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Pick Six: Six of the Most Beautiful Birds of North America

hooded mergansers are one of the most beautiful birds of United States

Hooded Mergansers are one of the most beautiful birds of North America. But which else?

It is, of course, impossible to pick THE six most beautiful birds of North America.   Doing the impossible is what we are good at, sometimes.  For the record, here are six of our favorite birds.

6. Altamira Oriole

altamira oriole
Altamira Oriole: Photograph © Greg Lavaty

The Altamira Oriole’s only presence in the U.S. is in southernmost Texas. Formerly known as the Lichtenstein’s Oriole, the subspecies present in the U.S. eventually gave its moniker to the species as a whole. Rare instances of hybridization between Altamira and Audubon’s Orioles have been noted.

5. Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler: Photograph © Glenn Bartley

While the Chestnut-sided Warbler breeds mostly in the northeastern potion of the U.S. and southeastern Canada, it has occurred as a vagrant in every U.S. state except Hawaii.  The Chestnut-sided Warbler’s preference for forest habitat in an early successional stage enabled it to expand its range with forest clearing in the late 1800s.

Chestnut-sided Warbler males have two types of songs. The first is used to establish and defend a territory early in the breeding season, while the second type is used to square off with rival males later in the nesting season.


4. Hooded Merganser

hooded merganser
Hooded Merganser: Photograph © Glenn Bartley

The Hooded Merganser’s distribution is more limited than that of other mergansers, and its body size is smaller as well. Hooded Mergansers are cavity nesters, and will use nest boxes quite readily. In some areas they commonly use Wood Duck nest boxes.

The eggs of Hooded Mergansers are unusually thick-shelled, and unusually round in shape, though it is not known why these traits occur. Young birds have longer claws than most other ducks to help them climb out of the nest cavity.


3. Painted Bunting


painted bunting
Painted Bunting: Photograph © Alan Wilson

With one of the most colorful and distinctive plumages of any North American bird, the Painted Bunting is popular with birders, but many aspects of its biology need more study. There are two populations of Painted Buntings with differing migration and molt patterns. One population occurs on the southeastern Atlantic Coast, and the other in the southern Great Plains east to Mississippi.


2. Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager
Scarlet Tanager: Photograph © Glenn Bartley

A brilliantly colored bird of large eastern forests, the Scarlet Tanager is most often heard rather than seen, despite its showy appearance. It is a persistent singer, often from the tops of trees. Scarlet Tanagers are nocturnal migrants, and the males usually arrive several weeks earlier than females in the spring.

Nest parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird is variable in occurrence across the breeding range of the Scarlet Tanager, ranging from about ten to seventy-five percent. Large, unfragmented forests generally have the lowest parasitism rates.

1. Wood Duck

wood duck
Wood Duck: Photograph © Glenn Bartley

A resident across much of its broad North American range but migratory in some northern areas, the Wood Duck is often described as one of the most beautiful ducks. Such descriptions refer to the male, for the female Wood Duck is more cryptically plumaged in subtle brown and grays to provide her with camouflage.

Dependant on natural cavities or occasionally old Woodpecker holes of sufficient size for nesting, the Wood Duck requires mature forests. Artificial nest boxes are readily accepted as well, and can help boost local Wood Duck populations.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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