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10 Most Colourful Songbirds in the World and Their Songs

While I have a great appreciation for man-made wonders, nothing comes close to the beauty of the natural world.

Bohemian waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)

Bohemian waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)

Melodious Songbirds

Birds are beautiful and important members of most ecosystems. They are essential players the animal food chain of forest, lake, mountain, marine, and even urban habitats. They also make lovely companions as pets.

Watching a colourful bird certainly brings positive energy. The beauty of a bird, paired with a sweet melody, brings joy to anyone fortunate enough to be nearby. But these songs serve important functions, too. The song repertoire of male songbirds, for example, is considered to be a mechanism of courtship and registering their territorial presence.

Many songbirds are known for their colours, as well as their melodies. Read on to learn more about 10 colourful songbirds and to listen to their sounds.

Top 10 Songbirds on Earth

10. Brazilian Tanager
9. Superb Starling
8. Prothonotary Warbler
7. Painted Bunting
6. Northern Red Bishop
5. Gouldian Finch
4. Black-Naped Oriole
3. Chinese Hwamei
2. Northern Cardinal
1. Golden-Fronted Leafbird

10. Brazilian Tanager

The male Brazilian Tanager has brilliant scarlet red plumage with a black tail and black wings. Underparts are much redder than similar species. The bill has two colours: The upper part is black and the lower one is pale. This attractive plumage is normally more prominent in the bird's second year. There is a white spot at the base of the short silvery beak, which is quite strong. The female is grey-brown with brown-red belly.

Tanagers are endemic to Brazil and mainly occur in coastal, lowland forests and tropical shrub lands. They eat mainly pulpy food and seeds. When it comes to finding and claiming food, these birds are competitive and can be aggressive.

Breeding takes place in a nest, which is like an open, woven cup of grasses generally placed on a low tree or in a bush hidden amongst foliage. Tanager eggs are usually hatched in twos and threes and are a greenish-blue colour with black spots.

Tanagers are in the "least concern" category, indicating that there is no global threat to their species.

Enjoy the Song of the Brazilian Tanager

9. Superb Starling

The Superb Starling is a small but quite distinctive bird with glossy blue-green upper parts, upper breast, wings and tail. Belly, thighs, and flanks are chestnut. The belly is separated from the breast by a narrow white band. The head is bronze-black on the crown and ears, and the eyes are greyish-white, but the bill, legs, and feet are black. The male and female look alike.

The Superb Starling has a very large range in East Africa and can be found in Ethiopia, Somalia, Southeast Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. They are found at an elevation up to 2500 metres, in gardens, cultivated areas, beside lakes, and in open woodlands. They can be found very close to human habitations.

They are gregarious and found in large flocks. Usually monogamous, Superb Starlings also exhibit cooperative breeding tendencies during breeding season. Their nests are made of twigs and grasses and are large and domed with side entrances. About 3-4 eggs are laid by the female, who incubates them alone for about two weeks.

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Superb Starlings feed mainly on insects, including ants, termites, grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, and flies.

The Superb Starling has a loud and long song, which includes thrilling and chattering. The species is not threatened.

Enjoy the Song of the Superb Starling

8. Prothonotary Warbler

The Prothonotary Warbler is a bright, golden-yellow, brilliantly bouncing bird with blue-grey wings and tail. Its beady black eyes make it unique among warblers. It has a distinctive double-pattern on its wide tail, which looks white at the base and dark at the tip when seen from below during flight. Birds weigh about 12.5 g and are nearly 13 cm long.

Unlike other warblers, Prothonotary Warblers builds their nests above standing or slow-moving water, in holes in dead trees, stumps, or even bird houses. They lay 4-6 eggs of creamy or pink colour with brown spots. After about two weeks of incubation by the female, the chicks leave within 10-11 days of hatching. These birds breed in extreme southeastern Ontario and Eastern United States. The West Indies and northern South America are the Prothonotary Warblers' migration preferences in winter.

These birds feed on insects, caterpillars, beetles and sometimes snails and spiders. The Prothonotary Warbler population is in decline, due to loss of forested wetland in the United States. Their song is a high-pitched, ringing "sweet-sweet."

Enjoy the Ringing 'Sweet-Sweet'

7. Painted Bunting

The Painted Bunting is also nicknamed "nonpareil," which means unrivaled. The bird's stunning plumage make it one of the most brilliantly coloured songbirds in North America. Males have a dark blue head, red underparts, and a green back. The females and the juveniles have painted feathers of green and yellow-green.

The breeding range of the Painted Bunting is in two pockets: from northern Texas to northern Mexico, with a winter range in southwestern Mexico; from the Atlantic coastal areas of Florida to Northern Carolina, with a winter range in south Florida to the Caribbean.

They breeds around thickets, shrub areas, and woodland edges and eat grass seeds. In summer, they eat beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and flies. Normally, females lay 3-4 eggs at a time. They are whitish to bluish-white eggs with reddish-brown spots. Painted Buntings are shy and secretive, but the males are known for their singing in the spring.

Enjoy the Short Song of the Painted Bunting

6. Northern Red Bishop

The Northern Red Bishop is a sparrow-sized finch measuring about 13-15 cm, including the tail. Depending upon the season, they are found in two colour phases: Breeding males have scarlet plumage with black head and waistcoat with brown wings and tails. Non-breeding males are mostly pale yellow-brown, streaked above and shading to whitish below. Bills are conical, thick, and black.

Northern Red Bishops are native to Africa, between the Sahara Desert and the Equator. They were also introduced in the southwestern United States, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica.

This is a gregarious species which feeds on a variety of seeds, grains, and plant food. They may eat on the ground or by hanging from the seed heads of grass. The males build dome-shaped nests with an entrance on the side. Grass and other plant material are used in weaving these nests. The females select their nests and give them final shape. Normally females lay 2-4 aqua-blue eggs. Chicks are ready to leave the nest in 18-21 days.

The call of a Northern Red Bishop is described as a thin "tsip." These birds are not endangered.

Northern Red Bishop Calling

5. Gouldian Finch

The Gouldian Finch is also called "rainbow finch" for obvious reasons! These birds are brightly coloured, with black, green, red, and yellow markings. There are three different variations of Gouldian finch: redheaded, black-headed, and yellow-headed.

They were named after the late Lady Elizabeth Gould by her husband, an English ornithologist, in 1841.

The Gouldian Finches are native to northern Australia. Their natural habitat is tropical savanna woodlands. Until 1960s they were trapped and exported to other countries in large numbers. Their numbers reduced drastically, but now they are being bred in captivity.

They are basically seed eaters. During the wet season, they like spinifex grass seed, but in breeding season they prefer ripe or half-ripe sorghum grass seeds. During the dry season they eat abundant fallen seeds. They make their nests in tree-holes and breed early in the dry season. Females lay between 4 and 8 eggs and then both female and the male care for the chicks. They are social birds and love interacting with other finches. If kept as pets, it is best to have a pair or even a small flock.

Gouldian Finch Singing

4. Black-Naped Oriole

The Black-Naped Oriole is an overall golden passerine, with a strong pinkish bill and some black on its wings and tail. It has a peculiar eye-stripe, which broadens and joins at the back of the neck. There are similarities in the colour pattern of males and females, except that the wing lining of the female is more greenish or olive. Juveniles have a streaked colouration on their breasts.

Black-Naped Orioles are found in gardens, plantations, and forests in many parts of South Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines. They feed on fruit, including cherries, figs, and mulberries. They like insects and have been found taking nectar from large flowers.

Nest are deep cups made of grass, bark, and twigs. They are usually placed in a fork of a tree. Between April and June, females lay two to three bluish-white eggs with purple-brown spots.

Black-Naped Orioles have a dipping flight and a clear, loud flute whistle song.

Black-Naped Oriole Call and Song

3. Chinese Hwamei

The Chinese Hwamei is also referred to as a "melodious laughing-thrush," because of the distinctive marking around its eyes resembling painted eyebrows. This bird is about 21 to 25 cm long, with reddish-brown plumage marked by darker streaking on the head and the breast. The bill and feet are yellowish.

The Chinese Hwamei is found in central and southeast China, Taiwan, Central Vietnam, Laos, and northern Indochina. It inhabits open woodland, scrubland, bamboo, reeds, gardens, and parks up to 1800 metres above sea level.

These birds are shy and difficult to spot. They feed on the ground, mainly on insects, ants, fruit, and cultivated maize. They build large, cup-shaped nests out of bamboo leaves and roots. During breeding season, from May to July, the female lays 3-5 blue or blue-green eggs. After about 15 days incubation by the female, the chicks are fed by both the parents.

Listen to the Chinese Hwamei's Melody

2. Northern Cardinal

The Northern Cardinal, a medium-sized, long-tailed songbird, is brilliant red all over. It has a short, very thick, cone-shaped, red bill and a prominent red crest. The male has a black mask on the face and the female mask is grey.

Northern Cardinals live in backyards, suburban gardens, dense bushes, swamps, and shrubs. They are abundant across the eastern United States and in the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

They feed mostly on seeds and berries, as well as insects like beetles, grasshoppers, beetles, ants, and spiders. Being a territorial songbird, the male sings in a loud and clear whistle from top of a tree to defend its territory.

Song of a Northern Cardinal

1. Golden-Fronted Leafbird

The Golden-Fronted Leafbird is an elegant, green-bodied, restless bird. It has a bright golden forehead and an orange-yellow shade from the forehead to the crown’s centre. Its cheeks, throat, and breast are blackish, but the chin is deep-blue. It has a slender, slightly downward curved bill and a forked, brush-tipped tongue. Overall, it has vibrant coloured plumage, but the female is relatively less brilliant. They say that this leafbird is more heard than seen because its unique colour harmonises with the leaves.

The Golden-Fronted Leafbird is a widespread resident breeder in India, Sri Lanka, and some parts of Southeast Asia. It is primarily a tree dweller and inhabits deciduous woodlands and evergreen, broadleaf forests. It is an aggressive, strong, and long-lived species. Food consists of spiders, insects, fruits, berries, and figs. Flower nectar is also a regular food.

Golden-Fronted Leafbirds normally breed from May to August. Their nests are shallow cups of tendrils, fine twigs, moss, leaves, and rootlets. The nests are lined with soft grass and carefully concealed and attached to a thin branch high up in a tree. Females lay 2-3 pale-cream or reddish-cream eggs speckled or lined with brown or red-brown. Both male and female share the care of the eggs.

Their songs are melodic with a cheerful whistle.

Golden-Fronted Leafbird song

Sources and Further Reading

© 2017 Sukhdev Shukla


Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on February 04, 2020:

Thanks, Devika!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 17, 2020:

I like the Northern Cardinal beautiful birds and so colorful.

Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on November 05, 2017:

Thanks for loving the colourful songbirds, Tamara. It is really pleasant and energising to watch them.

BBYCGN from Uninhabited Regions on November 05, 2017:

This is a beautifully colored post, and I love it!


Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on October 31, 2017:

We have to wait for the change in weather. Many will return. I am glad you love birds and have shown interest in Songbirds, Mary.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on October 30, 2017:

What lovely pictures. I love birds and sadly, many have already left us to migrate to the South.

Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on July 16, 2017:

Thanks for visiting, barb. I wonder if this link could be of some help.

barb maki on July 16, 2017:

Does anyone know were the bohieam waxwings are ? I'm by Kentucky

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