Red Birds in Montana – Picture and ID Guide

northern cardinal

Montana boats 12 species of red bird that have been spotted in the state. This guide will show you all the red birds that can be spotted and help with identification.

There are 12 species of red birds in Montana that have been spotted. Of these, 8 species are recognized on state checklists as regularly occurring, and an additional 4 species are considered rare or accidental.

This guide will help you identify the species of red birds in Montana 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 Montana to help you identify all birds that visit your backyard.

The most common red bird in both summer and winter in Montana is the House Finch. The Common Redpoll is more commonly seen in winter, and several other species are more commonly spotted in summer in Montana.

Keep on reading to find out when to spot these red birds.

12 Red Birds in Montana:

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

12 Red Birds in Montana:

1. House Finch

house finch male

House Finches are common in Montana 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. Red Crossbill

red crossbill

Red Crossbills can be spotted all year in Montana, mostly in the western part of the state.

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.

3. Cassin’s Finch

Cassin’s Finches are residents of Montana all year, but they are more common during summer.

Cassin’s Finches have a red crown, rosy pink head, and 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. Common Redpoll

Common Redpolls can be spotted in Montana 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.

5. Pine Grosbeak

pine grosbeak

Although not very common, Pine Grosbeaks can be seen in Montana all year, but they are mostly spotted during winter in the western part of the state.

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.

6. White-winged Crossbill

Male White-winged Crossbill

White-winged Crossbills can be spotted all year in Montana. They are more commonly seen around Kootenai National Forest and Flathead National Forest.

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. 

7. Purple Finch

Purple Finch

Purple Finches are rare in Montana but can be spotted in the Flathead National Forest almost all year.

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.

8. Summer Tanager

summer tanager

Summer Tanagers are considered an accidental species in Montana but a few were spotted near the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

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.

9. Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet tanager

Scarlet Tanagers are very rare red birds in Montana, but they have been spotted in Missoula.

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.

10. Northern Cardinal

northern cardinal

Northern Cardinals are considered an accidental or rare species in Montana, but they have been spotted near Nashua and Fairfield.

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.

11. Painted Bunting

Another red bird that is considered an accidental species in Montana is the Painted Bunting. They are very rare to find in the state, but they were spotted near Flathead Lake. 

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.

12. Pyrrhuloxia

Pyrrhuloxia

Pyrrhuloxia is extremely rare in Montana and is considered transient by the Montana Natural Heritage Program.

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. 

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

Common Red Birds in Montana in Summer:

House Finch 16.8%
Cassin’s Finch 7.3%
Red Crossbill 5.5%
Pine Grosbeak 0.4%
White-winged Crossbill 0.2%
Purple Finch <0.1%
Summer Tanager <0.1%
Common Redpoll <0.1%
Scarlet Tanager <0.1%
Northern Cardinal <0.1%
Painted Bunting <0.1%

Common Red Birds in Montana in Winter:

House Finch 26.7%
Common Redpoll 5.6%
Red Crossbill 4.3%
Pine Grosbeak 1.8%
Cassin’s Finch 1.1%
White-winged Crossbill 0.4%
Purple Finch 0.1%
Northern Cardinal <0.1%
Painted Bunting <0.1%