White is an attention-grabbing color associated with light and symbolizes purity, peace, and cleanliness. That’s why seeing a bird that is white can instantly brighten your day. The list of such birds, especially the small ones, is extensive.
Birds get their color from different pigments – the absence of melanin will result in pure white plumage and pale bare parts.
Some of these tiny white-colored birds can be seen in the USA, like the arctic redpoll and snow bunting. Here’s what each of these looks like and how they compare in size to one another.
Table of Contents
Small White Birds
|Small White Birds
|Lesser Sand Plover
1. White-tailed Ptarmigan
- Scientific Name: Lagopus leucura
- Wingspan: 22 in
- Length: 12 in
- Weight: 11.6-16.9 oz
White-tailed ptarmigans are the smallest grouses in North America. They are snow-white during winter (brownish in summer) and measure around 12 inches in length.
White-tailed ptarmigans differentiate from grouses and other ptarmigans by their small body size and distinctive white tail feathers. Females are slightly smaller than males and males will keep reddish eyecombs year-round.
The species is usually found alone or in pairs during summer and when the winter comes, they might form smaller groups. They are native to Alaska, Westen Canada, and the Western US, and live at high altitudes.
White-tailed ptarmigans are very hard to spot when standing still in their high-mountain habitats. These small white birds are so adapted to cold temperatures that they need to cool down in snow when the temperature reaches 70°F!
2. Lesser Sand Plover
- Scientific Name: Charadrius mongolus
- Wingspan: 17.7-22.8 in
- Length: 7-8.2 in
- Weight: 1.3-3.9 oz
Lesser sand plovers are small plovers found in Asia, Africa, and Australia. Nonbreeding adults and juveniles are the whitest – they have white underparts, white eyebrows, and pale brown-grayish upperparts.
When the breeding season comes, males will also develop black masks on their faces (as in the photo). Lesser sand plovers breed on high-elevation lakes and rivers and winter on coastal mudflats.
There are 5 subspecies of these birds. Lesser sand plovers mostly feed on insects, crabs, amphipods, mollusks, and worms. They resemble greater sand plovers, with lesser being slightly smaller and with shorter beaks.
3. Black-tipped Cotinga
- Scientific Name: Carpodectes hopkei
- Wingspan: n/a
- Length: 9.8 in
- Weight: 3.6 oz
Black-tipped cotingas are also known as white cotingas due to their white plumage. They are round in South America, in subtropical and tropical forests. Adults are relatively small and measure 9-10 inches long and weigh 3.6 ounces.
Pure white males can be very conspicuous as they sit perched high above the canopy and scan the horizon with their red eyes.
Black-tipped cotingas are social birds that often form mixed-sex flocks; they also fly with deep rowing wingbeats. Their total population is unknown but scientists believe that it is declining due to the loss of habitat.
- Scientific Name: Calidris alba
- Wingspan: 17 in
- Length: 7.1–8.7 in
- Weight: 2.1 oz
Sanderlings are small waddling birds whose scientific name “alba” comes from Latin and means “white”. And this perfectly describes them as they are overall white with pale gray backs, and black beaks and legs.
They can weigh as little as 1.4 ounces which is less than 2 pennies!
Sanderlings are commonly found waddling in small groups in mudflats and along the shore, looking for small insects and shellfish. They are mostly monogamous and become very aggressive and territorial during breeding time.
After spending summer in the Far North, some sanderlings return to Hawaii and spend winter there. These small white birds are also known as Hunakai in Hawaii.
5. White Bellbird
- Scientific Name: Procnias albus
- Wingspan: n/a
- Length: 11 in
- Weight: 7.5 oz
White bellbirds are small white birds found in South America. They measure about 11 inches long and weigh around 7.5 oz.
Despite their miniature size, white bellbirds are the loudest birds in the world: their call can reach 125 dB which is similar to a military jet plane taking off.
They do not “scream” this hard to communicate with other birds or to scare away predators; they do it to impress the females. But unlike the loud males, females barely make any noise at all.
What is unique for males, besides their all-white plumage, are fleshy black wattles that hang on the side of their beaks and that are covered with white feathers.
6. Piping Plover
- Scientific Name: Charadrius melodus
- Wingspan: 14-16 in
- Length: 5.9-7.5 in
- Weight: 1.5–2.3 oz
Piping plovers are small shore birds, that measure about 6.5 inches long and have a 15-inch wingspan.
These sparrow-sized birds have white underparts, white wing stripes visible in flight, sandy grayish-brown upperparts, orange legs, and black collars on their chests (during breeding season). Compared to other small plovers, they are notably paler.
The species is very vocal and will make sad-sounding whistles. Piping plovers are found on open sandy beaches or rocky shores, often in high, dry sections away from water. They can be found on the Atlantic Coast of the USA and Canada and on the shores of the Great Lakes.
Piping plovers breed from mid-April to early August – pairs that nest early have a greater chance of successfully raising their young than those nesting later in the season. Their total population is estimated to be between 7,600 and 8,400 and the species is considered Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
7. Snow Bunting
- Scientific Name: Plectrophenax nivalis
- Wingspan: 13-15 in
- Length: 5.9 in
- Weight: 1-1.4 oz
Snow buntings are small songbirds with small conical bills. They are mostly white with some black and white patches on their wings. Breeding females are whitish overall with brown, streaky backs and dusky heads.
People often confuse them with McKay’s buntings (more on them later) due to the similar colors.
Snow buntings live in the high Arctic tundra of North America, Europe, and Asia. They move south during winter and can be seen around open fields, croplands with grain stubble, shorelines, and roadsides.
Snow buntings build their nests deep in cracks or other cavities in rocks to stay safe from larger predators – because of that, females need to stay on the eggs to keep them warm for most of the incubation period. During that period, males will bring them food almost every 15 minutes.
Identify snow buntings by their finch-like low and husky warble and “chew,” sharp “chi-tik,” and short “buzz” calls. They are also one of many birds common in Colorado.
8. Bali Myna
- Scientific Name: Leucopsar rothschildi
- Wingspan: 13.8 in
- Length: 9.8 in
- Weight: 2.5-4 oz
Bali mynas are beautiful snow-white birds with black tips on their wing and tail feathers and striking sky-blue patches of skin around the eyes.
Bali mynas are endemic (not found anywhere else) to Bali island in Indonesia where they were selected as the faunal emblem in 1991. They are locally known as jalak Bali and go under several more names, including Rothschild’s mynahs, Bali starlings, and Bali mynahs.
Bali mynahs are critically endangered animals with less than 100 adults assumed to exist in the wild. They were discovered in 1910 and there are also around 1,000 of these white birds living in captivity.
If you are interested in seeing what white birds of prey look like, we have a popular piece for you.
9. Black-tailed Tityra
- Scientific Name: Tityra cayana
- Wingspan: n/a
- Length: 7.9-8.7 in
- Weight: 2.1-2.5 oz
Black-tailed tityras are small songbirds found in tropical South America.
These short-tailed birds measure just 7.9-8.7 inches in length and weigh as little as 2.1 ounces. Males are almost completely white if you don’t count their black heads, tails, and wings; females are more streaked. Notice the red skin around the eyes and the red bases of their black beaks.
Usually seen in pairs, black-tailed tityras are very aggressive toward other birds and will try to chase them away. Adults mostly feed on fruits but hunt insects to feed their young.
Black-tailed tityras are susceptible to brood parasitism of shiny cowbirds who leave eggs in tityras’ nests for them to raise cowbirds’ young.
10. Snowy Cotinga
- Scientific Name: Carpodectes nitidus
- Wingspan: n/a
- Length: 8 in
- Weight: 3.7 oz
Snowy cotingas are small white songbirds found in subtropical and tropical forests of Central America. The species were named after the snow-white color of the males; females are pale gray.
Adults snowy cotingas measure around 8 inches long and have very small heads. They resemble yellow-billed cotingas and the main difference is the bluish-gray beak of snowy ones.
They are common in the forest canopy, often around fruiting trees. Snowy cotingas are generally unknown species and not too much is known about them – their shy and quiet nature doesn’t help with this.
11. Masked Tityra
- Scientific Name: Tityra semifasciata
- Wingspan: 15 in
- Length: 8 in
- Weight: 2.1 oz
Masked tityras are causing some difficulties to ornithologists as unlike traditional placing in the tyrant flycatcher (Tyrannidae) family, South American Classification Committee now considers them part of the Tityridae family.
These beautiful grayish-white birds with black wings and face masks are found in forests of Mexico, Central, and South America; some vagrants might visit the United States.
They feed mostly on fruits and berries but will consume also insects and feed them to their young. Masked tityras will often perch conspicuously on tree branches and use old woodpecker nests during their breeding season.
12. Black-and-white Monjita
- Scientific Name: Heteroxolmis dominicanus
- Wingspan: n/a
- Length: 8.2 in
- Weight: n/a
Black-and-white monjitas are small songbirds found in marshes and grasslands of South America, in Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina. These tiny and slim flycatchers are mostly white and also have dark wings and tails.
Black-and-white monjitas resemble smaller white monjitas who also have less black in their tails and wings. Their population has been declining due to habitat loss and they are now listed as Vulnerable species by the IUCN.
13. McKay’s Bunting
- Scientific Name:
- Wingspan: 12-13 in
- Length: 7.1 in
- Weight: 1.3-2.2 oz
McKay’s Buntings are one of the rarest and most attractive white birds – people say they are the whitest of all North American songbirds.
They are closely related to snow buntings and breed on two islands in the Bering Sea before migrating to the western coast of Alaska for the winter.
McKay’s buntings look similar to snow buntings but are whiter overall; breeding males are almost completely white with some small black patches on tails and wingtips.
McKay’s buntings were named after the American naturalist Charles McKay. They are around 7.1 inches long and weigh 1.9 ounces on average. Wildlife experts estimate their total population to be under 6,000.
14. White Monjita
- Scientific Name: Xolmis irupero
- Wingspan: n/a
- Length: 6.9 in
- Weight: 0.7-1 oz
White monjitas are beautiful white tyrant flycatchers.
They live in tropical and subtropical shrublands of South America, in Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, Argentina, and Paraguay. White monjitas are bright white and have dark eyes, black legs, short pointed beaks, and short notched tails. These miniature birds can also weigh less than an ounce!
They are usually silent and will often perch prominently. Due to their habit of perching on headstones in graveyards, people call white monjitas “ghost birds”.
White monjitas breed from September to December and lay 3-4 white eggs with reddish marks. They feed exclusively on insects they catch in flight.
15. Arctic Redpoll
- Scientific Name: Acanthis hornemanni
- Wingspan: 7.8-9.8 in
- Length: 4.7-5.5 in
- Weight: 0.4-0.56 oz
Arctic redpolls, also known as hoary redpolls in North America, look similar to common redpolls but tend to be whiter and paler. The epithet “hoary” mostly refers to their frosty white plumage, while the “redpoll” is for their crown patch.
Adults are just 4.7-5.5 inches long and weigh as little as 0.42 ounces. After breeding in northern parts of North America, Europe, and Asia, they move south for the winter.
Hoary redpolls are white overall with small red caps, black chins, and frosted white backs. They have an interesting adaptation for storing seeds – just like chipmunks keep their food in their cheeks, hoary redpolls can place seeds in pouches in their esophagus and eat them later.
16. Long-tailed Tit
- Scientific Name: Aegithalos caudatus
- Wingspan: 5.5 in
- Length: 5-6 in
- Weight: 0.35 oz
Long-tailed tits are adorable, tiny whitish birds found in Europe and Asia.
They are also known as long-tailed bushtits due to their conspicuous tails that are almost half their total length (5-6 inches). There are several subspecies of long-tailed tits – the one that has white underparts and white heads is found in northern Europe and Asia.
These birds often move in groups, often mixing with other birds. They are common around forests, parks, and gardens, and might even visit bird feeders.
Want to see what enormous white birds look like? Check this fun article with photos.
Birds get their color from different pigments – white birds lack all of the color pigment called melanin. Some bird species are naturally white, while some other individual birds can have a genetic mutation that results in the lack of an enzyme essential to produce melanin (this is known as Bird Albinism).