When asked to describe a male cardinal, there’s little doubt in anyone’s mind what color the bird is, red. It’s not so clear-cut when describing some of our other local fauna.
The red-bellied woodpecker in the above (and below) photos certainly has red on its head, but the red on it’s belly, the derivation of its common name, is not often seen. The bird, more often than not, perches with its belly against a tree trunk or branch making it difficult to see the patch of red feathers that gives the bird its name.
Red-breasted nuthatches are tiny birds with blueish upperparts and reddish underparts. The male has more extensive reddish feathers than the female. Both the belly and breast are reddish in the male, although it’s more rust or orange than red. They’re winter visitors in our area, though they nest in our mountains to the west. White-breasted and brown-headed nuthatches are year-round local residents.
I often hear people comment on how our red wolves are not really red but brown. While they aren’t truly red, they do have a reddish-brown color to much of their pelage. Both their common and scientific names point to this characteristic, red wolf (Canis rufus), rufus meaning red-headed, or reddish.
So, when you hear someone describe a bird or animal as having red feathers or fur don’t take it as necessarily literal. After all, one of the first birds we’re introduced to as a child is the robin (American robin), “robin red breast,” and we all know that bird’s breast is not really red.
It’s sometimes helpful to use a modifier along with the base color. Brick-red is often used to describe a robin’s breast.