Birds with crests are unique and eye-catching, standing out in the avian world. These crests might result from simple evolutionary traits or play essential roles in social hierarchies and breeding partner selection.
These crested wonders are found across the globe, with some preferring coastlines and others thriving in hot, arid desert climates. In North America, you’ll discover native crested birds along coastlines and in the Southern states. Some migratory birds also visit North America for tropical overwintering.
In this article, we’ll be exploring 7 birds with crests of North America. By gaining knowledge about the various types of ranges and the birds that demonstrate them, you will enhance your ability to identify and appreciate the unique characteristics of each species. So let’s dive in and discover the fascinating world of crested birds!
7 Birds With Crests In North America
1. Vermilion Flycatcher
- Scientific Name: Pyrocephalus rubinus
- Bird Class: Aves
- Wingspan: Approximately 8-10 inches
- Size: Small, measuring around 6 inches in length
- Average Weight: Approximately 0.5 – 0.7 ounces
- Appearance: The Vermilion Flycatcher is a striking bird with vibrant plumage. Their brilliant red plumage, extending from their head down their back and onto their tail, creates a vivid contrast with their dark wings and tail, and this is a known characteristic of males. Females, on the other hand, have a more subdued appearance, with grayish-brown upperparts and a pinkish belly.
- Conservation Status: The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List categorizes the Vermilion Flycatcher as a species of “Least Concern. Their population appears stable, although habitat loss remains a concern.
- Diet: These flycatchers primarily feed on insects, which they catch in mid-air by making agile aerial maneuvers. Their diet includes various flying insects such as flies, moths, and beetles.
- Lifespan: 4-5 years in the wild
- Popularity: Birdwatchers and ornithology enthusiasts often hold the Vermilion Flycatcher in high regard due to its striking appearance and aerial hunting prowess. It is a sought-after species for birdwatching.
- Location: The species is located in the Americas, with its range stretching from the southwestern United States through Central America to various regions of South America. They prefer open habitats like grasslands, deserts, and scrublands, where they can easily spot flying insects for their meals.
- Fun Facts: Vermilion Flycatchers are known for their distinctive hunting behavior. They perch on a prominent spot, often a branch or wire, and then sally out to catch insects in flight, returning to the same perch. This method of hunting makes them agile aerial acrobats. Their bright red plumage has also earned them nicknames like “Firebird” and “Flame Robin,” adding to their allure among bird enthusiasts.
2. Cedar Waxwing
- Scientific Name: Bombycilla cedrorum
- Bird Class: Aves
- Wingspan: Approximately 8-11 inches
- Size: Small to medium-sized, measuring around 6-7 inches in length
- Average Weight: Approximately 1.1 – 1.4 ounces
- Appearance: Cedar Waxwings are elegant birds with sleek brownish-gray plumage. They have a distinct crest on their heads and a black mask-like pattern around their eyes. Their wings are characterized by striking, waxy-red tips on the secondary feathers, giving them their name. They also have a yellow band at the tip of their tail.
- Conservation Status: Cedar Waxwings face no global threat and receive categorization as a species of “Least Concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
- Diet: Primarily fruit-eating, known for a diet of berries, insects, and occasionally flower petals.
- Lifespan: In the wild, Cedar Waxwings typically have a lifespan of 5-7 years. However, some individuals have been known to live longer.
- Popularity: Bird enthusiasts frequently hold Cedar Waxwings in high regard, admiring them for their distinctive appearance and charming behaviors, including their synchronized, high-pitched calls during flight.
- Location: Cedar Waxwings are found throughout North America, from southern Canada to parts of Mexico. They inhabit a variety of wooded and open habitats, often foraging near bodies of water where they find their favorite fruits.
- Fun Facts: Cedar Waxwings are known for their strong social bonds and are often seen in large flocks. They are one of the few bird species that can become intoxicated by consuming overripe berries, leading to amusing, erratic flight patterns. Their synchronized flights and melodious calls make them a delight to observe in the wild.
3. Steller’s Jay
- Scientific Name: Cyanocitta stelleri
- Bird Class: Aves
- Wingspan: Approximately 16-18 inches
- Size: Medium-sized, measuring around 11-12 inches in length
- Average Weight: Approximately 3-5 ounces
- Appearance: Steller’s Jays are striking birds with deep blue plumage, often appearing blackish. They have a distinctive black crest on their heads, which gives them a regal appearance. Their faces feature a prominent white eyebrow stripe, and they have dark eyes. They also have a white patch on their forehead, contrasting with their dark plumage.
- Conservation Status: Not globally threatened; populations are stable.
- Diet: Omnivorous, consuming insects, seeds, fruits, and more.
- Lifespan: In the wild, Steller’s Jays typically have a lifespan of 7-10 years. However, some individuals in captivity have been known to live longer.
- Popularity: Steller’s Jays are popular among birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts, admired for their striking blue plumage, intelligence, and bold behavior around humans.
- Location: Steller’s Jays are native to western North America, ranging from Alaska down to northern Mexico. They inhabit a variety of coniferous and mixed forests, often found in mountainous regions.
- Fun Facts:
- Steller’s Jays’ exceptional mimicry of calls from other bird species, including imitating the calls of hawks, is a well-known characteristic.
- These jays engage in food caching, hiding their food in various locations. They possess an excellent memory, allowing them to retrieve stored food even months later.
- Steller’s Jays exhibit a strong territorial nature and gain recognition for their vocal and assertive defense of their territory.
- The species received its name, “Steller’s Jays,” in honor of the German naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller, who made significant contributions to the study of Alaskan wildlife during the 18th century.
4. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
- Scientific Name: Regulus calendula
- Bird Class: Aves
- Wingspan: Approximately 7 inches
- Size: Very small, measuring around 4 inches in length
- Average Weight: Approximately 0.2 – 0.3 ounces
- Appearance: Ruby-crowned kinglets are tiny birds with olive-green plumage and a distinctive white eye-ring. The most striking feature is the ruby-red crown patch, often concealed but displayed in moments of excitement or agitation.
- Conservation Status: These birds are not globally threatened and are considered a species of “Least Concern.” Their populations appear stable.
- Diet: Ruby-crowned kinglets primarily feed on insects and spiders, making them skilled hunters in the dense foliage they inhabit.
- Lifespan: In the wild, Ruby-Crowned Kinglets typically have a lifespan of around 5-7 years.
- Popularity: These birds are popular among birdwatchers for their small size, vibrant crown, and energetic behavior.
- Location: Ruby-crowned kinglets are found across North America, with a wide distribution. They inhabit coniferous and mixed forests, particularly during the breeding season, and migrate to various regions during the non-breeding season.
- Fun Facts:
- Despite their tiny size, Ruby-Crowned Kinglets earn recognition for producing a high-pitched, continuously sung song, which can be quite complex.
- They typically keep their red crown feathers concealed, but they reveal them as signs of excitement or agitation, often during territorial disputes or courtship rituals.
- These birds demonstrate a remarkable ability to thrive in harsh weather conditions, including cold temperatures and high altitudes.
- Ruby-crowned kinglets actively forage by frequently hovering while searching for insects among leaves and branches, and researchers have extensively documented this behavior.
5. Blue Jay
- Scientific Name: Cyanocitta cristata
- Bird Class: Aves
- Wingspan: Approximately 13-17 inches
- Size: Medium-sized, measuring around 9-12 inches in length
- Average Weight: Approximately 2.5 – 3.5 ounces
- Appearance: Blue Jays are known for their vibrant blue plumage with white underparts. They have a distinctive blue crest on their heads, a black necklace-like pattern on their neck, and white patches on their wings and tail.
- Conservation Status: Blue Jays are not globally threatened and are considered a species of “Least Concern.” Their populations are generally stable.
- Diet: These birds have an omnivorous diet, including a wide range of foods such as seeds, nuts, insects, small vertebrates, and occasionally bird eggs and nestlings.
- Lifespan: In the wild, Blue Jays typically have a lifespan of around 6-7 years, although some individuals can live longer.
- Popularity: Blue Jays are well-known and popular among birdwatchers and enthusiasts for their striking appearance and vocal behavior.
- Location: Blue Jays inhabit a range of environments, including forests, parks, and suburban areas, across eastern and central North America.
- Fun Facts:
- Blue Jays exhibit skill in mimicking the calls of other birds, including hawks, with the intention of deceiving and driving away potential threats.
- Their vocalizations, characterized by loud and distinctive “jay” calls, can function as alarms for other birds in the vicinity.
- Proficiency in food caching is a notable trait among Blue Jays. They hide surplus seeds and nuts in various locations for later consumption, and they can recall thousands of cache sites.
- Contrary to their reputation for aggressiveness, Blue Jays display devotion as parents. They offer extensive care for their young, including the provision of food for several weeks after the fledglings leave the nest.
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6. Pileated Woodpecker
- Scientific Name: Dryocopus pileatus
- Bird Class: Aves
- Wingspan: Approximately 26-30 inches
- Size: Large, measuring around 15-19 inches in length
- Average Weight: Approximately 8-12 ounces
- Appearance: Pileated Woodpeckers are striking birds with predominantly black plumage and distinctive white stripes on their faces and necks. They have a vivid red crest on their heads that gives them a striking appearance.
- Conservation Status: These woodpeckers are not globally threatened and are considered a species of “Least Concern.” Their populations appear stable.
- Diet: Pileated Woodpeckers primarily feed on insects found in dead or decaying trees. They also consume fruits, and nuts, and occasionally visit backyard feeders.
- Lifespan: In the wild, Pileated Woodpeckers typically have a lifespan of around 4-7 years.
- Popularity: Pileated Woodpeckers are popular among birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts for their large size and distinctive appearance.
- Location: Mature forests across North America host these woodpeckers, with their range extending from the southern United States into Canada. They prefer wooded habitats with an abundance of dead trees.
- Fun Facts:
- The Pileated Woodpecker holds the distinction of being one of the largest woodpecker species in North America.
- The production of their distinctive drumming sounds, achieved by rapidly striking their beaks against trees, enables these woodpeckers to communicate and engage in territorial displays.
- Pileated Woodpeckers gain recognition for their proficient excavating abilities, which involve creating large rectangular holes in trees as they search for insects.
- They share a frequent association with the famous fictional character Woody Woodpecker, renowned for his red crest and boisterous laughter.
7. Crested Caracara
- Scientific Name: Caracara cheriway
- Bird Class: Aves
- Wingspan: Approximately 47-59 inches
- Size: Medium to large, measuring around 19-23 inches in length
- Average Weight: Approximately 1.5 – 3.3 pounds
- Appearance: Crested Caracaras are distinctive birds with black plumage on their wings and back, white on their neck, head, and tail, and a distinctive black cap on their head. They have a prominent, strongly curved beak and long legs.
- Conservation Status: The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List categorizes the Crested Caracara as a species of “Least Concern.”Their populations are generally stable.
- Diet: These caracaras are opportunistic omnivores, feeding on a variety of foods, including carrion, small mammals, reptiles, insects, and even fruit.
- Lifespan: In the wild, Crested Caracaras typically have a lifespan of around 10-15 years.
- Popularity: Crested Caracaras are admired by birdwatchers and raptor enthusiasts for their unique appearance and behaviors.
- Location: They are primarily found in parts of the Americas, including the southern United States, Central America, and South America. They inhabit a range of habitats, from grasslands to savannas and open woodlands.
- Fun Facts:
- Crested Caracaras gain recognition through their scavenging behavior and observers frequently note their participation alongside vultures in feeding on carrion.
- Their call possesses distinctiveness, manifesting as a series of raspy, cawing sounds.
- Incorporated into folklore and possessing cultural significance in some indigenous traditions, these birds hold a unique place in cultural narratives.
- Their opportunistic hunting habits, which encompass raiding the nests of other birds, including raptors, with the intention of pilfering eggs and young birds, are a recognized trait of Crested Caracaras.
In conclusion, exploring the world of birds with crests, especially those in North America, reveals a fascinating array of species. These birds, despite their often small or inconspicuous size, possess unique features and behaviors that make them stand out in the avian world.
From the vibrant Vermilion Flycatcher to the charismatic Cedar Waxwing, the majestic Steller’s Jay, the petite Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, and the iconic Blue Jay, each species has its own story to tell. Whether it’s their distinctive calls, remarkable survival skills, or cultural significance, these crested birds enrich our understanding of the natural world.
Notably, many of these birds are not just beautiful to look at; they play essential roles in their ecosystems, from insect control to seed dispersal. As we observe and appreciate these birds, we gain a deeper connection to the intricate web of life that surrounds us.
1. Why do some birds have crests?
Birds have crests for various reasons. Crests can serve as a means of communication, defense, courtship displays, or even for identification among individuals of the same species. They are versatile features with both functional and aesthetic purposes.
2. Are crests common in the bird world?
No, crests are not common among all bird species. Only a small percentage of bird species, out of the over ten thousand worldwide, exhibit crests. It’s a unique characteristic that sets certain birds apart.
3. What is the purpose of a bird’s crest?
Crests have multiple purposes, including signaling excitement or agitation, aiding in communication through displays, enhancing camouflage, and serving as a distinctive feature for identifying individual birds within a species.
4. How can I identify birds with crests in North America?
Identifying crested birds in North America involves observing their unique features, such as their crest shape and coloration, as well as their behavior and habitat. Field guides, birding apps, and local birdwatching groups can be valuable resources for identification.
5. Are crests found on both male and female birds?
Crests can be present in both male and female birds, depending on the species. Some species exhibit crests in both genders, while in others, only one gender may have a crest.