9 Birds With Red Head in the UK (With Pictures)

9 Birds With Red Head in the UK (With Pictures)

Birds with red heads aren’t very common in the UK, but there are a few species that stand out when you manage to spot them.

In this article, you’ll learn about the elusive Black Grouse, the acrobatic Swallow, the majestic Pheasant, the cute Goldfinch, and five other birds with red heads (or partially red heads).

Sadly, many of these species are declining in numbers, especially the Black Grouse, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, and the Lesser Redpoll.

1. Black Grouse

  • Scientific Name: Tetrao tetrix
  • Lifespan: 5-12 years
  • Size: 40-55cm
  • Weight: 930-1200g
  • Wingspan: 65-80cm
  • Population: 4,800 breeding pairs
  • Status: Red

Only the males of this fascinating bird species have a partially red head. Their bodies have glossy black plumage with blue or green iridescence. They have a beautiful tail shaped like a lyre. The males fan this tail during their mating displays (where females choose their partners based on looks and who signs the loudest).

Black Grouse

One outstanding part of the males’ appearance is the bright red wattles above the eyes.

The females, on the other hand, are smaller, and their bodies are mottled brown and grey with intricate barring for camouflage. The females’ tails are slightly notched.

In the past, these birds were a more common sight across the UK’s moorlands and heaths, but thanks to human activity, they have experienced a loss of suitable habitats, which has had a negative influence on their breeding.

2. Swallow

  • Scientific Name: Hirundo rustica
  • Lifespan: 2-3 years
  • Size: 17-19cm
  • Weight: 16-25g
  • Wingspan: 32-35cm
  • Population: 860,000 breeding territories
  • Status: Green

Swallows are only in the UK for a few months each year. They tend to arrive in spring and leave in autumn. They spend the colder months in Africa. Swallows usually turn up in groups and love building nests in barns, under the eaves of houses, and other convenient spaces.


Swallows are fast – and they have to be! Once their young hatch, their parents spend all day catching food for them.

You may not always notice their red forehead and throat as they move so quickly. You usually notice their sleek, streamlined body with glossy blue-black back and white underparts before you have the chance to take a closer look. Swallows also have a distinctive forked tail.

3. Pheasant

  • Scientific Name: Phasianus colchicus
  • Lifespan: Up to 12 years, but usually much less because they’re hunted by humans
  • Size: 53-89 cm
  • Weight: 1.4-2.1 kg (3-5 pounds)
  • Wingspan: 70-90 cm
  • Population: 2.3 million breeding females
  • Status: Not assessed

Similar to the Black Grouse, the males and females are quite different. The females are mottled brown and hard to see when they’re hiding as their colors blend into their environment nicely.

The males, on the other hand, have vibrant plumage with iridescent hues. Their colors are rich chestnut and golden-brown, with black markings on the body and tail. Their heads are dark green, with red facial wattles. They have powerful feet with sharp spurs.


Pheasants aren’t a lucky bird in the UK as they’ve been introduced as prey for humans who like to shoot animals (and call it a “sport”). There are many of these non-native birds, but you only see them in such large numbers because they are bred on hunting estates and then let loose into the wild – so that they can be hunted.

A few lucky ones always escape each season, which is the reason why pheasants can also be found breeding in the wild these days.

4. Goldfinch

  • Scientific Name: Carduelis carduelis
  • Lifespan: 2 years
  • Size: 12-13 cm (4.7-5.1in)
  • Weight: 14-18g (0.49-0.63oz)
  • Wingspan: 21-25 cm (8.3-9.8in)
  • Population: 1.2 million pairs
  • Status: Green

Goldfinches are numerous in the UK, and once again, it’s the males with the red head. While females look similar to males, they do not have the same red head. The males display a distinctive bright red face with a black cap and black around the eyes.

Both genders have a short, powerful beak that’s perfect for getting seeds from plants, and a light brown-grey breast and black wings with striking yellow patches.


Unlike other birds in the UK, Goldfinches have recently increased in numbers because they aren’t shy and enjoy helping themselves to readily available food from human-provided bird feeders.

5. European Green Woodpecker

  • Scientific Name: Picus viridis
  • Lifespan: Approximately 4-6 years
  • Size: About 30-36 cm (12-14 in)
  • Weight: 100-170 g (3.5-6 oz)
  • Wingspan: 38-44 cm (15-17 in)
  • Population: About 52,000 breeding pairs
  • Status: Green

There are three types of woodpecker in the UK, and the European Green Woodpecker is the largest of the three. It is recognizable by its bright plumage and distinctive call.

The males have bright green upperparts, pale yellowish-green underparts, a yellow rump, and a red crown and nape. What sets them apart from the females is the black “mustache” with a red center.

European Green Woodpecker

It isn’t an endangered species, but habitat loss and changes in agricultural practices mean that this might change in the not so far future. There’s something that sets the European Green Woodpecker apart from other woodpeckers: It spends most of its time feeding on ants on the ground, and if you have the chance to watch it, you’ll notice its funny shuffling gait.

6. Great Spotted Woodpecker

  • Scientific Name: Dendrocopos major
  • Lifespan: 5-6 years
  • Size: Approximately 23 cm (9 in)
  • Weight: About 70-90 g (2.5-3.2 oz)
  • Wingspan: 34-39 cm (13-15 in)
  • Population: 140,000 breeding pairs
  • Status: Green

The slightly smaller Great Spotted Woodpecker looks similar to the other Woodpeckers but slightly different. The males have black and white checkered upperparts and white underparts with bold black spots.

Unlike the females, the males have a crimson patch on the back of their heads (females have black caps). Both have red undertail coverts.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpeckers are known for their loud drumming on trees (which other woodpeckers do, too, but not as much). This drumming is used to communicate, attract mates, and defend territories.

There are currently no conservation concerns regarding these birds.

7. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

  • Scientific Name: Dryobates minor
  • Lifespan: 2-3 years
  • Size: Around 15 cm (6 in)
  • Weight: Approximately 20-30 g (0.7-1.1 oz)
  • Wingspan: 25-30 cm (10-12 in)
  • Population: 800-1000 breeding pairs
  • Status: Red

You’re not very likely to come across the lesser spotted woodpecker as this species is shy compared to other woodpeckers, and there aren’t that many around. These woodpeckers are smaller than the Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Their plumage has black and white barring on the upperparts, white underparts with black spots, and a distinctive red crown patch (again, males only). Females do not have the red crown patch and have a black cap instead.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Their drumming sound is quieter and less vigorous than the Great Spotted Woodpecker.

There once were more lesser-spotted woodpeckers, but sadly, their once-widespread population has decreased by 83% since 1970!

This decline is caused by factors such as the loss of mature woodlands, removal of dead and rotting trees, and competition with the Great Spotted Woodpecker.

8. Lesser Redpoll

  • Scientific Name: Acanthis cabaret
  • Lifespan: Approximately 2-3 years
  • Size: About 11-12 cm (4.3-4.7 in)
  • Weight: 9-12 g (0.3-0.4 oz)
  • Wingspan: 21-25 cm (8.3-9.8 in)
  • Population: 30,000 breeding pairs
  • Status: Red

The lesser redpoll is a small finch and only a little larger than a Blue Tit. Its streaky brown body has patches of red on the head and sometimes the breast.

As you may have guessed, males have a more extensive and brighter red patch on the forehead compared to females (which still have some red but not as intense).

Lesser Redpoll

While these little birds are widespread, their population has declined significantly in recent decades. As with other species, habitat loss and changes in agricultural practices are the main reasons for that. That’s why they are now a Red List species of conservation concern by the RSPB.

9. Common Redpoll

  • Scientific Name: Acanthis flammea
  • Lifespan: Approximately 2-4 years
  • Size: About 12-14 cm (4.7-5.5 in)
  • Weight: 12-20 g (0.4-0.7 oz)
  • Wingspan: 19-22 cm (7.5-8.7 in)
  • Population: 1-4 breeding pairs
  • Status: Amber

The Common Redpoll isn’t that common in the UK as a breeding bird, but these birds come visiting in winter and can be seen frequently. People often confuse the Common Redpoll with the Lesser Redpoll.

Common Redpoll

Common Redpolls are larger than lesser redpolls. Lookswise, they are paler than the Lesser Redpoll but still have a noticeable red cap and some red on the breasts. Their plumage is streaky brown above and whitish below. They have black streaks and usually display two white lines on their folded wings.


Nine interesting bird species can be found in various parts of the UK: the black grouse, swallow, pheasant, goldfinch, European green woodpecker, great spotted woodpecker, lesser spotted woodpecker, lesser redpoll, and common redpoll.

If you’re specifically trying to spot a certain bird, you need to be aware of its yearly movement patterns. For example, don’t try looking for Swallows in winter, as they’ll be sunbathing in Africa.

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