12 Crested Birds of North America (Picturesque Species)

Victoria Crowned Pigeon in the forest

Last Updated: April 29, 2022

You know you're passionate about birds when you explore birding zones to see crested birds only.

Have you done this before?

If not, welcome to the world of birds with crests. It's a small birding niche, so you might not find any crested avian in your state or neighborhood. If you're lucky, it'll probably be a blue jay or tufted titmice.

But...

North America has native and captive species with crests you ought to see, and we'll get into them below.

12 Stunning Birds With Head Crests

Some birds with crested heads have the word crest in their name, but others, such as the tufted titmouse, don't give anything away until you see their gray crests.

The next time you go birding, look for these bird species.

1. Great Crested FlycatcherGreat Crested Flycatcher floating on the air

This colorful bird has a yellow belly, rusty primaries, and a brownish-gray head. Gray plumage extends down the throat to the chest.

The eastern states host the great crested flycatcher during the breeding season.

Its favorite habitats include woodlots and open woodlands with deciduous trees. But you'll have to look high up in the canopy from where this bird swoops to catch insects.

Since it can nest in a tree cavity, it's likely to use a nest box. Look out for it if you're into bird watching in your backyard and you live in the eastern states.

Lastly, this insect-eating bird is smaller than an American robin as its body length ranges from 6.7 to 8.3 inches.


2. Crested CaracaraCrested Caracara resting on the ground

This large bird grows between 19 and 22.8 inches long. To know that you've found one, ID a black cap, orange legs, dark brown belly, white neck, and orange face. You'll see dark wingtips and tail as it flies low over the sky. 

When it's not perched on a lone tree in an open field, it's walking on the ground, stalking its prey. It walks so well because its talons are flat, unlike other falcons.

The crested caracara inhabits the southern states like Florida and Texas, and its range extends to some countries of Central America, such as Costa Rica. It's also in Uruguay, Paraguay, Colombia, and Venezuela in South America.

Unfortunately, it's facing habitat loss due to human settlements and agricultural activities. As a result, the US Fish and Wildlife Service lists it as a threatened species in Florida.


3. Blue Jay

Blue Jay picking a nut to eat

It's one of the colorful birds with head crests.

Blue jays live throughout North America; thus, you probably have seen them already.

A blue jay has a blue crest, white underbelly, and a blue and black back. Further, it has a black stripe across its neck, resembling a necklace.

It's a migratory bird that inhabits the eastern states all year round, in woodlands, farms, and scrublands.

Blue jays come to bird feeders to get suet when they aren't looking for acorns in a forest. You'll know it's around by the noise of the flock.


4. Double-Crested CormorantDouble-Crested Cormorant getting ready to fly

Unlike other birds with a permanent crest, the one on the double-crested cormorant grows in the breeding season. It's a set of tufts of black and white feathers curled up. 

Some other ID details to confirm you're sighting a double-crested cormorant are a bill with a yellow-orange skin around it, a small head, a long neck, and a long tail. Though smaller than a goose, this species grows between 27.6 and 35.4 inches long. 

Unlike other waterbirds, their wings aren't waterproof, so double-crested cormorants dry their wings in the sun after hunting in water. They eat small fish most of the time and some insects, amphibians, and crustaceans. The Cornell Lab says they eat over 250 fish species.

It breeds in freshwater inland lakes and the coast in the northern states. The migratory range of the double-crested cormorant population is in the central states.

The breeding colonies build nests from sticks on flooded timber or treetops in islands. The young birds in a cormorant colony with nests on the ground congregate and return to the nest at mealtime.


5. Tufted Titmouse Tufted Titmouse picking sunflower seeds

If you've been looking for a reason to explore eastern states, here's one as this bird lives everywhere from North Carolina to Texas. It mingles with chickadees, woodpeckers, and nuthatches.

This titmouse only stays in a flock during the breeding season and prefers to live as a pair.

In winter or fall, it hoards food, and that's why it may come to a bird feeder for free seeds to hide elsewhere.

Titmice are stunning birds with crested heads, grayish upperparts, white underparts, and peach flanks. Their crests match the color of their backs.

These birds live in evergreen woodlands with dense canopies, parks, and orchards.


6. Black Crested Titmouse Black Crested Titmouse eating on bird feeder

You can't miss the elaborate crest of this bird when you explore its habitats in southern states like Texas.

Sometimes, it forages with other birds in woodlands, looking for insects and seeds. Therefore, visit mesquite bosques, evergreen, and oak scrub woodlands.

This songbird has a rounded bill, gray upperparts, peach flanks, and whitish underparts. It measures 9.1 to 9.8 inches from wing to wing, and it's 5.9 inches long. 

One difference between this titmouse and the tufted species we talked about above is body length, as a tufted titmouse can grow 6.3 inches long. Further, it has a white forehead, while a tufted titmouse has a black one.

A hybrid of a tufted titmouse and a black crested titmouse has a gray crest and a grayish forehead.


7. Northern Cardinal Northern Cardinal on a bird house

It's all over the US, except the northwestern states.

You can tell the male and female birds apart by the color of their crest. The male has a reddish one, while the female songbird flaunts a brownish head crest that matches the rest of its plumage. The female also has red tinges on its wings, tail, and brown crest.

These two sexes have some similar characteristics. For instance, their faces are black, tails are long, and they have short, thick bills for eating insects, fruits, and seeds.

You might see cardinals in your backyard, foraging on the ground in pairs. If you don't live in the eastern states, cardinals may not visit your backyard; therefore, go birding in woodlots and forest edges with shrubs.


8. Sulphur Crested Cockatoo Sulphur Crested Cockatoo drinking water on the lake

All cockatoos are famous for their crests.

Unfortunately, they aren't part of the wild birds of North America as their range is in New Guinea, Australia, and Southeast Asia. Cockatoos came to some parts of North America as pets, and the rare sightings in the wild are escapees.

One famous pet cockatoo is the sulphur-crested, known for its striking yellow crest with feathers curled up. Its flight wings and tail have a yellow tip to match its crest, while its curved bill is thick and black.

The sulphur-crested measures between 17.5 and 21.5 inches long. It's different from a yellow-crested cockatoo as it doesn't have yellow patches on its cheeks and its crest is a darker yellow.

A male bird has black eyes, while a female's eyes appear reddish or brown. A sulphur crested cockatoo has a whitish ring around the eyes, which differs from the blue ring of the blue-eyed cockatoo.

Birdlife International notes that even though it's a species of least concern as it's not threatened or endangered, its population is decreasing.


9. Golden Pheasant Golden Pheasant flying around

It's a native of China now introduced in many continents, including North America.

The male flaunts a flashy golden crest, barred orange and black feathers around the neck resembling a fan, bluish flight wings, red underparts, a long tail, a greenish upper back... It's a must-see!

Female pheasants aren't as striking as they have dull brown plumage.

Even though the male is colorful, it's an elusive bird in dense conifer trees. It roosts high and forages on the ground for seeds and leaves.


10. Steller's Jay

Steller's Jay perched on the twig of a tree

You'll know it by its black crest contrasting blue body feathers. 

It's a large bird, between 11.8 and 13.4 inches long.

Steller's jays live in the western states of the US. So, you'll have an exciting birding tour to states like Washington, California, and Nevada.

Have you gone birding there?

When you get there, explore shrublands, coniferous forests, or woodlands as that's where a Steller’s jay gets acorns, pine nuts, insects, and rodents.


11. Victoria Crowned PigeonVictoria Crowned Pigeon resting on the ground

If there's a bird with an unforgettable crest, it must be the victoria crowned pigeon. The ones in North America are caged birds because this pigeon is a native bird of New Guinea, like the cockatoos we talked about earlier.

You can see it at Louisville Zoo, Honolulu Zoo in Hawaiʻi, San Diego Zoo in California, and Zoo Miami in Florida.

The victoria crowned pigeon is a large bird that grows between 24 and 28 inches long. It weighs over four pounds and eats insects, berries, fruits, and seeds. But, in captivity, it eats papaya, mealworms, and pellets.

Now let's talk about its beauty. 

This pigeon has bluish-gray upperparts and throat, a maroon underbelly contrasting the back, red eyes, and a lace crest with white feather tips.

This bird roosts at night and spends the day foraging on the ground except when it's hot.


12. Grey Crowned Crane Grey Crowned Crane walking in a group

Here's another picturesque bird that's not a native of North America. Its range is Eastern and Southern Africa, inhabiting wetlands and grasslands.

This crane has black and white feathers, an eye-catching crest with stiff feathers that resemble bristles, and a face with a mix of black, red, and white colors. 

The grey crowned crane is about three feet tall. It's the only crowned crane that perches on trees.

You'll love to see it doing playful dances that involve fluttering its wings and head bobbing. 

Places to see this wading bird in the US include San Francisco Zoo & Gardens and Jacksonville Zoo in Florida. 

Though it's a bird in captivity outside of its African range, there are sightings of it as free birds in southern California. One such sighting was in September 2016 when a bird with a tag showed up in Rancho Cucamonga.


Frequently Asked Questions

What small birds have a crest?

Small crested birds include the tufted titmouse, black-crested titmouse, and some flycatchers.

In this video, you'll learn some facts about tufted titmouse:

What does a cockatiel's crest mean?

It communicates how it's feeling when it's angry, excited, curious, sleepy, happy, contented, or cautious. These emotions have different crest shapes and movements. For example, when it's curious, its crest is upright. When it's angry or afraid, the crest feathers fall flat.

Do female birds have crests?

Yes, some female birds flaunt stunning crests. For example, a female northern cardinal has a brownish crest with a reddish tinge. The female great crested grebe and the grey crowned crane are also crested.

As we conclude about birds with crests on their heads:

Final Thoughts

We'd love to see all crested birds, but some like the great crested grebe aren't in North America. Others are endangered species that might be extinct one day. For example, National Geographic mentions that the grey-crowned crane is an endangered species due to increased illegal capture.

As the birding world saves the species of concern, go out, enjoy birding, and tell everyone about the beauty of birds.

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