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8 Red-headed Birds in Virginia

red-headed birds in virginia
Common Merganser in Pulaski, Virginia: Photo by Phil Lehman


Virginia’s diverse landscapes offer a haven for a variety of bird species, including several stunning red-headed birds that grace its skies and woodlands. From the vibrant plumage of waterfowl to the charismatic woodpeckers that inhabit its forests, Virginia is home to an array of avian treasures waiting to be discovered. In this article, we’ll explore some of the red-headed birds in Virginia, highlighting their unique features, behaviors, habitats, and conservation status.

Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca)

  • Features: The green-winged teal is a small dabbling duck with a colorful plumage. Male green-winged teals boast intricate patterns of green and chestnut on their heads and wings, while females have mottled brown plumage.
  • Behavior: These ducks are often found in freshwater habitats such as marshes, ponds, and rivers, where they forage for aquatic plants, seeds, and invertebrates.
  • Habitat: Green-winged teals can be found in a variety of wetland habitats throughout Virginia, particularly during the winter months when they migrate south from their breeding grounds.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Redhead (Aythya americana)

  • Features: Named for the striking reddish-brown head of the male, the redhead is a medium-sized diving duck with a sleek profile and a gray body. Both males and females have pale gray bills and yellow eyes.
  • Behavior: These ducks dive underwater to forage for aquatic plants, seeds, and invertebrates, using their specialized bills to filter food from the water.
  • Habitat: Redheads prefer shallow freshwater habitats such as marshes, lakes, and coastal lagoons, where they can find ample food resources and suitable nesting sites.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)

  • Features: The common merganser is a large diving duck with a slender, streamlined body and a long, serrated bill. Males have striking black and white plumage with a greenish-black head, while females have gray bodies with rusty-brown heads.
  • Behavior: These ducks are skilled divers and fishers, using their powerful legs and feet to propel themselves underwater in search of fish and other aquatic prey.
  • Habitat: Common mergansers inhabit freshwater rivers, lakes, and ponds with clear, fast-flowing water, where they can find an abundance of fish to feed on.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

  • Features: The turkey vulture is a large scavenging bird with dark plumage, a featherless red head, and a distinctive hooked beak. It is often seen soaring high in the sky on broad wings, searching for carrion.
  • Behavior: Turkey vultures rely primarily on their keen sense of smell to locate food, which includes carrion, dead animals, and other organic matter.
  • Habitat: Turkey vultures can be found in a variety of habitats throughout Virginia, including forests, grasslands, and urban areas, where they scavenge for food.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

  • Features: With its striking black and white plumage and vibrant red head, the red-headed woodpecker is easily recognizable. Both males and females have red heads, distinguishing them from other woodpecker species.
  • Behavior: These woodpeckers are skilled foragers, using their strong bills to excavate insects from trees and catch flying insects in mid-air.
  • Habitat: Red-headed woodpeckers inhabit open woodlands, forests, and wooded suburban areas with plenty of dead trees for nesting and foraging.
  • Conservation Status: Near Threatened

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

  • Features: Despite its name, the red-bellied woodpecker’s belly is only faintly tinged with red. However, it has a striking red cap on the back of its head and a zebra-like pattern on its back.
  • Behavior: These woodpeckers are omnivorous and feed on a variety of food items, including insects, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
  • Habitat: Red-bellied woodpeckers can be found in a wide range of wooded habitats, including forests, woodlots, parks, and suburban areas with mature trees.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

  • Features: The pileated woodpecker is one of the largest woodpecker species in North America, with a striking black body, white stripes on its face, and a prominent red crest on its head.
  • Behavior: These impressive woodpeckers are adept at excavating large cavities in trees in search of insects and nesting sites.
  • Habitat: Pileated woodpeckers inhabit mature forests and wooded areas with plenty of dead and decaying trees, where they can find an abundance of food and suitable nesting sites.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

  • Features: The house finch is a small, colorful songbird with a red or orange plumage on its head, throat, and chest. Males have brighter plumage than females, with more vibrant red hues.
  • Behavior: These finches are highly adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats, including urban areas, suburbs, parks, and gardens.
  • Habitat: House finches prefer open habitats with plenty of shrubs and trees for nesting and foraging. They are often found near human habitation, where they feed on seeds, fruits, and insects.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Threats and Conservation

While many of these red-headed birds are currently classified as Least Concern by the IUCN, habitat loss, urbanization, and climate change pose ongoing threats to their populations. Conservation efforts focused on habitat preservation, restoration, and the protection of key breeding and foraging areas are essential for ensuring the long-term survival of these species in Virginia.

Citizen Science

Birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts can contribute valuable data to scientific research through citizen science projects such as eBird and the Great Backyard Bird Count. By recording observations of red-headed birds and other species, individuals can help researchers better understand bird populations, distributions, and behaviors, ultimately aiding in conservation efforts.


Virginia’s red-headed birds add beauty and vitality to the state’s natural landscapes, from the tranquil wetlands to the dense forests. By appreciating and protecting these avian treasures, we can ensure that future generations have the opportunity to experience the wonder of Virginia’s rich birdlife. Whether observing them in the wild or attracting them to our own backyard feeders, red-headed birds remind us of the importance of preserving and cherishing our natural heritage.