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14 Red-Headed Birds in Washington State

red-headed birds in washington state
Red-breasted Sapsucker in King, Washington: Photo by Mason Maron


The red-headed birds in Washington State are famous for drawing attention with their rich hues and captivating behaviors. If you’re eager to know more about these feathered beauties, you’re in the right place! Let’s dive into the world of Washington’s most stunning red-headed birds.

Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope)

  • Features: This dabbling duck sports a chestnut-red head with a creamy crown. Males, in particular, exhibit a striking contrast between their reddish heads and their gray bodies. The Eurasian wigeon’s distinctive whistle adds to its allure.
  • Locations: They can often be found in wetlands and coastal estuaries of Washington, especially during the winter months.
  • Fun Fact: Unlike many ducks, Eurasian wigeons prefer to graze on land, almost like geese.

Canvasback (Aythya valisineria)

  • Features: Recognizable by its sleek profile, the canvasback male boasts a reddish head, contrasting with its black chest and white body. Its long, sloping bill is perfect for digging up aquatic vegetation.
  • Locations: Washington’s freshwater lakes and ponds, particularly in the winter.
  • Fun Fact: The canvasback’s name is derived from its canvas-like back, a result of its unique feather patterning.

Redhead (Aythya americana)

  • Features: True to its name, the male redhead flaunts a deep red head, which contrasts beautifully with its gray body and black chest. Their broad, rounded bill is ideal for foraging on aquatic plants.
  • Locations: Freshwater habitats throughout Washington, especially during migration.
  • Fun Fact: Redheads often lay their eggs in the nests of other ducks, a behavior known as “brood parasitism.”

Red-naped Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis)

  • Features: This medium-sized woodpecker showcases a bright red patch on the back of its head, contrasting with its black and white striped face. Males possess a red throat, while females opt for a more subdued white. Their rhythmic drumming can often be heard echoing through the forests.
  • Locations: Predominantly found in the forests of eastern Washington, especially those with young trees ideal for their feeding habits.
  • Fun Fact: Despite being woodpeckers, they often feed on tree sap, going so far as to drill a series of holes in tree trunks to access this sugary treat.

Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber)

  • Features: Donning a vibrant red head and chest, this sapsucker is a sight to behold. Their winged patterns offer a delightful mix of black and white, making them one of the more colorful woodpeckers in the region.
  • Locations: Moist coniferous forests across Washington State, from lowlands to mountain regions.
  • Fun Fact: They have a penchant for drumming on metal objects, like utility poles and even street signs, amplifying their beats.

Lewis’s Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis)

  • Features: Named after Meriwether Lewis, who first described the species, this woodpecker has a deep red face, complemented by a greenish-black body and a gray collar. Unique among North American woodpeckers, their flight is more reminiscent of a crow.
  • Locations: Open pine woodlands and riparian forests of eastern Washington.
  • Fun Fact: Lewis’s woodpeckers are not adept drummers. Instead, they’re known for their flycatching skills, snatching insects mid-air.

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)

  • Features: This lively woodpecker boasts a conspicuous clown-faced pattern with a vibrant red crown. The contrast of their white eyes against a black and white face makes them unmistakable. Their habit of storing acorns in tree bark gives them their name.
  • Locations: While more common in the southern parts of the U.S., in Washington, they can occasionally be spotted in oak woodlands of the southeastern region.
  • Fun Fact: They often live in large groups, and their granary trees, filled with stored acorns, are vital communal resources.

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

  • Features: One of the largest woodpeckers in North America, the pileated woodpecker has a striking red crest that extends from the top of its beak to the back of its head. Its call is as impressive as its size, echoing loudly across the forests.
  • Locations: Dense, mature forests throughout Washington State, from the west’s coastal regions to the eastern mountains.
  • Fun Fact: Their excavations in search of insects can be so extensive that they often leave large holes in dead trees, benefiting other birds and animals.

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

  • Features: Though not entirely red-headed, the barn swallow possesses a glistening cobalt-blue back and a rusty-red throat and forehead. With long, forked tails, they are exquisite fliers, known for their agility.
  • Locations: Open habitats across Washington, often seen around farms, fields, and water bodies during the warmer months.
  • Fun Fact: These birds migrate long distances, some traveling from North America to South America during winters.

House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

  • Features: The male house finch is easily recognized by his vibrant red head and throat, which stands in stark contrast to his brown-streaked body. This color can vary in intensity, depending on the bird’s diet and overall health.
  • Locations: Found throughout Washington, they’re adaptable birds, thriving in urban settings, backyards, parks, and forest edges.
  • Fun Fact: Originally a bird of the western U.S. and Mexico, they were introduced to the eastern states in the 1940s and have since spread across the entire continent.

Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus)

  • Features: Male purple finches, despite their name, have a raspberry-red hue on their heads, throats, and chests. This rich coloration makes them standout against the green foliage of their preferred habitats.
  • Locations: Woodlands, especially coniferous forests, across Washington. They are also frequent visitors to backyard feeders.
  • Fun Fact: Often confused with the house finch, the purple finch’s red extends further down its back and has a more extensive raspberry hue.

Cassin’s Finch (Haemorhous cassinii)

  • Features: The males exhibit a bright red crown and sometimes a rosy wash on their chest. Their thick bills are specialized for cracking seeds.
  • Locations: Mountainous regions of eastern Washington, particularly in coniferous forests.
  • Fun Fact: Named after John Cassin, a 19th-century American ornithologist, these birds are highly elevational and are often found in pine forests at high altitudes.

Pine Grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator)

  • Features: Males are unmistakable with a rose-red head, chest, and back. These chunky, medium-sized finches possess a melodious song that rings out in their preferred habitats.
  • Locations: Higher elevation forests in eastern Washington, especially during breeding season.
  • Fun Fact: Despite their vibrant coloration and beautiful song, pine grosbeaks are often overlooked because of their preference for dense tree cover.

Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)

  • Features: These songbirds light up the woods with a striking combination of a bright red head, sunny yellow body, and coal-black wings. The males’ radiant colors look almost tropical.
  • Locations: Forests throughout Washington during the summer months. They prefer open coniferous and mixed woodlands.
  • Fun Fact: Despite their flashy appearance, western tanagers have a rather quiet demeanor and can often be overlooked unless they’re singing.

Explaining the Red-Headed Birds in Washington State

In the avian world, color often serves as more than mere decoration. Red, a color that requires a combination of genetics and diet, is often an indicator of health, vigor, and attractiveness to potential mates. In many species, a brighter hue can suggest a well-fed bird, high in health, and in peak condition for breeding.


Washington State, nestled amidst diverse habitats ranging from coastal shores to lush forests, holds a pivotal role in bird conservation. The increasing pace of urbanization accentuates the responsibility to ensure that our avian counterparts continue to flourish.

Dedicated Sanctuaries and Habitats: Across Washington, numerous bird sanctuaries and protected habitats have been established. These areas, insulated from the rigors of urban disturbances, serve as critical breeding, feeding, and migratory grounds. Notable regions such as the Skagit Wildlife Area and Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge stand as testaments to the state’s commitment to bird protection.

Public Awareness and Engagement: A crucial cornerstone of conservation is fostering public awareness. By joining hands with schools, local organizations, and dedicated conservationists, Washington has witnessed a surge in workshops, campaigns, and events designed to bolster public engagement with avian life. Organizations like the Washington State Audubon Society lead the charge, promoting initiatives that draw enthusiasts and novices alike.

Legislation and Protective Measures: Washington’s commitment to its feathered denizens is also enshrined in law. Over the years, the state has enacted robust protective measures and laws to provide a safety net for birds. These legislative actions, paired with proactive conservation strategies, pave the way for a brighter, safer future for the state’s birds.


Preserving and cherishing the natural heritage of Washington State means also cherishing these unique avian species that add color and vitality to its landscapes. Whether you’re a passionate birdwatcher or someone who simply admires the beauty of nature, spotting a red-headed bird is always a heartwarming experience. Their radiant presence reminds us of the diverse and vibrant tapestry of life that graces the Pacific Northwest.

(Check out our article on the Great Washington State Birding Trail – it’s a great way to find the birds in this article!