Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Red, Orange, & Yellow Birds of South Dakota

Did you see a brightly colored red bird, orange bird, or yellow bird in South Dakota 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 South Dakota based on color.

The list of birds found in South Dakota includes over 410 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 South Dakota covered in this article are:

  • American Robin
  • House Finch
  • Purple Finch
  • Red Crossbill
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Red-headed Woodpecker


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

  • Barn Swallow
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • Spotted Towhee
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Orchard Oriole
  • American Kestrel
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Black-headed Grosbeak
  • American Redstart


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

  • American Goldfinch
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Northern Flicker
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Yellow-headed Blackbird
  • Western Kingbird
  • Pine Siskin
  • Dickcissel
  • Western Tanager



Red birds of South Dakota


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 South Dakota.



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 most of South Dakota, summer residents only in northern South Dakota.


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 southeastern and southwestern South Dakota, absent elsewhere.


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 winter visitors throughout most of South Dakota, absent in far southwestern South Dakota.


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 pinecones.

Red Crossbills are winter visitors throughout South Dakota.


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 in southeastern South Dakota.


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 summer residents throughout South Dakota.



Orange birds of South Dakota


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 South Dakota.


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 South Dakota.


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 South Dakota.


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 in western South Dakota.


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 South Dakota.


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 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 South Dakota.


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 South Dakota.


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 summer residents throughout South Dakota.


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 throughout South Dakota.


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 in central and western South Dakota.


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 scattered in north-central, southeastern, southern, and southwestern South Dakota.



Yellow birds of South Dakota


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 South Dakota.



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 summer residents throughout South Dakota, year-round residents in southeastern South Dakota.


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 South Dakota.


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 South Dakota.


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 South Dakota.


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 most of South Dakota, winter visitors only in south-central South Dakota.


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 spring and fall migrants only throughout South Dakota.


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 South Dakota.


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 South Dakota.


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 South Dakota.


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 South Dakota, year-round residents in southwestern South Dakota.


Dickcissel

These yellow birds often flock together in weedy roadside edges.


Photo of Dickcissel
Dickcissel. RebelAT. CC By-SA 3.0


These are gray birds with yellow breast and eyebrow.

Males have a black band across the lower throat. They have a large chestnut patch on the shoulder.

Females paler, lack black chest band.

They are found in prairie grasslands and weedy patches.

Dickcissels are summer residents throughout South Dakota.


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 spring and fall migrants through western South Dakota, summer residents in a small area of southwestern South Dakota.




Related:

See photos and learn about the most common backyard birds in South Dakota, 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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