According to the Texas Bird Records Committee (TBRC), there are over 660 bird species in Texas. Plenty of those have colorful plumage that will stun you with their beauty in case you go birdwatching anywhere in the state.
Colorful Texas Birds
1. Wood Duck
- Scientific Name: Aix sponsa
- Length: 19-21 in
- Weight: 16-30 oz
Wood ducks are one of the most colorful North American waterfowl.
Identify male wood ducks by their multicolored plumage and bright red eyes; they use their bright patterns and coloration to attract females during the breeding season. Females are grayish-brown with white eyerings and blue speculum. Both sexes have crests on their heads.
Also, listen for the male’s rising whistle “jeee” call or the female’s drawn-out, rising squeal that sounds like “do-weep do-weep.”
Wood Duck Calls | Source: Jonathon Jongsma, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Wood ducks breed in wooded swamps, shallow lakes, marshes, ponds, and creeks; they are permanent residents in the eastern parts of Texas. Some populations will migrate to southwestern TX and northwestern parts of Mexico for winter.
They nest in cavities in trees close to the water and have a clutch of 7-15 white-tan eggs; they are the only North American ducks that can produce two broods in one season.
Attract wood ducks by putting up a nest box to attract a pair. Just make sure you place it before their breeding season starts in early spring.
Fun Fact: Wood ducks were almost extinct in the early 20th century due to extensive hunting for their plumage, but thanks to strong conservational efforts, the species has recovered.
2. Roseate Spoonbill
- Scientific Name: Platalea ajaja
- Length: 28-34 in
- Weight: 2.6-4 lb
Roseate spoonbills are boldly colored birds that look like they came out of a horror movie.
These enormous Texas birds are gorgeous at a distance and quite bizarre up close because of their pink plumage that looks like it was dipped in blood. Roseate spoonbills get their vivid pink coloration from the pigments called carotenoids – these birds will eat crustaceans and other aquatic invertebrates that are full of those pigments and turn their feathers pink.
It was these amazing feathers that almost got them extinct – people were hunting roseate spoonbills so much for their plumage that in 1920 there were only 179 of them left in Texas. Luckily, they managed to recover, rebuild their populations, and recolonize areas along the Gulf Coast of Texas.
In case you decide to go searching for them, look for groups of pink birds foraging in the shallows of fresh and saltwater, often with egrets and ibises nearby. You should have no trouble spotting them by their colorful plumage, white necks, featherless heads, and long spoon-shaped bills they were named after.
The best time to do so would be from March through October as some populations might migrate to Central and South America in the winter. In Texas, their mating season lasts from March through June.
Fun Fact: Similar to humans, roseate spoonbills will lose feathers from the top of their heads as they get older.
3. Varied Bunting
- Scientific Name: Passerina versicolor
- Length: 4.3-5.5 in
- Weight: 0.39-0.46 oz
Although they might seem dull and dark from distance, varied buntings have a spectacular color pattern up close.
Males are deep red above and below and have red napes, violet-blue faces, rumps, and shoulders, and red arcs behind the eyes. On the other hand, females are pretty plain with their light brown plumage.
Varied buntings are common in thorny brush thickets, thorn forests, scrubby woodlands, and overgrown clearings which make it hard to spot them. Often the best way to identify them is by their low warble song, a series of variably sweet and scratchy notes.
Varied Bunting Song
These tiny songbirds also have shallowly forked tails and short, conical beaks. Varied buntings tend to avoid urban areas and don’t visit bird feeders – they instead forage on the ground for insects, fruit, and seeds.
This species can be seen from spring to fall in West Texas, near the Mexican border.
Fun Fact: Although not too many songbirds have eggs of different colors, this is not the case with varied buntings – these colorful Texas birds will have either green or blue eggs.
4. Painted Bunting
- Scientific Name: Passerina ciris
- Length: 4.7-5.5 in
- Weight: 0.46-0.67 oz
Often referred to as “nonpareil,” or “unrivaled,” painted buntings are one of the most colorful and beautiful birds of North America.
You will recognize males by their stunning blue head color, red underparts, and green backs. Females usually have bright yellow-green colors.
Painted buntings are incredible blue-headed birds that can be found from spring to fall in southern and eastern Texas. Look for them around open woodlands, parks, and brushy fields with scattered trees, from April until October.
Although painted buntings are common in the state, you might have trouble finding them there since they like to stay in deep brush. The best time to see and hear them would be early in the morning when the males usually sing.
They might look cute and colorful, but painted buntings are aggressive birds. They are very territorial and will attack other males of their species.
Fun Fact: A group of painted buntings is known as a “mural” and a “palette,” a name that certainly suits their vibrant looks!
Read More: Most common bird seen in Central TX
5. Ring-necked Pheasant
- Scientific Name: Phasianus colchicus
- Length: 23.6-35 in
- Weight: 1-7 lb
The ring-necked pheasant is a large, chicken-like bird that can be seen in northern parts of Texas year-round.
It was introduced to the US from Eurasia as a game bird – you will recognize it by its long, pointed tail, long legs, and neck.
The ring-necked pheasant, as the name suggests, has a red face, an iridescent green head, and a bold white ring around its neck. Males are more boldly colored than females but the hens still add a splash of color in open fields and the weedy roadsides they inhabit.
To remove dirt, parasites, and old feathers, ring-necked pheasants will often take dust baths. During spring and summer, they will feed on insects, spiders, earthworms, snails, other invertebrates, and some fresh greenery. In fall and winter, they switch to seeds, grasses, roots, fruit, nuts, leaves, and insects when they find them.
The ring-necked pheasant is the state bird of South Dakota.
Fun Fact: Ring-necked pheasants are known for “harem-defense polygyny,” where one male keeps other males away from a small harem of females during the breeding season.
6. Green Jay
- Scientific Name: Cyanocorax yncas
- Length: 9.8-11.4 in
- Weight: 2.3-3.9 oz
Green jays are colorful and noisy tropical birds that are found in North, Central, and South America. In the USA, green jays can be seen year-round in Southern Texas.
These medium-sized New World jays can be identified by their green backs, blue and black heads, yellow underparts, and very short and blue eyebrows.
They are very intelligent birds that have been seen using sticks as tools to get insects from tree bark. Green jays are omnivores that feed on different insects, small vertebrates, seeds, and fruit.
Similar to other birds, like blue jays, green jays in Texas will mimic hawk calls when approaching a feeding site to scare away other birds.
These brilliantly-colored birds got their scientific name “yncas” from the word “Inca” because the first descriptions of this species were based on birds from Peru, the place where Inca Empire rose.
Fun Fact: A group of jays is called a “band”, “cast”, “party”, or “scold”.
7. Lazuli Bunting
- Scientific Name: Passerina amoena
- Length: 5.1-5.9 in
- Weight: 0.5-0.6 oz
Lazuli buntings are stunning blue and orange North American songbirds that were named after the lapis lazuli gemstone. To honor their beauty and incredible colors, early naturalists named them “Passerina amoena” which means “beautiful sparrow.”
Males are similar to closely related indigo buntings and have bright blue heads and backs, rusty orange breasts, and white bellies. Females are mostly brown with grayish upperparts.
Lazuli buntings breed in northwestern parts of the United States and migrate south to winter in southeastern Arizona and Mexico. In Texas, they are common around brushy areas and occasionally towns of the northernmost parts.
These bright blue, pumpkin orange, and white buntings are omnivores that forage on the ground and feed on insects and seeds.
Lazuli Bunting Song | Source: NPS & MSU Acoustic Atlas/Jennifer Jerrett, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Fun Fact: Young males will arrive at their breeding grounds without a song – not much after that, they will use parts of songs of other males and rearrange syllables to create their own.
8. Western Tanager
- Scientific Name: Piranga ludoviciana
- Length: 6.3-7.5 in
- Weight: 0.8-1.3 oz
Western tanagers are medium-sized songbirds that have pale, stout pointed beaks, yellow underparts, and light wing bars.
Similar to other songbirds, males are more colorful than females. They are hard to mistake for other birds and have red heads, yellow bodies, black wings and tails, and yellow shoulder bars. Females have yellow heads, olive backs, and dark wings and tails.
Western tanagers get their orange-red head colors from a rare pigment called rhodoxanthin they most likely obtain from eating insects.
Western tanagers can be seen around forested habitats of Western Texas and can be seen there from spring to fall when they breed in the state. The best time to see them is from May to August.
They start migrating around September to winter from central Mexico to Costa Rica, usually alone, in pairs, or in groups of up to 30 birds. Western tanagers are monogamous and breed from May to July. They have a clutch of around 4 eggs and both partners participate in raising the chicks.
Attract western tanagers to your backyard by placing dried fruit, freshly cut oranges, and other fresh fruit at your bird feeder.
Fun Fact: Western tanager’s scientific name “ludoviciana” is a Latin word for “Louis” or “Louisiana” and refers to the 18th-century French colony in North America, not the modern US state.
9. Purple Finch
- Scientific Name: Haemorhous purpureus
- Length: 4.7-6.3 in
- Weight: 0.6-1.1 oz
Despite the name, purple finches aren’t purple.
Males have pink-reddish heads, breasts, backs, rumps, and streaked backs. Females are light brown above and white below and have a white line on the face above the eye. These small birds also have short forked brown tails and brown wings.
Purple finches breed in coniferous forests of Northern Canada and the northeastern United States before migrating to the southern US to spend the winter; some populations can be seen year-round in the Northeast.
In Texas, these colorful finches are winter residents in the western parts of the state.
Purple Finch Song | Source: G. McGrane, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
They are omnivores that feed on seeds, berries, and insects. You will often find them around bird feeders. Attract purple finches to your backyard by adding sunflower seeds, millet, and thistle to your feeder.
Fun Fact: The purple finch is the state bird of New Hampshire.
10. Prothonotary Warbler
- Scientific Name: Protonotaria citrea
- Length: 5.1 in
- Weight: 0.44 oz
Prothonotary warblers were named after the bright yellow robes notaries attached to the Byzantine court once wore. And as the name implies, these beautiful songbirds are very brightly colored.
Prothonotary warblers have blue-gray wings, olive-colored backs, yellow underparts, long pointed beaks, and black legs. You will also identify them by their ringing “sweet-sweet-sweet” songs and canary-like flight songs.
Prothonotary Warbler Song | Source: G. McGrane, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Prothonotary warblers can be found in the woods of East Texas during summer. They are cavity nesters and use sites other birds made.
These stunning birds with blue wings are also nicknamed “golden swamp warblers”.
Fun Fact: Prothonotary warblers are also known for brood parasitism, a behavior where females lay eggs in nests of other members of their species.
Of all the creatures in the world, birds are one of the most prolific when it comes to the variety of colors they come in. From vibrant lazuli buntings to radiant wood ducks, these were some of the most colorful birds found in Texas.
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