Saturday, October 16, 2021

Red, Orange, & Yellow Birds of Massachusetts

Did you see a brightly-colored red bird, orange bird, or yellow bird in Massachusetts and wonder what is was?

This page is for you!

This article shows you photos and identification of some of the most common birds in Massachusetts based on color.

The list of birds found in Massachusetts includes over 510 species. So, I can't show you all of them. I'm going to assume that you saw a common bird of this color, but you certainly could have seen something less common, or even rare!

Shape (including the shape of the bill) and size are often more helpful in starting to identify a bird than the color. In fact, most birds in North American can be easily identified with a black-and-white photo!

Many birds are multi-colored, so that it may be hard to pick out a dominant color. Males and females may be colored quite differently. And some color patterns are similar among otherwise dissimilar species.

Nevertheless, I'm going to try to pick out some of the birds that you are most likely to see in backyards or towns. And I'll show a few others that I get asked about a lot.


The birds with a noticeable amount of red on them in Massachusetts covered in this article are:

  • American Robin
  • Northern Cardinal
  • House Finch
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Purple Finch


The birds with a noticeable amount of orange on them in Massachusetts covered in this article are:

  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Barn Swallow
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • American Redstart
  • Cooper's Hawk
  • Wood Thrush


The birds with a noticeable amount of yellow on them, including lots of yellow and black birds, in Massachusetts covered in this article are:

  • American Goldfinch
  • Northern Flicker
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Pine Warbler
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • Northern Parula
  • Palm Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Prairie Warbler


Red birds of Massachusetts


Birds get the red, orange, and yellow in their feathers from carotenoids in the fruit, seeds, and plants they eat (source). 

These carotenoid colors combine with melanin to form an infinite range of red feathers--pink, rusty, scarlet, violet, red-orange.

The following are red birds that you are most likely to see in Massachusetts.



American Robin

These are familiar lawn birds with red breasts. 


Photo of American Robin on lawn.
American Robin. Greg Gillson.


Male American Robins are brownish-gray above with a brick red breast. Females are paler orange below and paler gray above.

They are widespread in open country with scattered deciduous trees, residential areas.

American Robins are year-round residents throughout Massachusetts.


Northern Cardinal

These are one of the most common backyard birds in the eastern United States. Their bright red color and unique head profile makes them instantly identifiable to most people--whether they are bird watchers or not!


Photo of Northern Cardinal on feeder
Northern Cardinal. GeorgeB2 from Pixabay.


Males of these large seed eaters are bright red with a black face and red crest.

Females replace most of the red with brown, The bill is large and orange.

These birds are found in woodlands, stream edges, residential areas.

Northern Cardinals are year-round residents throughout Massachusetts.


House Finch

When people ask about a bird with a red head at their feeder, it is usually this bird.


Photo of House Finch in tree top
Male House Finch. Greg Gillson.


Males of this dusty brown striped finch have red limited to the head (specifically the forehead and eyebrow), breast (chest), and rump. The red coloration tends toward orangish, and may rarely be yellowish.

Females are streaked, similar to the males but without red. They lack any strong pattern on the face and head.

Note the small round head and curved upper ridge on the bill.

Some people call these red-headed sparrows. Sparrows and finches are similar, but in general, male finches are brighter than the females and tend to hang out more in trees. Sparrow genders are usually quite similar in coloration and tend to feed mostly on the ground. 

These birds are common in residential areas, especially at bird feeders. In the West more widespread in arid regions near water.

House Finches are year-round residents throughout Massachusetts. 


Ruby-throated Hummingbird

These red-throated birds are the only hummingbird nesting in the eastern United States.


Photo of Ruby-throated Hummingbird at feeder
Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. GeorgeB2. Pixabay.


Males are dark green above and on the belly. They have a white upper chest. The throat is ruby-red.

Females are green above, white below, including white throat.

These birds are found in woodland edges, residential yards. Readily come to hummingbird feeders.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are summer residents throughout Massachusetts.


Rose-breasted Grosbeak

These birds with the red breast and huge pink bill sing beautiful robin-like songs from the tops of trees.


Photo of Rose-breasted Grosbeak on pole
Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Susan Killian. Pixabay.


Males have black hood and upper parts. White under parts. Large white wing patches. Huge pink bill. Inverted bright red triangle on the breast.

Females are brown above, face with broad stripes, white throat. The under parts are buff with many thin brown streaks. Pale bill.

These birds inhabit deciduous and mixed forests. Shade trees in town. Come to feeders.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are summer residents throughout most of Massachusetts, absent in southeastern Massachusetts.


Scarlet Tanager

A brilliant red and black bird!


Photo of Scarlet Tanager on a branch
Male Scarlet Tanager. USF&WS. Public Domain.


Males are unmistakable with brilliant red with black wings and tail.

Females are olive-green above, darker wings and tail, yellower under parts. Pale bill.

These birds live in deciduous woods.

Scarlet Tanagers are summer residents throughout Massachusetts.


Purple Finch

Forest finches of the foothills, delicately frosted in pinkish-red.


Photo of Purple Finch on twig
Male Purple Finch. Greg Gillson.


Told from more common House Finch by bigger square or peaked head, bigger bill, lacks sharp striping below, deeply notched tail. Red covers all plumage. 

Females lack red color, shows strongly patterned dark ear patch outlined all around with a pale stripe, is heavily streaked below.

Found in foothills and damp mountains conifers and mixed woods. Visit feeders, but less frequently than House Finches.

Purple Finches are year-round residents throughout Massachusetts.



Orange birds of Massachusetts


True orange-colored birds are not that common. Many birds that I have here are paler rusty.

The common pattern is an orange body and black or brown wings and tail. Another common pattern is for the orange to be restricted to the under parts.

The following are orange birds that you are most likely to see in Massachusetts.



Baltimore Oriole

These bright orange and black birds are fairly common breeders in wooded areas in the East.


Photo of Baltimore Oriole eating and orange
Baltimore Oriole. Michael McGough. Pixabay.


Males are have a black hood and back. Wings black with white patches. Tail black with orange sides to the base. Bright orange under parts.

Females are similar to males, but more olive above, less black. Immature birds for their first year or more are olive above orangish-yellow on the breast, fading to yellow on the belly. Two white wing bars.

These birds are common in deciduous woods, shade trees.

Baltimore Orioles are summer residents throughout Massachusetts.


Eastern Towhee

These birds with rusty-orange sides like to hide in dense bushes.


Photo of Eastern Towhee in tree branches
Female Eastern Towhee. Skeeze. Pixabay.


Males are black above with white wing patch, white tail corners. The sides are rusty. The belly white. Eyes variable: brown, red, orange, white, tending toward whiter southward.

Females are similar, but upper parts brown.

These birds are found in forest understory, dense brush, backyard hedges. Come to feeders.

Eastern Towhees are summer residents throughout Massachusetts.


Barn Swallow

These orange-bellied birds are a familiar sight across North America in summer.


Photo of Barn Swallows on wooden railing.
Barn Swallow. Greg Gillson.


These birds are purple-blue above with orange under parts and long forked tails. The color of the underparts in winter or on females are often cinnamon or buff-colored, but breeding males can be brighter orange-red.

These birds swoop low over fields and wetlands at lower elevations. They may build their mud nests in rafters on porches, garages, or other out-buildings.

Barn Swallows are summer residents throughout Massachusetts. 


Red-breasted Nuthatch

These active little red-breasted birds crawls all around on the trunk and big branches of conifers. They search crevices in the bark for insect food.


Photo of a Red-breasted Nuthatch on a stick
Red-breasted Nuthatch. Greg Gillson.


These tiny birds have blue-gray backs and a black line through a white face. Some males can have quite bright rusty red under parts. Some females can have quite pale buff-colored under parts. Most birds show an orange-cinnamon breast color.

Found nearly exclusively in conifers. Readily come to feeders.

Red-breasted Nuthatches are year-round residents throughout Massachusetts. 


American Redstart

In flight these small warblers flash orange or yellow in the wing and base of the tail.


Photo of American Redstart on branch
American Redstart. Dennis Jarvis. Flikr. CC BY-SA 2.0


Males are black above, white on the belly. They have bright orange patches on side of breast, wings, and base of the tail.

Females are grayer, especially on the head. The orange of males is replaced by yellow on the females.

These birds are found in regenerating woods after a clear cut, and willow tangles along streams.

American Redstarts are summer residents throughout Massachusetts.


Cooper's Hawk

These crow-sized hawks with reddish orange bars on the under parts may show up in fall or winter to hunt birds at your feeder. Oh no!


Photo of Cooper's Hawk on branch
Cooper's Hawk. Greg Gillson.


Adults with long gray and black banded tail. Dark gray above and cap on head. Under parts barred with rusty orange.

Immatures similar, brownish, streaked with brown on under parts.

Found in forests and woodlands, residential shade trees.

Cooper's Hawks are year-round residents throughout Massachusetts.


Wood Thrush

These spotted birds with the orange-brown upper parts tend to hide in understory trees and on the forest floor.


Photo of Wood Thrush on ground
Wood Thrush. Tony Castro. CC BY-SA 4.0


These birds are reddish brown on the upper parts, especially rusty orange on the crown and upper back. White eye ring. Large heavy black spots on the under parts.

They live in deciduous and mixed woods. Spend much time on the ground, shuffling through the leaf litter.

Wood Thrushes are summer residents throughout Massachusetts.




Yellow birds of Massachusetts


Yellow is a common bird color! Often it is mixed with black and white plumage in birds.

Many birds with darker upper parts have yellow breast or belly.

The following are yellow birds you are most likely to see in Massachusetts.



American Goldfinch

These small little birds are bright yellow and black.


Photo of American Goldfinch on twig
American Goldfinch. Greg Gillson.


Males are bright lemon yellow with black and white wings and tail, black cap. White under tail coverts. Pink bill.

Females are duller yellow below and brownish above. Lack black cap.

Winter birds are pale brown or gray, a touch of yellow on the throat of males.

These are birds of open country, fields with saplings, clear cuts, residential areas. They avoid dense forests, mountains, deserts. They visit feeders.

American Goldfinches are year-round residents throughout Massachusetts. 


Northern Flicker

These woodpeckers spend much time eating ants on the ground.


Photo of intergrade Northern Flicker in tree
Northern Flicker. Greg Gillson.


These birds are larger than robins with brown and black barred upper parts. The underparts are pink with round black spots. There is a black crescent across the chest. When they fly away from you they reveal a large white rump.

Western birds have salmon-red under wings and under tail. Those in the East are colored yellow. The male face differs between the two populations--black whisker on the eastern birds, red whisker on western birds. Intergrades from overlap on Great Plains common. These may show male facial characteristics of both populations, or yellow-orange flight feathers.

These birds live in open woods with bare ground for foraging, residential yards.

Northern Flickers are year-round residents throughout Massachusetts.


Common Yellowthroat

These buttery yellow birds are abundant in the marsh vegetation.


Photo of Common Yellowthroat in maple
Male Common Yellowthroat. Greg Gillson.


These skulkers have bright yellow throats and yellow undertail coverts. Males have a black domino mask edged broadly in white, which females lack. Upperparts are dull olive-green.

Immature males in fall show a shadowed black mask.

Found in damp situations and heavy deciduous brambles following clear cuts.

Common Yellowthroats are summer residents throughout Massachusetts.


Cedar Waxwing

These crested birds with yellow band on the end of the tail are often found in flocks. They eat flying insects in summer, fruit and berries the rest of the year.


Photo of Cedar Waxwing in tree
Cedar Waxwing. Greg Gillson.


These birds are fawn-brown above, with dark gray wings and tail. They have a black mask and wispy crest. The belly is yellow. The wings have waxy red drops on the end of the tertials. The end of the tail has a brilliant yellow tail band.

They are found in open habitats with berries, including juniper woodlands and towns in winter.

Cedar Waxwings are year-round residents throughout Massachusetts.


Yellow Warbler

The golden yellow sun packed all into one little bird! Appears to be an all-yellow bird.


Photo of Yellow Warbler on branch
Yellow Warbler. Greg Gillson.


Some populations are bright yellow, some tend toward greenish on upper parts, some more golden. Yellow internal tail corners in flight.

Males with red breast streaking, again, variable by population.

Females somewhat to much paler yellow, some greenish, some whitish. Lack red streaks.

These birds are found in willow thickets on the edge of wetlands and ditches, stream sides in arid regions.

Yellow Warblers are summer residents throughout Massachusetts.


Yellow-rumped Warbler

These are abundant warblers across North America. Affectionately called "butter butts" by many birders, because of their bright yellow rumps that flash in flight.


Photo of Yellow-rumped Warbler on branch
Summer Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler. Greg Gillson.


Western form (Audubon's) with bright yellow throat and yellow rump. Large white wing patch.

Northern and Eastern form (Myrtle) with white throat, yellow rump, and two white wing bars.

Winter birds are dull gray brown, with bright yellow rump. Throat may be cream colored or white. Often difficult to tell the two forms apart in winter.


Photo of Yellow-rumped Warbler on tree
Winter Yellow-rumped Warbler. Greg Gillson.


Breed in mountain or boreal conifers. Widespread in migration. Winter in low river bottoms, open weedy deciduous areas. Rarely come to feeders in winter.

Yellow-rumped Warblers are summer residents in the western half of Massachusetts, winter visitors in the eastern half of Massachusetts. 


Pine Warbler

This yellow and gray bird is one of the few warblers to visit feeders--and the only one to eat seeds!


Photo of Pine Warbler on railing
Pine Warbler. Nikolaus Schultz. Pixabay.


These birds are yellow-green on head, back, and breast. Wings blue-gray with wide white wing bars. Yellow split eye ring.

Strongly associated with pine forests. Usually high in tree tops.

Pine Warblers are summer residents throughout Massachusetts.


Great Crested Flycatcher

These flycatchers have long tails and big heads with big bill and bright yellow belly.


Photo of Great Crested Flycatcher on branch
Great Crested Flycatcher. Simard Francois. Pixabay.


These birds are gray on the face and breast, brownish on rest of upper parts. Bright lemon yellow belly. The under side of the tail and some feathers of the wing are cinnamon colored.

These birds stay in the canopy of open woods.

Great Crested Flycatchers are summer residents throughout Massachusetts.


Northern Parula

This is a handsome blue and yellow warbler.


Image of Northern Parula
Male Northern Parula. Elaine Weiss. Pixabay.


Males are blue on the hood and shoulders. Back green. Yellow throat and breast with a dark red spot mid-chest. Broken white eye ring. Two wide white wing bars.

Females are similar, but paler.

They are found along streams and in swampy forests with willows, maples, birches, hemlocks and other trees.

Northern Parulas are spring and fall migrants throughout Massachusetts.


Palm Warbler

This rather drab bird has bright yellow under tail coverts. It tends to spend much time on the ground in disturbed soils. It constantly bobs its tail up and down.


Photo of Palm Warbler on rock
Winter Palm Warbler. Greg Gillson.

Breeding birds are rather gray with yellow throat, vent and under tail coverts. White eyebrow stripe. Chestnut cap. Eastern birds tend to be more yellowish on the breast.

In winter birds are very pale, but with yellow under tail.

They nest in bogs within boreal forests. They like similar habitat at other times of year: open land with isolated scrubby trees or bushes, including coastal scrub.

Palm Warblers are spring and fall migrants throughout Massachusetts.


Black-throated Green Warbler

Look for these birds with the yellow faces singing high up in the trees in spring.


Image of Black-throated Green Warbler by Madeline Allen
Black-throated Green Warbler. Madeline Allen. Pixabay.


Males in spring have green back and crown, black throat, circling a bright yellow face.

Females and immatures in fall have a white throat. Greenish ear patch. 

Found in many forest types, conifers, mixed forests, and cypress.

Black-throated Green Warblers are summer residents throughout Massachusetts.


Prairie Warbler

These birds with the yellow breasts and odd black line under the eyes are a resident of mangrove swamps.


Prairie Warbler. Public domain.


Males are olive-green on the crown and back with chestnut streaks. Greenish-gray wings have pale wing bars. Yellow face and under parts. Yellow eyebrow, patch under eye. Black line through eye and below yellow under eye patch. Black streaks on sides.

Females are similar but facial pattern fainter, replaces black with green.

They are found in open scrubby woods, mangrove swamps.

Prairie Warblers are summer residents through most of Massachusetts, local in the north.




Related:

See photos and learn about the most common backyard birds in Massachusetts, regardless of color.

See photos and learn what to feed winter birds in Massachusetts.

Here's a quick tutorial of how I would teach you to identify birds: 7 Steps to Identify Birds!

Birds with red heads in North America.

Yellow-and-black birds in North America.

Little Brown Birds at your Feeder.



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