Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Red, Orange, & Yellow Birds of North Carolina

Did you see a brightly-colored red bird, orange bird, or yellow bird in North Carolina 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 North Carolina based on color.

The list of birds found in North Carolina includes over 485 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 North Carolina covered in this article are:

  • Northern Cardinal
  • American Robin
  • House Finch
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Summer Tanager
  • Red-headed Woodpecker
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Ruddy Duck


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

  • Eastern Towhee
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Barn Swallow
  • Wood Thrush
  • American Redstart
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • Orchard Oriole


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

  • American Goldfinch
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Pine Warbler
  • Northern Flicker
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • Northern Parula
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Pine Siskin
  • Hooded Warbler
  • Yellow-throated Warbler


Red birds of North Carolina


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 North Carolina.



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 year-round residents throughout North Carolina.


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 North Carolina.


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 North Carolina. 


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 North Carolina.


Summer Tanager

These bright red birds are found toward the tops of tall trees in the southern United States.


Photo of Summer Tanager in cottonwood
Summer Tanager. Greg Gillson.


Males are rose red with fairly heavy bill.

Females are yellowish or mustard-colored, some with a faint reddish wash.

In the East these birds are found in pine-oak woodlands. In the West they prefer tall cottonwood trees.

Summer Tanagers are summer residents throughout North Carolina.


Red-headed Woodpecker

These well-known woodpeckers with red heads have a fitting name.


Photo of Red-headed Woodpecker on tree
Red-headed Woodpecker. Public domain.


These birds have the entire head bright deep red. Back and tail black. Underparts white, as are inner secondaries and rump.

They are found in a variety of wooded habitats. They prefer to have oak and beech trees available. Sometimes come to feeders in winter.

Red-headed Woodpeckers are year-round residents throughout most of North Carolina, absent in extreme western North Carolina.


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 most of North Carolina, spring and fall migrants only in eastern North Carolina.


Ruddy Duck

These small ducks are dark chestnut-red in spring.


Photo of Ruddy Duck swimming on lake
Ruddy Duck. Greg Gillson.


Males in breeding plumage (late winter and spring) are rusty, with a white face, and a blue bill. The long tail is often held sticking up. In winter they are brown, with white face, and dark bill.

Females all year are like winter males. Brown body, dark cap, dark line through eye of pale face. Dark bill.

These birds prefer weedy ponds to breed, but in winter may be found in deeper ponds in city parks.

Ruddy Ducks are winter visitors throughout North Carolina.



Orange birds of North Carolina


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 North Carolina.


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 year-round residents throughout most of North Carolina, summer residents only in western North Carolina.


Brown Thrasher

These are rather large rusty-orange songbirds.


Photo of Brown Thrasher on fence
Brown Thrasher. Linda Jones CC0.


The upper parts of these birds is colored rusty-brown to orange. They show two white wing bars. Under parts are buff with heavy reddish-brown streaking.

These birds live in woodland edges and mature backyard landscaping.

Brown Thrashers are summer residents throughout most of North Carolina, year-round residents in southeastern North Carolina.


Red-shouldered Hawk

Okay, the shoulders are reddish. But the rusty-orange breast and wing linings are barred red too.


Photo of Red-shouldered hawk on branch
Red-shouldered Hawk. Greg Gillson.


The upper parts are barred black and white. The tail is banded black and white. In adults the breast is barred orange.

Immature birds are streaked with brown on the breast.

These birds like woodland edges, residential edges, riparian groves.

Red-shouldered Hawks are year-round residents throughout North Carolina.


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 North Carolina. 


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 North Carolina.


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 in northern and western North Carolina, spring and fall migrants only in eastern and southern North Carolina.


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 winter visitors throughout North Carolina, year-round residents in mountains of western North Carolina. 


Orchard Oriole

Males of these orioles are darker rustier-orange than most other orioles in the United States.


Photo of Orchard Oriole on branch
Orchard Oriole. Dan Pancamo. Flikr. CC BY-SA 2.0


Males have a black hood and back, black wings and tail. The under parts are rusty-orange or even chestnut-brown.

Females are greenish above, lemon yellow below. They have 2 thin white wing bars. The bill is thinner than many other orioles.

They are found in orchards and residential shade trees.

Orchard Orioles are summer residents throughout North Carolina.



Yellow birds of North Carolina


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 North Carolina.



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 through most of North Carolina, winter visitors only in southeastern North Carolina. 


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
Breeding 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 winter visitors throughout most of North Carolina. 


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 year-round residents throughout most of North Carolina, summer residents only in mountains of western North Carolina.


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 North Carolina.


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 most of North Carolina, year-round residents in eastern North Carolina.


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 North Carolina.


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 summer residents throughout North Carolina.


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 winter visitors throughout North Carolina, year-round residents in the mountains of western North Carolina.


Eastern Meadowlark

These pale brown birds with the brilliant yellow breasts are home on the ground in prairies. They sing from perches on isolated trees, power poles, fence posts.


Photo of Eastern Meadowlark on twig
Eastern Meadowlark
Photo by Mike's Birds from Riverside, CA, US [CC BY-SA 2.0]


The upper parts are streaked black, white, brown, so they blend into the dried grass where they live. The under parts are bright yellow with a black necklace across the chest. Very similar to Western Meadowlark, best told apart by spring song.

These birds live in prairies and extensive pasture lands.

Eastern Meadowlarks are year-round residents throughout North Carolina.


Pine Siskin

These small brown-streaked birds are relatives of the goldfinches. But you would never know it until they fly and sport yellow wing stripes and tail base. Usually in flocks.


Photo of Pine Siskins in bird bath
Pine Siskin. Greg Gillson.


These birds are streaked brown. In flight they have a yellow stripe down the length of the wing. The sides of the base of the tail is also yellow. Some birds are paler, some darker, others brighter yellow, others duller.

These birds are found in summer in northern conifer woods. Irregularly irrupt hundreds of miles southward. Frequent at feeders.

Pine Siskins are winter visitors throughout North Carolina.


Hooded Warbler

These birds are found low down in the forest understory. They flash white tail corners.


Photo of Hooded Warbler on a wall
Male Hooded Warbler. Christopher O'Toole. Pixabay.


Males are dark green above with a black cowl over the crown and onto the throat. Face and under parts are bright yellow. White tail corners.

Females are similar, but lack the black of the male. The crown is green and the throat yellow.

These birds are found in deciduous woods and swamps, primarily in brushy understory.

Hooded Warblers are summer residents throughout North Carolina.


Yellow-throated Warbler

These birds with the bright yellow throats creep along the branches high in trees.


Photo of Yellow-throated Warbler on branch (crop)
Yellow-throated Warbler. Dominic Sherony. CC 2.0


These are rather gray warblers with bright yellow throat and upper breast. Black crown and face mask with white patch behind. White eyebrow. Two broad white wing bars. Black streaks on white breast and belly.

They like pine-oak woodlands, sycamores, cypress.

Yellow-throated Warblers are summer residents throughout North Carolina.




Related:

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

See photos and learn what to feed winter birds in North Carolina.

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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