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11 Red Birds in South Carolina

red birds in south carolina
Northern Cardinal in Beaufort, South Carolina: Photographer Unkown

Introduction

From woodpeckers hammering on old snags to tanagers flitting through pine forests, a variety of brightly-colored red birds frequent South Carolina. The Palmetto State’s diverse ecosystems from the Lowcountry’s tidal marshes to the Piedmont’s oak woodlands provide ideal habitat for these beautiful scarlet-hued species. Read on to learn about some of the vivid red birds that grace landscapes across South Carolina.

Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens)

  • Features: The reddish egret is a medium-sized heron with a long pink bill and shaggy crest. It has mostly white plumage with a reddish neck, breast, and airy lace-like plumes down the back during breeding season. This egret is more agile and active when foraging compared to other heron species. 
  • Locations: Reddish egrets are found along coastal areas, tidal creeks, marshes, and lagoons. They breed on barrier islands off the South Carolina coast.
  • Fun Fact: The reddish egret runs and jumps actively when foraging, stirring up fish by swiftly dashing back and forth. It has a distinctive sneezing call.

Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus)

  • Features: The glossy ibis has a long decurved dark bill, chestnut body, and iridescent plumage. Breeding adults develop a reddish-brown head, neck, back, and underparts that appear glossy. Juveniles are gray-brown overall.
  • Locations: This species is found feeding in freshwater and brackish wetlands scattered across South Carolina, such as the Cooper River and Yawkey Wildlife Center. 
  • Fun Fact: A gregarious species that feeds in large flocks, and will perch in trees unlike other marsh birds.

Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)

  • Features: The red-shouldered hawk is a medium-sized stocky bird of prey with broad wings and a long barred tail. It has reddish barring on the breast, a strongly black and white striped tail, and pale crescents near the wingtips. The namesake reddish shoulder patches are visible in flight.
  • Locations: This hawk is found in swamp and riparian woodlands across South Carolina. It is a year-round resident that breeds in the state. 
  • Fun Fact: Its loud, ringing kee-ah call is often repeated steadily from tall perch sites at nesting sites. 

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus

  • Features: The red-headed woodpecker is a medium-sized bird with entirely crimson red head, neck, throat, and upper breast. The back and wings are black with large white patches. The tail is black with white outer feathers.
  • Locations: This species is found in open woodlands, groves, forest edges, parks, and orchards across South Carolina. Oak forests are a preferred habitat type.
  • Fun Fact: This woodpecker stores acorns and other nuts in tree crevices and branches to eat during winter months. It is also known to follow acorn woodpecker granary trees.

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

  • Features: The pileated woodpecker is one of the largest woodpeckers with black plumage and a bright red pointed crest on its head. It also has bold white stripes along the neck and face. In flight, large white wing patches flash. The bird has a long chisel-like bill.
  • Locations: This woodpecker occupies mature deciduous and pine forests across South Carolina. It requires standing dead trees for nesting and roosting sites.
  • Fun Fact: It makes rectangular excavations in dead trees when searching for carpenter ants, which make up a large portion of its diet. The holes provide nesting sites for other cavity birds. 

Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)

  • Features: The red-breasted nuthatch is a small songbird with blue-gray upperparts and rusty flanks. It has a black cap and stripe through the eye. The throat and breast are white with a rusty wash. It has a short tail and straight pointed bill. 
  • Locations: This nuthatch is found in coniferous forests and mixed woods across South Carolina, especially in mountains and foothills. It forages on tree trunks and branches.
  • Fun Fact: It has a nasal, tooting call which it uses to maintain contact with mate and advertise territory. This species prefers feeding on conifer seeds and insects.

House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

  • Features: The house finch is a small-bodied finch with a short conical red bill and notched tail. Breeding males have bright red plumage on the head, breast, and rump. Females are brown-streaked overall with a plain face. 
  • Locations: This finch is found in urban parks, farms, backyards, and open woodlands across South Carolina year-round. It was originally native to the West but is now widespread after introductions.
  • Fun Fact: Male house finches get their red coloring from pigments in foods like berries. Brighter males are more attractive to females.

Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus)

  • Features: The purple finch is a sparrow-sized bird with a short deeply notched tail and a short conical bill. Breeding males are reddish-purple on the head, throat, breast, and back with white below and brown streaking on the sides. Females are plain gray-brown with heavy streaking.
  • Locations: This finch breeds in coniferous and mixed forests across northern South Carolina. It winters farther south and inhabits backyards with feeders. 
  • Fun Fact: The male purple finch sings a lively, warbling song often described as similar to an American Goldfinch but more musical and buzzy.

Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra)

  • Features: The summer tanager is a medium-sized songbird with a thick pointed bill. Males are bright red overall with darker wings and tail. Females are yellowish-orange overall. First year males may resemble females.
  • Locations: This tanager breeds in mature open deciduous forests across South Carolina. It winters in Central America.
  • Fun Fact: The male’s buzzy, insect-like song is often described as sounding like a robin with a sore throat.

Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea

  • Features: The male scarlet tanager is bright red with jet black wings and tail. The female is yellowish-olive overall with olive-colored wings and tail. Both sexes have thick pointed bills. 
  • Locations: This species breeds in deciduous and mixed forests across South Carolina. It migrates to northwestern South America for the winter.
  • Fun Fact: The male scarlet tanager’s crimson red plumage makes it one of the most brilliantly colored forest songbirds in eastern North America.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

  • Features: This songbird has a short crest on its head, thick red bill, black face mask, and bright red plumage. Males are vivid red overall while females are soft brownish-red with darker wings and tails. 
  • Locations: Cardinals are found in shrub thickets, gardens, and woodland edges across South Carolina year-round.
  • Fun Fact: Cardinal pairs remain bonded for life and the male often feeds the female as part of their courtship behavior.

Threats and Conservation

Habitat loss, disturbance of nest sites, and chemical pollution threaten many red bird species. Protecting wetlands, responsibly managing pine forests, and reducing pesticide use helps populations thrive. Nest boxes and bird-friendly yards also aid many species.

Citizen Science  

South Carolinians can get involved in monitoring red birds through projects like the Christmas Bird Count, Great Backyard Bird Count, and eBird. Reporting sightings provides valuable data on species distribution, movements, and numbers over time.

Conclusion

South Carolina’s diverse red birds, from scarlet tanagers lighting up the canopy to red-shouldered hawks calling from swamp forests, brighten ecosystems and our lives across the state. Conservation measures and engaging the public in citizen science programs can help ensure these vivid species remain for all to appreciate.