Red Birds are easy to spot with the flash of bright color but do you know your Finch from your Tanager?
There are 11 species of red birds in Illinois that have been spotted. Of these 6 species are recognized on state checklists as regularly occurring, additional 4 species are considered rare or accidental, and one is considered an introduced species.
This guide will help you identify the species of red birds in Illinois according to avibase. Some of these birds migrate, and some remain all year.
You can print out a free bird identification worksheet for Illinois to help you identify all birds that visit your backyard.
The most common red bird in both summer and winter in Illinois is the Northern Cardinal. The Scarlet Tanager is more commonly seen in summer, and several species are only spotted in winter in Illinois. Keep reading to find out which ones.
11 Red Birds in Illinois:
- Northern Cardinal
- House Finch
- Scarlet Tanager
- Purple Finch
- Summer Tanager
- Common Redpoll
- Red Crossbill
- White-winged Crossbill
- Painted Bunting
- Pine Grosbeak
- Hepatic Tanager
11 Red Birds in Illinois:
1. Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinals are very common red birds in Illinois 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 an incredible sight, especially against a white winter background. The females are also 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 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.
2. House Finch
The House Finch is considered an introduced species in Illinois and can be spotted 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.
3. Scarlet Tanager
Scarlet Tanagers are beautiful red birds that can be spotted in Illinois during summer.
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.
4. Purple Finch
Purple Finches are not very common in Illinois, but they can be spotted all year, especially during winter.
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.
You can spot them in evergreen forests feeding on seeds but also buds, nectar, and berries.
They readily come to feeders for black oil sunflower seeds.
5. Summer Tanager
Summer Tanagers are red birds that can be spotted in Illinois between April and October.
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 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 rubbing the stinger off before eating them.
You can attract more Summer Tanagers to your backyard with berry bushes and fruit trees.
6. Common Redpoll
Common Redpolls can be spotted during winter in the northern part of Illinois.
Common Redpolls have red foreheads, pinky breasts, and 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 part 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.
7. Red Crossbill
Red Crossbills can be hard to spot in Illinois but some have been seen near Chicago.
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 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.
8. White-winged Crossbill
White-winged Crossbills are considered rare in Illinois, but some have been spotted mostly near Chicago during winter.
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.
9. Painted Bunting
Painted Buntings are considered an accidental species in Illinois but they are spotted here during winter, some in Chicago and a few in Bloomington.
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 Bunting breed in a few states, in the south-central and 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, mainly foraging for seeds and insects in the breeding season.
To attract painted Bunting to your yard, try adding low, dense vegetation and feeders filled with white millet or black oil sunflower seeds.
10. Pine Grosbeak
Pine Grosbeaks are considered an accidental or rare species in Illinois. They have been spotted very few times in Springfield, Quincy, and also Chigaco.
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 US border, 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.
11. Hepatic Tanager
Hepatic Tanagers are extremely rare birds to see in Illinois. In fact, according to records, it has been spotted once in Pittsfield.
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.
How Frequently Red birds are Spotted in Illinois 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 Illinois on ebird in summer and winter.
Common Red Birds in Illinois in Summer:
Northern Cardinal 53%
House Finch 19%
Scarlet Tanager 7%
Summer Tanager 3%
Purple Finch 0.5%
Painted Bunting <0.1%
Red Crossbill <0.1%
White-winged Crossbill <0.1%
Common Red Birds in Illinois in Winter:
Northern Cardinal 45%
House Finch 22%
Purple Finch 2%
Common Redpoll 1%
White-winged Crossbill 0.2%
Red Crossbill 0.1%
Pine Grosbeak <0.1%
Scarlet Tanager <0.1%
Summer Tanager <0.1%