Birds have all sorts of different plumages that vary depending on the species and gender. Birds with white heads aren’t an unusual sight and can be relatively common. Most species with white heads have primarily white bodies, but some have colorful plumage across their bodies, except for the white head.
So, why do birds have white heads? There are several possible reasons why birds have white heads, which depend on the species and their behaviors. One of the reasons is camouflage, as it helps them blend in with their environment to evade predators or to aid in hunting.
The coloration is also used for communication during courtship displays or to look imposing to their competitors. White feathers reflect sunlight, so having white feathers on the head may help with thermoregulation.
In the following article, we will look at 15 birds with white heads from around the world.
1. Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
As a symbol of freedom and the National Bird of the United States, the Bald Eagle is one of the large birds with white heads that soar gracefully throughout the skies of North America.
The adults of this large bird of prey are recognized by their dark blackish-brown body and wings, large white head and neck, and white tail. They also have a large yellow beak, as well as yellow eyes, legs, and feet.
In terms of diet, Bald Eagles eat a range of fish species almost exclusively, but they also feed on small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans, insects, and carrion.
This species lives in forests close to lakes and other large water bodies during the summer breeding season. They often frequent human settlements, fish processing factories, and refuse dumps. They expand their choice of habitats during winter, as they can be seen in open uplands, but still close to water sources and coastal water bodies with a high abundance of fish.
Bald Eagles are partly migratory, with the northern birds breeding throughout Alaska and Canada, then migrating to coastal areas throughout the continental United States and as far south as central Mexico for winter. There are resident populations scattered throughout the United States, and most coastal populations are resident.
2. White-headed Woodpecker (Dryobates albolarvatus)
The White-headed Woodpecker is a small bird with a white head and black body. This is the only woodpecker species with a black body and a contrasting white head. In flight, you may see their small white wing patches. They also have dark reddish-brown eyes and gray legs and feet. Males differ from females by having a small red patch on the back of the head.
The distribution of this species is restricted by their habitat requirement of mountainous pine forests. Their range extends from a small section of southwestern Canada and the northwestern United States down the west coast to southern California.
This species feeds on pine seeds, insects, and sap.
3. White-headed Marsh Tyrant (Arundinicola leucocephala)
The White-headed Marsh Tyrant male is a stunningly plumaged flycatcher with black and white plumage overall. Their bodies are black, and they have heavily contrasting white heads. On the beak, you’ll notice a yellow part of the lower mandible, while their eyes are dark brown, and their legs and feet are black.
While the males are black birds with white heads, the females look quite different. They have grayish-brown upper parts with a browner tail and wings, a white face, forehead, and throat, along with pale grayish-white underparts.
They frequent wet habitats, such as marshes, ponds, and lakes, where they feed on insects.
This species has an extensive range from northern to central South America, where it remains throughout the year.
The adult African Fish Eagles are large birds with white heads and tails. They have black upperparts, a chestnut belly and underwings, a white chest, neck, head, and tail. Their eyes are pale brown, their beak is yellow with a black tip, and their legs and feet are yellow.
They occur along rivers, lakes, estuaries, dams, lagoons, and the shores of other water bodies where they catch fish mainly. Their diet also consists of birds, reptiles, small mammals, lizards, frogs, insects, and carrion that they scavenge.
The African Fish Eagle occurs widely throughout sub-Saharan Africa. It’s generally not migratory.
5. White-headed Robin-chat (Cossypha heinrichi)
The White-headed Robin-chat is a gorgeous, distinctive, scarce robin-chat that inhabits rainforests in a few localities in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
This species has a bold white head, a rufous-orange underside, an olive-brown upper side with blackish wings, a rufous-orange rump, black central tail feathers, and orange outer tail feathers. They have a black beak, dark eyes, and gray legs and feet.
Their diet is composed of insects – especially ants.
6. Whitehead (Mohoua albicilla)
The aptly named Whitehead is a small bird with a white head that is endemic to New Zealand’s North Island. Along with the white head, this species has whitish underparts, gray-brown upperparts, a black beak, legs and feet, and dark brown eyes.
Females are told apart from males by their cinnamon-brown crown and nape.
Their preferred habitats are forests and shrublands, where they feed on insects and spiders. Occasionally, this species eats seeds and small fruits.
7. White-headed Munia (Lonchura maja)
White-headed Munias are birds with white heads and brown bodies. Specifically, they have cinnamon-brown bodies, a silver-gray beak, blue-gray legs and feet, and brown eyes.
This species lives in the grasslands and rice fields in Southeast Asia.
Their diet is composed of seeds.
8. Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus)
The Brahminy Kite is one of the larger brown birds with white heads. This unmistakable species has a rusty-brown body with a white (often slightly gray-streaked) head, neck, and chest. On the underwing, the flight feathers and undertail are buff-white; they have a yellow or horn-colored beak, dark brown eyes, and yellow legs and feet.
This kite occurs in wetlands, estuaries, rivers, and mangroves across southern and southeastern Asia and the coastal parts of northern and eastern Australia.
This species eats a range of prey items, including birds, reptiles, small mammals, fish, amphibians, insects, crustaceans, and carrion.
9. White-headed Vanga (Artamella viridis)
The White-headed Vanga male is a beautiful, primarily two-toned bird with a white head and underparts that contrast with the dark greenish-black upperparts and blackish-brown eyes. Additionally, they have a blue-gray beak, legs and feet.
The females are just as beautiful, looking similar to males, but having greyer upperparts, pale gray heads, throats, and chests, while the belly, flanks, and undertail are primarily white. They also sometimes show a dark gray line through the eyes.
This species is endemic to Madagascar, where they live in forests and occasionally plantations and scrublands.
This vanga species usually eats insects and spiders. It sometimes feeds on seeds and fruit.
The White-bellied Sea Eagle is an imposing large bird with a white head and belly. On the upper side, this species has gray plumage, which contrasts with the white head, neck, and underside. Their underwings are two-toned with black flight feathers and white coverts, and the tail is black and white. Their beak is blue-gray with a black tip. They also have dark brown eyes and gray or pale yellow legs and feet.
Owing to its name, this species is usually found along coastlines, islands, estuaries, large inland water bodies, and wetlands. They are often seen over adjacent open habitats and woodlands.
This resident species has an extensive range in southern and southeastern Asia, Australia, and surrounding islands.
They have a broad diet that consists of many fish species, turtles, sea snakes, small mammals, birds, and carrion.
11. Paradise Shelduck (Tadorna variegata)
The Paradise Shelduck is a colorful waterfowl species that shows prominent sexual dimorphism, but males and females share a few features.
They both have a black rump and tail, while their upper wings have a large white patch, which contrasts with an orange-chestnut patch, black flight feathers, and green secondaries. On the underwing, the feathers are black and white. Their legs and feet are blackish, their eyes are dark brown, and their beaks are gray.
In terms of differences, the females have a distinct white head and upper neck and a deep chestnut body. Males, on the other hand, have a dark gray body with fine brown barring and black heads with green iridescence.
Endemic to New Zealand, this species occurs in wetlands, rivers, estuaries, lakes, agricultural areas, and grassy areas.
Their diet includes seeds, insects, worms, mollusks, crustaceans, and aquatic plants.
12. White-headed Bulbul (Hypsipetes thompsoni)
The White-headed Bulbul is a distinctive bulbul with a light gray body, a darker tail and wings, and a bright white head. They have a reddish-orange beak, legs, and feet. They also have a dark orange vent and dark brown eyes with an orange eye ring surrounded by black.
They live in open forests and forest edges. This species is an altitudinal migrant – moving from mountains to foothills for winter.
This species has a small range – occurring in Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Little is known about their complete diet, but they are known to eat insects.
13. Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus melanoleucus)
The Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle is one of the rarest big birds with white heads. This magnificent eagle occurs in forests and shrublands of northern and central South America, as well as Central America and Mexico.
This species isn’t often seen perched, so you’ll most likely see one soaring above you, showing its bright white underparts and white head. A closer look will reveal the barred flight feathers on the underwing, barred undertail, black face mask, orange-yellow and black beak, yellow eyes, yellow feet and legs, and short black crest.
On the upper side, this species is primarily blackish with browner wings, and four bars are visible on the upper side of the brownish-gray tail.
This eagle eats birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.
14. Collared Babbler (Gampsorhynchus torquatus)
The Collared Babbler is an interesting shrike-like babbler with a dark brown upper side, a pale whitish-brown underside, a dark brown tail, and a white head. The birds living in the north of their range have a dark brown to black collar. They all have a pinkish-gray beak, grayish legs and feet, and an orangish eye.
This species is found in Southeast Asia, where it inhabits forests, scrublands, and forest edges.
Their diet consists of insects and spiders.
15. White-headed Barbet (Lybius leucocephalus)
The White-headed Barbet is an African barbet species found mainly in parts of eastern and central Africa and an isolated population in southwestern Angola.
In terms of habitat, they occur in many habitats, such as savannas, woodlands, forests, and yards.
White-headed Barbets show extensive geographic variation in their black and white plumage. They always have a white head and dark back, a thick dark gray beak, dark eyes surrounded by dark facial skin, and dark legs. They can have either black or white tails, plain black or white spotted wings, and underparts, which are plain white or black with white streaking.
This species feeds on fruit and insects.
In conclusion, birds with white heads are some of the most spectacular and noticeable birds in the world. Although a small percentage of birds have this plumage feature, there is a fair amount of diversity among them.
The species with white heads range in size from the largest Bald Eagle to the smallest White-headed Munia. They cover a range of habitats, from coastlines to forests and mountain peaks.
These birds don’t have white heads for no reason, as they’re essential for survival. The white heads allow birds to blend in with the environment while flying and hunting, attract mates during courtship displays, display dominance or age to competitors through communication, or help with thermoregulation.
Now that you know more about these spectacular birds with white heads, keep a look out for them on your next birding adventure or in your yard if you’re lucky!