10 Red Birds in Iowa – Picture and ID Guide

Purple Finch

Need help identifying the red birds found in Iowa? This guide will show you all the red birds that can be spotted and help with identification.

There are 10 species of red birds in Iowa that have been spotted. Of these, 8 species are recognized on state checklists as regularly occurring, and an additional 2 species are considered rare or accidental.

This guide will help you identify the species of red birds in Iowa according to avibase. Some of these birds migrate, and some remain all year.

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You can print out a free bird identification worksheet for Iowa to help you identify all birds that visit your backyard.

The most common red bird in both summer and winter in Iowa is the Northern Cardinal. However, the Scarlet Tanager and Summer Tanager are only seen in summer, and several species are only spotted in winter in Iowa.

Continue reading to find out more about these red birds.

10 Red Birds in Iowa:

  1. Northern Cardinal
  2. House Finch
  3. Purple Finch
  4. Scarlet Tanager
  5. Summer Tanager
  6. Common Redpoll
  7. Red Crossbill
  8. White-winged Crossbill
  9. Painted Bunting
  10. Pine Grosbeak

10 Red Birds in Iowa:

1. Northern Cardinal

northern cardinal

Northern Cardinals are very common red birds in Iowa 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

house finch male

House Finches are fun red birds to spot in Iowa 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. Purple Finch

Purple Finch

Purple Finches are not very common in Iowa, but they can be spotted in the state 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.

4. Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet tanager

Scarlet Tanagers are beautiful red birds in Iowa, but they are not very common. They can be spotted in the state 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.

5. Summer Tanager

summer tanager

Summer Tanagers are not that common in Iowa, but they can be spotted mostly during summer in the south of 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 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 are rare birds in Iowa, but some can be spotted in the state during winter.

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 crossbill

Red Crossbills are rare birds in Iowa that can be spotted mostly during winter.

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

Male White-winged Crossbill

Another red bird that can be spotted during winter in Iowa is the White-winged Crossbill. Some have been spotted in Des Moines and Hampton.

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 Iowa. However, a few have been spotted during summer, some in Iowa City and near Iowa Falls.

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 grosbeak

Pine Grosbeaks are considered an accidental or rare species in Iowa. Records show that for the last 10 years, only a few of these magnificent red birds have been spotted here.

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.

How Frequently Red birds are Spotted in Iowa 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 Iowa on ebird in summer and winter.

Common Red Birds in Iowa in Summer:

Northern Cardinal 56.4%
House Finch 18.6%
Scarlet Tanager 6.4%
Summer Tanager 2%
Purple Finch 0.4%
Red Crossbill <0.1%
Painted Bunting <0.1%

Common Red Birds in Iowa in Winter:

Northern Cardinal 46.2%
House Finch 22.6%
Purple Finch 4.7%
Common Redpoll 0.7%
White-winged Crossbill 0.3%
Red Crossbill 0.2%
Pine Grosbeak 0.1%