9 Red Birds in Kentucky – Picture and ID Guide

Male White-winged Crossbill

Red birds are more common than you may think, and there are plenty of species to spot.

There are 9 species of red birds in Kentucky that have been spotted. Of these, 4 species are recognized on state checklists as regularly occurring, an 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 Kentucky 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 Kentucky to help you identify all birds that visit your backyard.

The most common red bird in both summer and winter in Kentucky is the Northern Cardinal. The Scarlet Tanager is more commonly seen in summer, and several species are only spotted in winter in Kentucky. Continue reading to find out more about these red birds.

9 Red Birds in Kentucky:

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

9 Red Birds in Kentucky:

1. Northern Cardinal

northern cardinal

Northern Cardinals are very common red birds in Kentucky all year.

The bright red male Northern Cardinal has a red head, body, and tail and 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 considered introduced species in Kentucky that can be seen in the state 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)

Initially, only in western states, they were introduced to eastern states, and they have 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. Summer Tanager

summer tanager

Summer Tanagers can be spotted in Kentucky in the summer between May 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.

4. Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet tanager

Scarlet Tanagers, although not very common, can be spotted in Kentucky 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. Purple Finch

Purple Finch

Purple Finches are rare in Kentucky, but you can spot them here in the winter, between October and May.

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.

6. Red Crossbill

red crossbill

Red Crossbills are considered an accidental species in Kentucky, but some have been spotted in Louisville and Lexington.

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.

7. Common Redpoll

Common Redpolls are considered an accidental or rare species in Kentucky, but some have been seen here 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.

8. White-winged Crossbill

Male White-winged Crossbill

White-winged Crossbills are an accidental species in Kentucky, but they have been spotted, mostly in the north of the state, in 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

Other red birds that are considered accidental or rare species in Kentucky are Painted Buntings. Records show that they have been spotted near Louisville and Stanton a few times.

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.

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

Common Red Birds in Kentucky in Summer:

Northern Cardinal 70.1%
House Finch 25.7%
Summer Tanager 16.5%
Scarlet Tanager 9.1%
Purple Finch 0.3%
Painted Bunting <0.1%

Common Red Birds in Kentucky in Winter:

Northern Cardinal 62.2%
House Finch 28%
Purple Finch 5%
Red Crossbill 0.1%
Common Redpoll <0.1%
White-winged Crossbill <0.1%
Summer Tanager <0.1%