Red Birds in Montana – Picture and ID Guide

In the vast landscapes of Montana, an astonishing variety of twelve vibrant crimson avian species have been documented within the state’s borders. This comprehensive manual aims to acquaint you with each of these captivating red birds and aid you in their identification.

Montana is home to a diverse array of a dozen distinctive species of red birds, which have been carefully recorded. Among these, eight species are commonly encountered and officially recognized on state checklists, while an additional four species are classified as rare or sporadic occurrences.

This enlightening guide will serve as your trusted companion in recognizing and discerning the different red bird species found in Montana, as documented by avibase. It’s worth noting that some of these avian creatures embark on migratory journeys, while others choose to make Montana their permanent residence throughout the year.

For a more hands-on approach to identifying the diverse bird species that grace your own backyard, we provide a complimentary bird identification worksheet specifically tailored for Montana.

The most prevalent red bird species observed during both the summer and winter seasons in Montana is the House Finch. On the other hand, the Common Redpoll is more frequently sighted during winter, while several other species are commonly spotted during the summer months in Montana.

Continue reading to uncover the optimal periods for encountering these splendid red birds.

12 Red Birds in Montana

1. House Finch

The House Finch, a resident of Montana throughout the year, showcases vibrant crimson feathers on the heads and breasts of males, while females display brown-streaked plumage.

Size: 5.1-5.5 inches (13-14 cm) Weight: 0.6-0.9 ounces (16-27 g) Wingspan: 7.9-9.8 inches (20-25 cm)

Initially confined to the western regions, this species was successfully introduced to the eastern states and even surpassed the Purple Finch in competition.

You can spot House Finches in various habitats such as parks, farms, forest edges, and frequented backyard feeders. They often gather in noisy groups, making them hard to miss.

To attract more House Finches to your backyard feeders, consider providing black oil sunflower seeds or nyjer seeds in tube or platform feeders.

2. Red Crossbill

In Montana, you can spot Red Crossbills all year round, particularly in the western regions of the state.

Male Red Crossbills display striking red feathers with darker wings and tails, while females showcase a mix of yellow and brown colors.

They are present throughout the year in the northern and western states, but during the winter, they tend to migrate to the eastern states.

These birds have a specialized diet, mainly consisting of conifer seeds. They forage in groups, moving from tree to tree, and have a unique ability to use their strong beaks to pry open unopened cones. You may also come across them along roadsides, where they consume grit in the early morning hours.

3. Cassin’s Finch

Cassin’s Finches are permanent residents of Montana, although they are more commonly sighted during the summer months.

These finches have a distinctive appearance with a red crown, rosy pink head, red breast, whiteish belly, and brown back and wings.

Size: 6.3 inches (16 cm) Weight: 0.8-1.2 ounces (24-34 g) Wingspan: 9.8-10.6 inches (25-27 cm)

They are typically found in mountainous forests across western states, where they form flocks to search for seeds.

Although not as frequently seen in backyard settings compared to House or Purple Finches, you can attract them with sunflower seed feeders, especially during winter, or by having fruit-bearing shrubs such as cotoneaster, mulberries, firethorn, grapes, and apples in your vicinity.

4. Common Redpoll

The Common Redpoll is a winter visitor to Montana.

These birds can be recognized by their reddish foreheads, pinkish breasts, and a combination of brown and white feathers on the rest of their bodies. While not common in Montana, they occasionally make appearances.

Scientific Name: Acanthis flammea Size: 4.7-5.5 inches (12-14 cm) Weight: 0.4-0.7 ounces (11-20 g) Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 inches (19-22 cm)

During the winter, you can find them primarily in northern states, with less frequent sightings in central states. Interestingly, they have the ability to burrow into the snow for warmth during the night. Common Redpolls have a remarkable daily diet, consuming about 42% of their body mass in seeds, and they can store up to 2 grams of seeds in a stretchy part of their esophagus.

They inhabit weedy fields and trees with catkins, but they are also known to visit feeders where small seeds like nyjer or thistle are available.

5. Pine Grosbeak

Although not frequently sighted, Pine Grosbeaks can occasionally be seen in Montana throughout the year, particularly during the winter months in the western part of the state.

Belonging to the finch family, Pine Grosbeaks exhibit vibrant red plumage in males, complemented by gray wings and tail adorned with two white wingbars. Females, on the other hand, have a gray overall appearance with dull orange heads and rumps. These finches are relatively large and move at a leisurely pace.

Scientific Name: Pinicola enucleator Size: 7.9-9.8 inches (20-25 cm) Wingspan: 13.0 inches (33 cm)

While their primary habitat is in Canada, some individuals can be observed along the US border, in the mountainous regions of the west, and even in the Sierra Nevada region of California. They thrive in pine, spruce, and fir forests, where they feed on seeds, fruits, and buds from these trees. In the summer, they may also include insects in their diet.

To attract Pine Grosbeaks to your backyard, consider providing black oil sunflower seeds or suet feeders.

6. White-winged Crossbill

White-winged Crossbills are year-round inhabitants of Montana, with a higher likelihood of sightings in Kootenai National Forest and Flathead National Forest.

These finches possess unique beaks that cross over each other. Male White-winged Crossbills showcase red plumage with black wings and tails, accompanied by two white wingbars. Females, on the other hand, exhibit a blend of yellow and brown feathers, also with two white wingbars.

Scientific Name: Loxia leucoptera Size: 5.9-6.7 inches (15-17 cm) Weight: 0.8-0.9 ounces (24-26 g) Wingspan: 10.2-11.0 inches (26-28 cm)

White-winged Crossbills can be found in forests spanning Canada, Alaska, and occasionally northern US states when cone crops are scarce further north. They primarily feed on seeds in spruce forests. Interestingly, these birds breed at any time of the year as long as there are sufficient food resources available.

Their presence is often accompanied by distinct flock calls, making it easier to recognize their arrival.

7. Purple Finch

While uncommon in Montana, Purple Finches can occasionally be spotted in Flathead National Forest throughout the year.

Purple Finches bear a resemblance to House Finches, with reddish-purple heads and breasts, but they possess more brown coloring on their backs and wings.

Size: 4.7-6.3 inches (12-16 cm) Weight: 0.6-1.1 ounces (18-32 g) Wingspan: 8.7-10.2 inches (22-26 cm)

These finches breed in Canada and migrate to eastern states for the winter. However, they can be found year-round in the northeastern regions and along the Pacific coast.

Purple Finches are often seen in evergreen forests, where they feed on seeds, buds, nectar, and berries. They readily visit feeders that offer black oil sunflower seeds.

8. Summer Tanager

Summer Tanagers are considered accidental species in Montana, although a few sightings have occurred near the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

Male Summer Tanagers showcase vibrant red plumage, while females display a yellow coloration.

Scientific Name: Piranga rubra Size: 6.7 inches (17 cm) Weight: 1.1 ounces (30 g)

These songbirds breed in southern and eastern states, and they inhabit forests. During the winter, they migrate to Central and South America. Summer Tanagers are known for their unique feeding behavior, as they catch bees and wasps while in mid-flight. To consume their prey, they vigorously beat them against a branch to remove the stingers.

To attract more Summer Tanagers to your backyard, consider planting berry bushes and fruit trees, as these can entice them to visit.

9. Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanagers are extremely rare red birds in Montana, although a few sightings have been documented in Missoula.

These tanagers boast vibrant red plumage, creating a striking contrast with their black wings and tails. Females, on the other hand, exhibit yellow coloration with darker wings and tails.

Scientific Name: Piranga olivacea Size: 6.3-6.7 inches (16-17 cm) Weight: 0.8-1.3 ounces (23-38 g) Wingspan: 9.8-11.4 inches (25-29 cm)

During the summer breeding season, Scarlet Tanagers can be found in eastern forests, but they migrate to South America for the rest of the year. They typically dwell high in the forest canopy, which makes spotting them quite challenging. To attract more Scarlet Tanagers, consider planting berry-producing plants such as blackberries, raspberries, huckleberries, juneberries, serviceberries, mulberries, strawberries, and chokeberries.

10. Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinals are considered rare or accidental species in Montana, although sightings have occurred near Nashua and Fairfield.

The male Northern Cardinal is easily recognizable with its vibrant red head, body, and tail, contrasted by black around the face. Equally striking, females feature brown plumage, a distinct brown crest, red highlights, and red beaks.

Size: 8.3-9.1 inches (21-23 cm) Weight: 1.5-1.7 ounces (42-48 g) Wingspan: 9.8-12.2 inches (25-31 cm)

Native to eastern and southern states, Northern Cardinals are known for their territorial behavior and aggressive defense during the breeding season. They may even attack their own reflection. To attract more of these stunning birds to your backyard, consider providing sunflower seeds, peanut hearts, millet, and milo in large tube feeders, hoppers, platform feeders, or by scattering the food on the ground.

11. Painted Bunting

Painted Buntings are considered an accidental species in Montana, and their presence in the state is exceptionally rare, with only a few sightings near Flathead Lake.

Male Painted Buntings are a breathtaking display of colors, with predominantly red plumage underneath, bright blue heads, and green wings and backs. Females, on the other hand, showcase a vibrant yellow-green hue.

Scientific Name: Passerina ciris Size: 4.7-5.1 inches (12-13 cm) Weight: 0.5-0.7 ounces (13-19 g)

These beautifully colored birds breed in select states within the south-central and southeastern regions of the United States. After breeding, they migrate at night to Central America, southern Florida, and some Caribbean islands.

Painted Buntings can be found in semi-open habitats and primarily forage for seeds and insects during the breeding season.

To attract Painted Buntings to your yard, consider incorporating low, dense vegetation and providing feeders filled with white millet or black oil sunflower seeds.

12. Pyrrhuloxia

Pyrrhuloxia is an exceedingly rare bird species in Montana, classified as a transient species by the Montana Natural Heritage Program.

Male Pyrrhuloxia birds display a gray plumage with vibrant red patches on their faces, crests, breasts, and tails. In contrast, females exhibit a more subdued gray coloration with less pronounced red markings.

Scientific Name: Cardinalis sinuatus Size: 8.3 inches (21 cm) Weight: 0.8-1.5 ounces (24-43 g)

These birds primarily inhabit hot deserts in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico. During the breeding season, they fiercely defend their territories. However, during winter, they form flocks of up to 1000 individuals.

Pyrrhuloxia birds primarily feed on seeds but also consume insects. They can be attracted to feeders offering sunflower seeds, although they often prefer seeds scattered on the ground.

With this, we conclude the description of the 12 red bird species found in Montana. Each of these avian creatures contributes to the vibrant tapestry of wildlife within the state, offering unique sights and melodies for those fortunate enough to observe them.

Leave a Comment