on tree trunks and listening for vibrations.
  • Habitat: Pileated woodpeckers inhabit mature forests with abundant dead or dying trees, where they can find suitable nest sites and ample food resources. They are often associated with large tracts of unbroken forest, but they may also occur in smaller woodlots and wooded parks.
  • Conservation Status: The pileated woodpecker is considered a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, with stable populations overall. However, habitat loss and fragmentation due to logging, urbanization, and wildfires may pose threats to this species in some regions.
  • Fun Fact: Pileated woodpeckers are powerful excavators, capable of chiseling large holes in trees with remarkable speed and precision. Their distinctive rectangular-shaped cavities provide important habitat for a variety of cavity-nesting birds and mammals.

House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

red-headed birds in michigan
Photo by Michael Bowen
  • Features: The house finch is a small, colorful songbird with a red-orange crown, throat, and breast, contrasting with brown streaks on the back and wings. Males have brighter plumage than females, with more extensive red coloring on the head and chest.
  • Behavior: House finches are social birds, often seen foraging in small flocks or congregating at bird feeders in suburban areas. They feed primarily on seeds, grains, and fruits, using their conical bills to crack open seed husks and extract the nutritious kernels.
  • Habitat: House finches are adaptable birds that inhabit a wide range of habitats, including urban areas, suburban neighborhoods, parks, and gardens. They are commonly found in areas with abundant food sources, such as bird feeders, fruit-bearing trees, and flowering plants.
  • Conservation Status: The house finch is considered a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, with stable populations overall. However, they may be vulnerable to threats such as habitat loss, predation by domestic cats, and outbreaks of avian diseases such as Mycoplasma gallisepticum.
  • Fun Fact: House finches have a melodious song that varies in complexity and pitch, with males often singing to establish territories and attract mates. Their cheerful warbling can be heard throughout the year, especially during the breeding season.

Threats and Conservation

While many of the red-headed birds in Michigan are currently considered to be of Least Concern in terms of conservation status, they still face various threats in their natural habitats. Habitat loss and degradation due to urbanization, deforestation, and agricultural expansion remain significant concerns for many species. Additionally, factors such as climate change, pollution, and invasive species can further impact their populations and ecosystems.

Conservation efforts aimed at protecting and restoring critical habitat areas, implementing sustainable land management practices, and raising awareness about the importance of biodiversity are essential for ensuring the long-term survival of these birds. Citizen science initiatives, such as bird monitoring programs and habitat restoration projects, also play a crucial role in gathering data and informing conservation decisions.

By supporting conservation efforts and advocating for the protection of natural habitats, individuals can help safeguard the future of Michigan’s diverse bird species for generations to come.

Citizen Science

Citizen science programs provide opportunities for bird enthusiasts and nature lovers to contribute valuable data to scientific research and conservation efforts. Projects such as eBird, which allows participants to record and share bird sightings online, help researchers track bird populations, monitor migration patterns, and assess the health of ecosystems.

By participating in citizen science initiatives, individuals can help scientists gather data on bird distributions, abundance, and habitat use, contributing to our understanding of avian ecology and informing conservation strategies. Whether by submitting bird observations, participating in bird counts, or volunteering for habitat restoration projects, citizen scientists play a vital role in conserving Michigan’s rich bird diversity.

Conclusion

Michigan’s red-headed birds, with their vibrant plumage and fascinating behaviors, are a testament to the state’s rich biodiversity and natural beauty. From the striking redhead duck to the charismatic pileated woodpecker, each species plays a unique role in Michigan’s ecosystems and cultural heritage.

While these birds face various threats in their habitats, including habitat loss, pollution, and climate change, there is hope for their conservation through collaborative efforts and public support. By raising awareness, promoting conservation initiatives, and engaging in citizen science, we can all contribute to the protection of Michigan’s precious bird species for future generations to enjoy.