Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Red, Orange, & Yellow Birds of Idaho

Did you see a brightly colored red bird, orange bird, or yellow bird in Idaho and wonder what it was?

This page is for you!

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

The list of birds found in Idaho includes over 435 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 Idaho covered in this article are:

  • American Robin
  • House Finch
  • Cassin's Finch
  • Red Crossbill


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

  • Northern Flicker
  • American Kestrel
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • Barn Swallow
  • Spotted Towhee
  • Bullock's Oriole
  • Black-headed Grosbeak
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Cooper's Hawk
  • Rufous Hummingbird


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

  • American Goldfinch
  • Lesser Goldfinch
  • Pine Siskin
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Western Tanager
  • Western Kingbird
  • Yellow-headed Blackbird
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • MacGillivray's Warbler
  • Yellow-breasted Chat


Red birds of Idaho


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 Idaho.



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 Idaho.


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 in lowlands of southern and southwestern Idaho. 


Cassin's Finch

These red finches are found in ponderosa pine.


Photo of Cassin's Finch on stick
Cassin's Finch. Greg Gillson.


Males of these brownish finches are frosted with pink on the upper parts. The crown is the brightest red. They are not streaked on the under parts.

Females lack the red. They have a pale outline of the darker ear patch. Like the males, females are shaped with a large bill that is straight on the upper ridge. The tail is strongly forked.

These finches are found in dry mountain forests of ponderosa pine and juniper. Similar Purple Finches are found in deciduous and wet conifers. House Finches are found in towns everywhere.

Cassin's Finches will visit feeders within pine forests.

Cassin's Finches are year-round residents throughout Idaho.


Red Crossbill

These red finches use their uniquely crossed bills to pry seeds from cones.


Photo of Red Crossbill on branch
Red Crossbill. Greg Gillson.


Males are deep red with blackish wings and forked tail. 

Females more yellowish-green.

Always found in conifers, frequently in the mountains. Much variation in bill size. Smaller-billed populations feed on small spruce and fir cones. Larger-billed populations feed on large hard pine cones.

Red Crossbills are year-round residents throughout Idaho.



Orange birds of Idaho


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 Idaho.



Northern Flicker

These unusual woodpeckers with orange under wings are just as likely to be found hopping on your lawn eating ants as they are to be calling from a dead treetop.


Photo of Northern Flicker on a stump.
Northern Flicker. Greg Gillson.


Where is the orange color? 

Wait for it...


Photo of Northern Flicker in flight.
Northern Flicker. Greg Gillson.


The shafts and undersides of the wing and tail feathers are a salmon orange color. A large white rump patch also attracts attention as these birds fly away.

Northern Flickers live in open woods, residential areas. Sometimes visit feeders in winter.

Northern Flickers are year-round residents throughout Idaho. 


American Kestrel

These are the familiar small rusty-orange falcons sitting on power lines on the edge of the highway or hunting and hovering over the median strip.


Photo of American Kestrel on sign
Female American Kestrel. Greg Gillson.


Females are rusty orange barred with black on their back wings and tail. The under parts are buff with black spots. The head shows two facial stripes.

Males have blue-gray backs and rufous tail is unmarked except for black tail band.

These birds are found in open country, farms, pastures with perches.

American Kestrels are year-round residents throughout most of Idaho but summer residents only in far eastern Idaho.


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 Idaho. 


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 Idaho. 


Spotted Towhee

These big sparrows with red sides superficially resemble the coloration of robins. 


Photo of Spotted Towhee in pine tree sapling
Spotted Towhee. Greg Gillson.


These birds have dark hoods and upper parts with rusty rufous-red sides and white bellies. They have white spots over their wings, shoulders, and on their tail corners. The upper parts of the males are jet black, females dark brown. Some populations have paler orange sides.

These are somewhat shy birds that hide in the dense brush and spend most of their time on the ground. They visit feeders during quiet periods.

Spotted Towhees are summer residents across much of Idaho but year-round residents in southwestern Idaho. 


Bullock's Oriole

These bright orange and black birds are often seen in tall trees.


Photo of Bullock's Oriole in willows.
Male Bullock's Oriole. Greg Gillson.


The males of this species are very bright orange. The back and top of the heads are black. The black wings have large white wing patches. The tail is black with orange sides. The face is orange with a black line through the eye and a black throat.

Females and young are gray with yellow head and breast and tail.

These birds are more common in drier inland regions along watercourses in tall cottonwoods or shade trees. Rarely come to feeders for fruit or nectar in spring.

Bullock's Orioles are summer residents across southern Idaho and along the western border of Idaho.


Black-headed Grosbeak

If you didn't look closely at these big-billed birds, you might mistake these orange-breasted songsters for American Robins--their coloration and song are very similar!


Photo of Black-headed Grosbeak on stump.
Male Black-headed Grosbeak. Greg Gillson.


Males have black and white wings and tail. Huge bill. The under parts are burnt orange, fading to yellow-orange mid-belly. 

Females and first year birds have a striped heads and are brown above, pale buff or butterscotch-orange below. 

These birds are found in deciduous or mixed woods. Visit bird feeders.

Black-headed Grosbeaks are summer residents throughout Idaho.


Ruddy Duck

These small ducks are dark rusty-orange 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 summer residents across southern Idaho and year-round residents in southwestern Idaho.


Cinnamon Teal

What an unusually colored brownish-orange duck!


Photo of Cinnamon Teal on pond
Male Cinnamon Teal. Greg Gillson.


Males are dark cinnamon orange. The wing patches are blue, green, and white. The eye is red. 

Females are more mottled brown with matching wing patches.

These birds are found in ponds and grass-lined ditches.

Cinnamon Teals are summer residents throughout Idaho.


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 in most of Idaho, summer residents only in northern Idaho.


Rufous Hummingbird

These are the common widespread hummingbirds of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. These orange birds don't like to share the hummingbird feeder--frequent chases are the norm.


Photo of Rufous Hummingbird at feeder
Rufous Hummingbird. Greg Gillson.


Males are all-over rusty orange, tending to pinker cinnamon on the under parts. Even the back and rump and base of the tail feathers are orange. Males have a bright red throat gorget when the sunlight catches it just right.

Females are green above, with a small green or red spot in the center of the white throat. Flanks and sides cinnamon. Tail base orange.

These birds are found in forest edges, yards, in all but the highest mountains.

Rufous Hummingbirds are summer residents in most of central, western, and northern Idaho, spring and fall migrants only in southeastern Idaho.



Yellow birds of Idaho


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 Idaho.



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 Idaho. 


Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinches maintain their bright yellow plumage all year--even in the winter when American Goldfinches are rather brown and colorless.


Photo of Lesser Goldfinch in willows
Male Lesser Goldfinch. Greg Gillson.


These tiny birds are bright yellow below (including under the tail), and green or black on the back. The wings and tail are black and white. Males have a black cap, which the females lack.

These birds are found near water in arid regions of the West and Southwest. They are common in residential areas, too, and come to bird feeders.

Lesser Goldfinches are summer residents in south-central Idaho.


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 are 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 year-round residents throughout most of Idaho but winter visitors only to extreme southwestern Idaho.


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 weed stock
Male Audubon's Yellow-rumped 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 northern and eastern Idaho, spring and fall migrants only in central and southwestern Idaho. 


Western Meadowlark

These are streaky camouflaged prairie birds from above or from behind. But from the front, the breast is shocking yellow!


Photo of Western Meadowlark on a fence line
Western Meadowlark. Greg Gillson.


They are streaked brown, black, and gray on the upper parts. The underparts are golden yellow with a black necklace crossing the upper breast. Much paler yellow in fall and winter, as the yellow feathers are tipped with white and streaked with brown.

These are birds of pastures and grasslands and arid regions.

Western Meadowlarks are summer residents throughout Idaho and year-round residents in extreme southwestern Idaho.


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 Idaho.


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 Idaho.


Western Tanager

Numbers of these bright black and yellow birds may show up overnight in backyards in spring migration. Then they disappear the next night.


Photo of Western Tanager in bush.
Western Tanager. Greg Gillson.


Males are brilliant golden yellow with black back, wings, and tail, and a red or orange face. Swollen yellow bill.

Females are more green or gray, with darker wings and tail. Lack red face.

They are found in a variety of wooded habitats, usually conifers or mixed conifer woods, and residential areas with large trees, including mature conifers. Usually don't visit feeders.

Western Tanagers are summer residents throughout Idaho. 


Western Kingbird

These yellow-bellied birds of the prairies often perch on power lines and fence lines.


Photo of Western Kingbird on a branch
Western Kingbird. Greg Gillson.


These birds are pale gray on the head and breast. Brown wings. The belly is lemon yellow. Black tail has white outer tail feathers, especially obvious in flight.

These are birds of prairies, deserts, pastures, often near water.

Western Kingbirds are summer residents throughout Idaho.


Yellow-headed Blackbird

These blackbirds with yellow heads are found in marshes in the West.


Photo of Yellow-headed Blackbird on fence
Yellow-headed Blackbird. Greg Gillson.


Males are glossy black with bright golden-yellow head and breast. White wing patches.

Females are duller brown with mottled yellow breast.

These birds nest in cattail marshes in prairies. Winter in large flocks in agricultural areas.

Yellow-headed Blackbirds are summer residents throughout Idaho.


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 Idaho, absent where there is no water.


MacGillivray's Warbler

These are yellow-bellied birds of brushy clear cuts.


Photo of MacGillivray's Warbler on branch
MacGillivray's Warbler. Greg Gillson.


These ground-loving birds have gray hoods with white eye arcs. Rest of upper parts green. Breast, belly, under tail bright yellow.

Females have slightly paler gray hood but are otherwise similar to males.

These birds love brushy clear cuts, tangles, thick cover. They stay low.

MacGillivray's Warblers are summer residents in northern and eastern Idaho, absent in central and southwestern Idaho.


Yellow-breasted Chat

These unique larger yellow birds may sing day and night, and include whistles and crow-like cawing, often given in a display flight.

 

Photo of Yellow-breasted Chat in tree
Yellow-breasted Chat. Greg Gillson.


These birds are greenish above with bright yellow breast and white belly. They have a dark mask bordered with white.

These birds live in tangles and wet woods.

Yellow-breasted Chats are summer residents throughout Idaho.




Related:

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

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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