10 Red Birds in North Carolina – Picture and ID Guide

pine grosbeak

Finches and Tanagers are often the red birds that you can spot, but there are several different species to learn.

There are 10 species of red birds in North Carolina that have been spotted. Of these, 9 species are recognized on state checklists as regularly occurring, and one additional species is considered rare or accidental.

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

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

10 Red Birds in North Carolina:

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

10 Red Birds in North Carolina:

1. Northern Cardinal

northern cardinal

Northern Cardinals are very common all year in North Carolina.

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

Another common red bird in North Carolina is the House Finch. They can be spotted 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)

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. Summer Tanager

summer tanager

Summer Tanagers are residents of North Carolina all year, but they are more common 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.

4. Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet tanager

Scarlet Tanagers are vibrant red birds in North Carolina that can be spotted 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

Although not very common, Purple Finches can be spotted in North Carolina 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. Painted Bunting

Painted Buntings are rare red birds in North Carolina, but they can be spotted all year, especially along the coast during summer.

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.

7. Red Crossbill

red crossbill

Red Crossbills are residents of North Carolina all year, but they are more commonly seen between June and October 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.

8. Common Redpoll

Common Redpolls are very rare birds in North Carolina, but they can be spotted in the Cherokee National Forest, Pisgah National Forest, and a few others around Winston-Salem.

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.

9. White-winged Crossbill

Male White-winged Crossbill

Another very rare red bird in North Carolina is the White-winged Crossbill. They were spotted in Chapel Hill and Stony Hill.

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 the 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. 

10. Pine Grosbeak

pine grosbeak

Pine Grosbeaks are extremely rare red birds in North Carolina and are considered provisional by the North Carolina Bird Records Committee.

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 North Carolina 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 North Carolina on ebird in summer and winter.

Common Red Birds in North Carolina in Summer:

Northern Cardinal 63.0%
House Finch 26.5%
Summer Tanager 11.7%
Scarlet Tanager 8.3%
Painted Bunting 1.1%
Red Crossbill 0.4%
Purple Finch 0.1%

Common Red Birds in North Carolina in Winter:

Northern Cardinal 57.3%
House Finch 29.4%
Purple Finch 4.8%
Painted Bunting 0.2%
Red Crossbill 0.1%
Summer Tanager 0.1%
Common Redpoll <0.1%
White-winged Crossbill <0.1%