Perhaps when you stroll through a woodland or meadow in your local area you spot a flash of orange, darting from branch to branch or flitting amongst the grass. You could well have spotted one of the birds on our list today, a beautiful bird with a distinctive orange chest.
Good news if you live in North, South or Central America – most of the birds on our list can be found in your area!
Orange Coloration in Animals
In the natural world, orange coloration can often be seen in animals from delicate Monarch Butterflies to powerful Bengal Tigers. Often in smaller animals, bright orange can indicate high toxicity, warning potential predators to avoid eating them. The use of bright warning colours in animals is called aposematism. Slow-moving animals such as Gila Monsters who are unable to escape predators hastily, use bright, contrasting coloration to warn predators about their nasty venomous bite.
Some animals which are not poisonous, toxic or venomous use bright coloration to trick predators into thinking they are poisonous! This clever evolutionary move is termed Batesian mimicry.
Other orange animals like Tigers use their coloration and patterning to camouflage themselves against the environment they live in. To the human eye, tigers stand out against the green forests surrounding them, but to their prey – such as deer and boar – who cannot easily discern between orange and green, tigers are virtually impossible to spot. A clever technique for catching unsuspecting prey!
Orange Coloration in Birds
Very few bird species are known to be poisonous or employing Batesian mimicry. These include the Hooded Patouni, and two species from the Amazon, Cinereous Mourner and Brazilian Laniisoma. So why do some birds have bright orange feathers?
Bright orange, red and yellow coloration in birds is commonly derived from the food they eat – usually plant pigments. Foods like berries and certain seeds contain these pigments which are called carotenoids. The striking colours of these birds’ feathers sends a signal, usually to other birds of the same species. Brighter, bolder colours can indicate that an individual is healthy and in good fitness because the colour means the bird has a good diet.
Within the category of orange chested birds, there are two families which stand out – Tanagers and Orioles. Let’s have a look at the most orange examples of these families…
Tanagers With Orange Chests
The Tanagers found in the US are part of a large family of songbirds with the family name Thraupidae. Most species within the family inhabit forests, undergrowth, and even domestic gardens. They are well-known for their fantastic, vivid colours ranging from scarlet red through tangerine orange with some species sporting yellow, green, and blue tones too.
Most Tanagers feed primarily on fruit which gives them their exotic plumage through the transfer of carotenoids. Now we’ll take a closer look at a few of the most orange examples…
1. Scarlet Tanager
It is only the breeding males of the Scarlet Tanager species that display a vivid red-orange chest, with a contrasting black wing and tail feathers. Non-breeding males and females are a green-yellow colour with grey-black wings.
A sneaky bird species called the Brown-headed Cowbird sometimes lays an egg in the nests of Scarlet Tanagers after getting rid of one Tanager egg. The Scarlet Tanager parents are unable to tell the difference and raise the chick as if it was their own.
Find out more here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/scarlet_tanager#
2. Flame-coloured Tanager
This fabulous, fiery Tanager is found in Central America, from Mexico through to Panama. Flame-coloured Tanagers are quiet and illusive, and often hard to spot. The males have a stronger orange tone to their heads and chests compared to the females which tend to have more yellow palettes.
This species is the national bird of Puerto Rico!
For more information: https://www.sdakotabirds.com/species/flame_colored_tanager_info.htm
3. Hepatic Tanager
Here is a species where the mature males are the ones with the dusky, orange-red colour palette and the females and immature males are mostly vivid tones of yellow and green. The Hepatic Tanager can be found in southern North America, through Central America and into much of South America.
The term ‘hepatic’ refers to the liver after which this species is named due to the males’ orange-red coloration. Excitingly, this species has not been widely studied, so if you would like to become a Hepatic Tanager specialist you would be warmly welcomed in the ornithological world!
More information can be found here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Hepatic_Tanager
Orioles With Orange Chests:
Compared to the Tanagers, this family of birds sports more yellow-red plumage, but their stunning coloration and contrasting tones are no less impressive! All of the Oriole species we are looking at today come from the family Icteridae and specifically the genus Icterus. The word ‘oriole’ is derived from multiple Latin word origins and means ‘golden’ – an accurate description of the species on our list.
4. Baltimore Oriole
This Oriole species is the most common in eastern North America and is seen as a symbol of spring arriving. Adult males boast the most orange chest plumage, but female plumage can vary from lighter yellow to tangerine orange.
The Baltimore Oriole is fond of nectar and dark-coloured fruits like cherries and purple grapes. An unusual characteristic they sometimes exhibit is called ‘gaping’ – they pierce soft fruits and berries and drink the juices from the hole they create.
Find out more here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Baltimore_Oriole
5. Altamira Oriole
A primarily Central American, tropical species, the Altamira Oriole catches the eye with its flame-like blaze of yellow-orange underbelly. If you live in this region, you may be lucky enough to attract Altamira Orioles to your bird feeders – they love to feast on fresh fruit and will take nectar from hummingbird feeders.
This species constructs a huge, pouch-like nest, woven from long strands of fibrous materials like grass, Spanish moss, and palm fronds. Sometimes they even suspend these nests from telephone wires!
More information here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Altamira_Oriole
6. Orchard Oriole
Although the Orchard Oriole is the least flashy example of an Oriole on our list, its gorgeous rusty-orange breast makes it a strong contender. The males of this species are the ones with the orange chest, while females have a more yellow and green coloration.
The Orchard Oriole is an important pollinator for some tropical plant species – when it visits a flows in search of nectar, some pollen will cling to its feathers and hitch a free ride over to the next flower the bird visits.
Further information can be found here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Orchard_Oriole
Other Orange-chested Birds:
7. American Robin
If you live in North America, the American Robin is perhaps the most iconic, orange-breasted bird that springs to mind. They can often be found in gardens and urban areas, as well as in more wild locations like Alaskan mountain forests.
Some populations are resident year-round in central North America, while other populations migrate north to breed, and south to over-winter. This species specialises in ground feeding, pulling worms and other insects from the soil. They often feed on fruits, particularly in the winter, and have been known to become intoxicated when feeding only on honeysuckle berries!
Find out more here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Robin/overview
8. European Robin
If you live in Europe, perhaps the most iconic orange-breasted bird in your view is the European Robin. This Robin species is not actually related to the American Robin – European Robins are in the family Muscicipidae (Old World Flycatchers) while American Robins are in the family Turdidae (Passeriforms, or perching birds).
Often used as a symbol of Christmas in Europe due to their prevalence during the winter season and festive orange breast, this species is also considered the gardener’s friend. Robins can be very friendly, often perching close-by when a gardener is at work, hoping to swoop in and snaffle a tasty worm or insect which has been revealed by gardening tasks.
For more information, see here: https://www.discoverwildlife.com/animal-facts/birds/facts-about-robins/
9. Varied Thrush
A beautifully patterned species of western North America, the Varied Thrush has a striking, metallic song. This species can be aggressive, defending feeding sites from both other species and other Varied Thrushes. It prefers to reside in old-growth, coniferous forests and feeds primarily on berries during the winter.
Varied Thrushes are altitudinal migrants, breeding in mid to high altitude areas and moving to warmer, lower altitude areas in winter.
More information can be found here: https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/varied-thrush
10. Allen’s Hummingbird
In some locations along the west coast of North America you can find Allen’s Hummingbird. Both males and females have an orange-y chest, but only males have a brilliant, iridescent patch of orange plumage in the throat area. The males use this flash of orange as part of a mating display, exhibiting the throat in a swooping, arcing flight accompanied by a shrill squealing sound made by their tails.
Allen’s hummingbirds employ an astounding technique common to all hummingbirds – they use their feet for temperature regulation. During chilly spells they tuck their feet into their belly plumage to retain their body heat. When the temperature increases, they let their feet dangle during flight which helps to cool them down.
You can discover more here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Allens_Hummingbird/id
11. Black-headed Grosbeak
In this species, the adult males have more distinct black-and-white wings, and peachy orange chest, whereas the females and immature males have lighter coloration. Their chunky bills enable them to easily split open sunflower seed husks.
Monarch butterflies watch out! Black-headed Grosbeaks are one of the few predators that can tolerate the toxins contained in these beautiful butterflies’ bodies. Grosbeaks have been known to wait for 8 days between consuming the butterflies – enough time to flush the toxins from their systems.
More information here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-headed_Grosbeak/
12. Eastern Bluebird
Both males and females of this species sport an attractive, buff-coloured breast ranging from light brown to peachy-orange. However, it is only the males who display an incredible electric blue coloration from the beak right down to the tip of the tail feathers.
This species is common through the United States and Central America and can often be viewed sitting along wires or fences out in the open. Sometimes they have been spotted capturing larger prey such as lizards, tree frogs, and even snakes – ambitious!
More information can be found here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/eastern_bluebird
13. Orange-breasted Falcon
A rare and very localised bird of prey, the Orange-breasted Falcon is classed as Near-Threatened by the ICUN due to a steep decline in population numbers. It prefers mature forest habitats and can be found from southern Mexico to the northern tip of Argentina.
This species exhibits a fantastic, rusty orange chest and underbelly, interrupted by a waistcoat-like band of speckled black. Orange-breasted Falcons nest on rocky cliffsides at relatively high altitudes. Although they look after the chicks for a long time compared to other falcons, their reproductive rate is lower which may add to their near-threatened status.
Find out more about the wonderful conservation work being done for this species: https://www.peregrinefund.org/projects/orange-breasted-falcon
14. Orange-Breasted Sunbird
One of the only birds on our list that cannot be found in the Americas, the Orange-breasted Sunbird is only found on the southern tip of South Africa. Boasting a stunning, mixed plumage of iridescent petrol blue over the head, and vivid yellow-orange breast, this is not a bird you will forget fast!
Like hummingbirds, this species can hover to feed on nectar from flowers with its narrow, curved bill and unusual tubular tongue.
If you would like to find out more: https://www.beautyofbirds.com/orangebreastedsunbirds.html
15. Cochabamba Mountain Finch
(See photos and videos here: https://ebird.org/species/comfin1/)
A stunning bird with a flashy orange face, chest and underbelly, the Cochabamba Mountain Finch is an endangered species which can only be found in one specific area of Bolivia.
It relies on a special type of forest containing a rare tree called Polylepis subtusalbida. Although this bird is threatened by habitat loss, there are projects aimed at saving the lovely little Cochabamba Mountain Finch (one of which you can read about here: https://armoniabolivia.org/programs/cochabamba-mountain-finch/)