Finches and tanagers are often the red birds that you can spot but there are several different species to learn.
This guide will help you identify the 9 species of red birds in California according to avibase and the California state birds. Some of these birds migrate and some remain all year.
You can print out a free bird identification worksheet for California to help you identify birds that visit your backyard.
So read on to find out when is the best time to spot all these vibrant red birds in California.
14 Red Birds in California:
- House Finch
- Purple Finch
- Cassin’s Finch
- Vermillion Flycatcher
- Red Crossbill
- Summer Tanager
- Pine Grosbeak
- Northern Cardinal
- Hepatic Tanager
- Painted Bunting
- Scarlet Tanager
- Common Redpoll
- White-winged Crossbill
Red Birds in California:
1. House Finch
House Finches are very common red birds in California all year.
House Finches are another bird with a red head and breast in the males and brown-streaked coloring in the females.
- Length: 5.1-5.5 in (13-14 cm)
- Weight: 0.6-0.9 oz (16-27 g)
- Wingspan: 7.9-9.8 in (20-25 cm)
Originally only in western states it was introduced to the eastern states and has done very well, even pushing out the Purple Finch.
They can be found in parks, farms, forest edges, and backyard feeders. They can be found in noisy groups that are hard to miss.
You can attract more House Finches to backyard feeders with black oil sunflower seeds or nyjer seeds in tube feeders or platform feeders.
2. Purple Finch
Purple Finches are common red birds in California especially in spring and early summer.
Purple Finches look very similar to House Finch with the reddish-purple head and breast with more brown on the back and wings.
- Length: 4.7-6.3 in (12-16 cm)
- Weight: 0.6-1.1 oz (18-32 g)
- Wingspan: 8.7-10.2 in (22-26 cm)
They breed in Canada and overwinter in eastern states but can be found all year in the north-east are Pacific coast.
They can be spotted in evergreen forests feeding on seeds but also buds, nectar and berries.
They readily come to feeders for black oil sunflower seeds.
3. Cassin’s Finch
Cassin’s Finches look similar to House Finches and Purple Finches but they are not as common in California. They can be spotted here all year but they are more common in the summer.
Cassin’s Finches have a red crown and rosy pink head and are red-breasted with a whiteish belly and brown back and wings.
- Length: 6.3 in (16 cm)
- Weight: 0.8-1.2 oz (24-34 g)
- Wingspan: 9.8-10.6 in (25-27 cm)
They can be found in mountain forests in western states foraging in flocks for seeds.
They are not as common in backyards as House or Purple Finches but they may be attracted with sunflower seed feeders especially in winter or fruiting shrubs such as cotoneaster, mulberries, firethorn, grape and apple.
4. Vermillion Flycatcher
Vermilion Flycatchers are fun red birds to spot in California all year.
Vermilion Flycatchers are bright red birds from the front and brown on the back. with a brown mask across the face. Females are gray and brown with a pale reddish belly.
- Pyrocephalus rubinus
- Length: 4.8-5.4 in (12.3-13.8 cm)
- Weight: 0.4-0.5 oz (11.3-14.8 g)
They can be found all year in the far south in desert landscapes catching insects or sitting on exposed perches.
They are fairly common in the southwest but also along the Gulf Coast in smaller numbers.
5. Red Crossbill
Red Crossbills can be spotted in California all year.
Red Crossbill males are red birds with darker wings and tails. Females are yellow and brown.
They can be found year-round in northern and western states and in winter in eastern states.
They feed on conifer seeds and forage in flocks from tree to tree, even breaking unopened cones with their powerful beaks. As well as coniferous forests they can be found along roadsides consuming grit in the mornings.
6. Summer Tanager
Summer Tanagers are mostly spotted in California between May and August for breeding, but some remain all year in the state.
Summer Tanager males are bright red birds and females are yellow.
- Piranga rubra
- Length: 6.7 in (17 cm)
- Weight: 1.1 oz (30 g)
They breed in southern and eastern states before heading to Central and South America for winter.
They are forest songbirds and can be found in open woodlands and feed on bees and wasps in mid-flight. They catch them and kill them by beating them against a branch and then rub the stinger off before eating them.
You can attract more Summer Tanagers to your backyard with berry bushes and fruit trees.
7. Pine Grosbeak
Pine Grosbeaks are not very common in California but they can be spotted all year.
Pine Grosbeaks are a species of finch. The males are red birds with gray on the wings and tail and two white wingbars. Females are gray with dull orange heads and rumps. They are large for finches and relatively slow.
- Pinicola enucleator
- Length: 7.9-9.8 in (20-25 cm)
- Wingspan: 13.0 in (33 cm)
Pine Grosbeaks are mostly found in Canada but some can be spotted along the border or in the mountainous west and the Sierra Nevada in California.
They live in forests of pine, spruce and fir feeding on seeds, fruit and buds from these trees. They will also eat some insects in the summer.
You can attract Pine Grosbeaks to black oil sunflower seed feeders or suet feeders.
8. Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinals can be spotted in Southern California all year.
The bright red male Northern Cardinal is a bird with a red head, body and tail, with black around their faces. They are a great sight, especially against a white winter background. The females are also a little showy with their brown coloring, sharp brown crest, red highlights, and red beaks.
- Length: 8.3-9.1 in (21-23 cm)
- Weight: 1.5-1.7 oz (42-48 g)
- Wingspan: 9.8-12.2 in (25-31 cm)
Northern Cardinals are found in eastern and southern states and will sometimes attack their own reflection during breeding season as they obsessively defend their territories.
You can attract more Northern Cardinals to backyard feeders with sunflower seeds, peanut hearts, millet, and milo.
They will feed on large tube feeders, hoppers, platform feeders, or food scattered on the ground.
9. Hepatic Tanager
Hepatic Tanagers breed in Southern California and migrate south for the winter. However, some have been spotted here all year.
Hepatic Tanager males are red birds with some gray on the back. Females are yellow.
- Piranga flava
- Length: 3.5-7.9 in (8.8-20 cm)
- Weight: 0.8-1.7 oz (23-47 g)
- Wingspan: 12.6 in (32 cm)
Hepatic Tanagers breed in southwestern states and Mexico before spending the winter in Mexico, Central and South America.
They can be found in mountain ranges with pine or pine and oak woodlands and feed on insects and spiders. They will also eat some berries such as cherry and grapes.
10. Painted Bunting
Painted Buntings are considered an accidental species in California but they are spotted here, mostly in the south of the state, in the winter.
Painted Bunting males are a brightly colored patchwork of color with mostly red coloring underneath and with bright blue heads, green wings, and backs. Females are bright yellow-green.
- Passerina ciris
- Length: 4.7-5.1 in (12-13 cm)
- Weight: 0.5-0.7 oz (13-19 g)
Painted Buntings breed in a few states, in the south-central and along with some coastal areas in the Southeast US, before migrating at night to Central America, southern Florida, and some Caribbean islands.
You can find Painted Bunting in semi-open habitats foraging mostly for seeds but also insects in the breeding season.
To attract painted Bunting to your yard try adding low dense vegetation and feeders filled with seeds such as white millet or black oil sunflower seeds.
11. Scarlet Tanager
Scarlet Tanagers are considered an accidental or rare species in California but they have been spotted here, mostly in the south of the state and along the coast, between June and December.
Scarlet Tanagers are bright red birds with black wings and tails. Females are yellow with darker wings and tails.
- Piranga olivacea
- Length: 6.3-6.7 in (16-17 cm)
- Weight: 0.8-1.3 oz (23-38 g)
- Wingspan: 9.8-11.4 in (25-29 cm)
They breed in eastern forests in summer before migrating to South America.
Scarlet Tanagers can be hard to spot as they stay high in the forest canopy.
You can attract more Scarlet Tanagers by planting berry plants such as blackberries, raspberries, huckleberries, juneberries, serviceberries, mulberries, strawberries and chokeberries.
12. Common Redpoll
Common Redpolls are an accidental species in California but they are spotted in the north of the state in winter.
Common Redpolls have red foreheads, pinky breasts, and are brown and white over the rest of their bodies.
- Acanthis flammea
- Length: 4.7-5.5 in (12-14 cm)
- Weight: 0.4-0.7 oz (11-20 g)
- Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 in (19-22 cm)
They can be found in winter in northern states and less frequently in central states.
In winter they will sometimes tunnel into the snow to stay warm during the night. They can eat up to 42% of their body mass every day and can store up to 2 grams of seeds in a stretchy park of their esophagus.
They can be found in weedy fields or feeding on catkins in trees but they will also come to feeders for small seeds such as nyjer seeds or thistle.
Pyrrhuloxia are rare red birds in California but they are spotted in Southern California near Los Angeles, San Diego and towards Arizona.
Pyrrhuloxia males are grey with lots of red coloring to the face, crest, breast and tail. Females are dull gray with less red coloring.
- Cardinalis sinuatus
- Length: 8.3 in (21 cm)
- Weight: 0.8-1.5 oz (24-43 g)
They are residents of the hot deserts in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico.
During the breeding season, they fiercely defend their territory but in winter they can be found in flocks of up to 1000.
Pyrrhuloxia feed mostly on seeds but also insects. They can be found at feeders with sunflower seeds but more often prefer them scattered on the ground.
14. White-winged Crossbill
White-winged Crossbills are very rare in California but they have been spotted in northern California when cone crops are bad in Alaska.
White-winged Crossbills are finches with heavy crossed beaks. Males are red birds with black wings and tails and two white wingbars. Females are yellow and brown and with two white wing bars.
- Loxia leucoptera
- Length: 5.9-6.7 in (15-17 cm)
- Weight: 0.8-0.9 oz (24-26 g)
- Wingspan: 10.2-11.0 in (26-28 cm)
White-winged Crossbills live in forests in Canada, Alaska and sometimes northern US states when cone crops are poor further north. They can be found in spruce forests feeding on seeds.
Unusually these birds breed at any time of year as long as there is enough food.
They can often be heard in large flocks
How Frequently Red birds are Spotted in California in Summer and Winter
Checklists for the state are a great resource to find out which birds are commonly spotted here. These lists show which red birds are most commonly recorded on checklists for California on ebird in summer and winter.
Common Red Birds in California in Summer:
House Finch 48%
Purple Finch 8%
Cassin’s Finch 2.5%
Red Crossbill 0.7%
Vermillion Flycatcher 0.6%
Summer Tanager 0.5%
Hepatic Tanager 0.2%
Pine Grosbeak 0.1%
Common Redpoll >0.1%
Painted Bunting >0.1%
Scarlet Tanager >0.1%
Common Red Birds in California in Winter:
House Finch 40%
Purple Finch 4%
Vermillion Flycatcher 1.1%
Red Crossbill 0.4%
Cassin’s Finch 0.2%
Summer Tanager 0.2%
Hepatic Tanager >0.1%
Common Redpoll >0.1%
Scarlet Tanager >0.1%
Northern Cardinal >0.1%
Painted Bunting >0.1%
Pine Grosbeak >0.1%
White-winged Crossbill >0.1%