10 Birds with the Most Colorful Feathers

Written by Patrick Sather
Published: November 19, 2021
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Animals range in terms of their size, shape, and appearance. While some possess drab, plain-looking feathers, scales, or skin, others sport brightly-colored features. Typically, females appear less colorful than males. This adaptation usually helps to protect the females from predators. Such an adaptation is especially important considering that females usually take on the primary parenting duties. Meanwhile, males typically appear more colorful. Usually, their colorful looks help males to attract females and also for females to distinguish them from other species. Amongst all of the species in the animal kingdom, few animals sport more brightly-colored patterns than birds. From parrots to peacocks, there are many birds that possess colorful feathers. That said, can you name some well-known birds with the most colorful feathers? 

For those of you who can’t, allow us to fill in the gaps. In this article, we’ll introduce you to an assortment of birds with colorful plumage. We’ll also discuss where you can find these beautiful birds, what they eat, and some of their unique behaviors. Hopefully, you’ll be able to see one of the colorful creatures in the wild or at your local zoo. Without further ado, here are 10 birds with the most colorful feathers. 

#10: Nicobar Pigeon

Birds with the most colorful feathers: Nicobar Pigeon
The Nicobar pigeon is unique in that it flies in groups arranged in a straight line.

iStock.com/PrinPrince

The Nicobar pigeon is the first entry on our list of birds with the most colorful feathers. A member of the pigeon and dove family Columbidae, the Nicobar pigeon is the closest living species to the extinct dodo bird. It is native to the Nicobar Islands, which is where it gets its name. In addition, you can find it on the Andaman Islands, India, and the Malay Archipelago. Their diet consists of mostly seeds, fruits, and plant buds, as well as some grains. Nicobar pigeons roam in flocks and exhibit the strange habit of flying in single-file lines. On average, Nicobar pigeons measure around 16 inches long. They feature a gray head, gray-green neck hackles, a white tail, and a metallic blue-green body. Due to hunting for their feathers and meat, the IUCN lists the Nicobar pigeon as a Near Threatened species. 

#9: Painted Bunting

Birds with red chests: Painted Bunting
The painted bunting is also known as the nonperiel, or “without equal” in French.

This next bird with a red chest is also one of the birds with the most colorful feathers. A member of the cardinal family, Cardinalidae, the painting bunting is native to North America. It’s so beautiful, it also goes by the name nonpariel, or “without equal” in French. Painting buntings breed in the southern United States and northern Mexico. During winter, they then migrate south to tropical forests in Central America, Florida, and the Caribbean. Their diet mainly consists of seeds and insects such as snails, spiders, grasshoppers, and caterpillars. On average, they measure 4.7 to 5.5 inches long with a wingspan between 8.3 to 9.1 inches. Unlike the females, male painted buntings sport bright plumage. In addition to their red chests, they also feature a blue head, green shoulders, and multi-colored wings. Due to habitat loss, the IUCN lists them as a species of Least Concern.

#8: Scarlet Macaw

scarlet macaws sitting together in a tree
With their red, green, blue, and yellow plumage, scarlet macaws contain all the shades of a flame.

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When many people think of birds with the most colorful feathers, they think of the scarlet macaw. Scarlet macaw range through the rainforests, savannahs, and humid woodlands of Central America and South America. Their diet consists mostly of fruits, seeds, nuts, and nectar, as well as insects, snails, and bugs. The scarlet macaw is one of the largest parrots in the world. At their largest, they measure up to 32 inches long and weigh around 2.2 pounds. They get their name from the striking red feathers on their head, chest, and back, and under their wings and tail. In addition, they also feature yellow, green, and blue feathers across their shoulders and wings. Despite habitat loss and their popularity in the pet trade, the IUCN lists the scarlet macaw as a species of Least Concern. 

#7: Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise

Birds with the most colorful feathers: Wilson's Bird-of-Paradise
Wilson’s bird-of-paradise makes a stage on the ground where it engages in an elaborate courtship display.

iStock.com/serhano

All of the birds of paradise deserve to be considered among the birds with the most colorful feathers. That said, Wilson’s bird-of-paradise stands out even among such a colorful lot. A native to Indonesia, Wilson’s birds-of-paradise live only in the forests of the islands off of West Papua. Normally quite small, most specimens measure only around 6.3 inches long. They eat mostly fruits, insects, and arthropods as well as some invertebrates. While courting a female, males clear a section of the forest floor and engage in an elaborate dance. In addition to their dance, their striking plumage makes them hard to miss. From their blue, featherless head to their yellow shoulders and red back, they sport a variety of colorful feathers. Due to its limited range and habitat loss, the IUCN lists Wilson’s bird-of-paradise as a Near Threatened species. 

#6: Gouldian Finch

Most Expensive Birds-gouldian finch
The Gouldian finch is named after the late British ornithologist John Gould’s wife, Elizabeth.

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Also known as the rainbow finch, the Gouldian finch boasts incredible plumage even amongst birds with the most colorful feathers. Named after the British ornithologist John Gould’s wife, Elizabeth, the Gouldian Finch is a native to Australia. Like most finches, their diet is made up almost exclusively of seeds from different plants. In general, they measure 4.9 to 5.5 inches long. Several color varieties exist, with the primary difference concerning the color of the face. Depending on the specimen, the face can appear black, red, or yellow. Meanwhile, the rest of the head is blue, and they also sport a purple chest, yellow belly, and green wings. Unfortunately, disease and predation have severely reduced their numbers in recent years. As a result, the IUCN lists the Gouldian finch as a Near Threatened species.

#5: Resplendent Quetzal

Most Colorful Animals: Resplendent Quetzal
The Resplendent Quetzal is an important symbol in both Aztec and Mayan culture. The quetzal is associated with the snake god Quetzalcoatl and seen as a symbol for goodness and light.

Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.com

Due to their bright plumage, some birds with the most colorful feathers feature prominently in ancient and modern traditions. Case in point, the resplendent quetzal, a central figure in Aztec and Mayan mythology and the current national bird of Guatemala. Resplendent quetzals range throughout cloud forests between southern Mexico and western Panama. While they eat mostly fruit, resplendent quetzals also eat wasps and ants, as well as small frogs and lizards. They rank as the largest member of the quetzal family, Trogoniformes, and measure between 14 to 16 inches long. Their iridescent plumage appears green on their body and head, but can also look gold, blue, or purple in a certain light, while their bellies are a reddish-purple color. Given that they are poor flyers, their variable plumage helps them to avoid predators. Unfortunately, due to habitat loss, the IUCN classifies the resplendent quetzal as a Near Threatened species. 

#4: Rainbow Lorikeet

Colorful lorikeet bird at a bird feeder in Melbourne, Australia
Rainbow lorikeets can drink pollen using their long tongues.

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If you thought the scarlet macaw was colorful, wait till you see this next parrot to make our list of birds with the most colorful feathers. The rainbow lorikeet is native to Australia, although introduced populations also live in New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Tasmania. You can find them primarily in rainforests, woodlands, and coastal areas. Their diet primarily consists of fruit, nectar, and pollen, which they drink using their long tongues. A medium-sized lorikeet, most specimens measure between 9.8 to 11.8 inches long. Males and females appear identical and feature multiple colors, hence the name rainbow lorikeet. They sport a bright blue head, green-yellow collar, green upper back, wings, and tail, orange chest, blue belly, and green thighs. Finally, when in flight, you can see their underwings, which appear red and yellow. Despite its limited range, the IUCN lists it as a species of Least Concern.

#3: Mandarin Duck

mandarin duck reflected in calm water
The beautiful colors of the mandarin duck appear on the male during mating season. During the off-season, the male duck loses these colors.

This next bird is among the world’s most striking waterfowl and birds with the most colorful feathers. The mandarin duck is a species of perching duck found throughout East Asia. While once more widespread, its range is now limited to eastern Russia, Korea, China, and Japan. During the breeding season, they prefer to live in dense forests and shrublands near rivers and lakes. That said, they will occasionally live in marshes and near coastal areas. Like other perching ducks, they perch in trees at night. Their diet consists of mostly seeds, grasses, and grains, as well as insects, frogs, mollusks, small fish, and snakes. The males sport brightly colored plumage, including a red face, purple breast, red sides, orange back, and white belly. In addition, males feature a bright crest, which transitions from green to reddish-purple. Despite population declines, the IUCN still lists them as a species of Least Concern.  

#2: Lilac-Breasted Roller

lilac-breasted roller with blurred background
The lilac-breasted roller prefers areas with lots of tree cover where they can perch between hunting forays.

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Few animals boast more interesting plumage than this next member of our birds with the most colorful feathers list. A member of the roller family, Coraciidae, the lilac-breasted roller is native to Sub-Saharan Africa. You can find it in wooded areas and savannahs, as it typically avoids areas without tree cover. Lilac-breasted rollers prey on insects, spiders, scorpions, snails, and small snakes and lizards. Sometimes, it will even prey on smaller birds. On average, they measure 14.1 to 14.9 inches long with a wingspan between 19.6 and 22.8 inches. Males and females feature similar plumage, including a lilac-purple breast, which is where they get their name. In addition, they feature an olive or green-blue crown and upper wings, and teal belly, rump, and wing edges. Thanks to its large range, the IUCN lists the lilac-breasted roller as a species of Least Concern. 

 #1: Common Peafowl

Cool Types of Birds
Peacocks are big, colorful pheasants with a reputation for their lustrous tails.

iStock.com/Robert Way

No list of birds with the most colorful feathers would be complete without this final bird. The Indian peafowl, or common peafowl, is the most widely recognized of the three peacock species. While native to India and Sri Lanka, you can now find common peafowl throughout the world. In the wild, they prefer to live in open woodlands or cultivated areas with easy access to food. Their diet consists mainly of berries and grains, but they also eat small snakes, lizards, and rodents. They represent one of the best examples of sexual dimorphism, with the males differing considerably from the females. Males sport brightly-colored bodies and crests that appear a rich, iridescent blue tinged with green. That said, their most noticeable feature is their large fan of tail covert feathers which contain yellow, blue, and green eyespots. The IUCN lists the common peafowl as a species of Least Concern. 

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