The Cardinals are non-migratory birds and are more prominent in the warmer climate areas. The Cardinal birds prefer living within a mile of where they were born. Recently, the population of cardinals has grown considering the increase in winter bird feeders and also the fact that the birds are able to adapt to parks and suburban human habitats.

The male and female Cardinals are very distinct in their appearance and also their behavior. It is very easy to differentiate between the male and the female cardinals.

Below we go over different qualities and behavior of both male and female Cardinals so you can differentiate them easier.


The male Cardinals are red in color all over. Their beaks are also reddish in color, and a black face around the bill. Male Cardinals are a perfect combination of familiarity and conspicuousness. Their red color will keep your eyes glued to the birds. Bright color is a key to their mating success. The female cardinals are attracted to the bright birds; therefore, the brighter the male, the more attractive it becomes to the females.


 Female Cardinals on the other hand are pale brown in color with reddish tinges in the wings and in their tail. Their crest is also reddish in color. The female cardinals bill is red-orange, and they have a black face around the bill similar to their male counterparts. The female cardinals’ dull color helps them to blend into the surroundings when making a nest and during the nesting period. Also, it helps them protect their young ones as they easily blend with the environment, making it easier to hide from potential predators.


Both the male and female cardinals have triangular crests, but the male crest is about an inch larger than the female cardinal bird crest. The crests are prominently raised. The beaks of cardinals are cone-shaped and are very strong. The legs and feet of the cardinal birds are dark pink-brown in color.

The male northern cardinals have a bright red throat with a black mask covering it, whereas the female northern cardinal has a yellow-brown throat. The throat feathers of the female cardinals appear to be shaggier than those of the male cardinals.

The red plumage of the male is more striking when seen against a backdrop of snowy branches.

Where does the color in cardinals come from?

The color in these birds comes from three naturally occurring chemical compounds, carotenoids, melanin, and porphyrins. Melanin gives the cardinals black, brown, and buff hues. Porphyrin gives the birds the reddish and the brownish shades. The carotenoids create yellow, orange, and red colors for the birds. They ingest the carotenoids in their diet. Birds that consume foods rich in carotenoids normally have more brilliantly colored feathers. 

Cardinals that are bright red are most likely feeding on a healthy carotenoid-rich diet. Most native fruits are packed with carotenoids that these birds need. Such fruits include raspberries, wild grapes, apples, and dogwood berries. Carotenoids are deposited in the outer layer of the feathers called the cortex. The feathers have three layers. The core is the innermost layer, followed by the middle layer called the cloudy zone. The cortex is the outermost layer of the feathers which is more brightly colored than the other layers. Coloration is, therefore, on the surface of the cardinals’ feathers and not within the deeper layers.

Vibrant yellow cardinals are rare and are a result of a plumage variation in genetics called xanthochroism. The yellow color may also be caused by the diet of the cardinal bird. When the male cardinal bird feeds only on yellow pigments, they become pale red in color.  Cardinals do not molt into a dull plumage, so they are still breathtaking and brightly colored in winter’s snowy backyards. Their feathers are always intact despite the weather changes. During winter, both male and female cardinal birds fluff up their feathers so as to trap warm air next to their body and keep away the cold. The feathers, which are usually down, are small and hairlike at the base of each flight feather.


The male cardinal birds are bright red whether flying or still, whereas the female cardinals show pale red under tail only when they are flying. The female cardinals spread their tail feathers in an alluring manner to show that she is available for love. The male tail is larger than the female tail by some centimeters.  Both the male and female cardinals have long red tails, but the male tails have a more pronounced red color.


The male cardinal birds are slightly larger than the female cardinal birds. The male northern cardinals, for example, are approximately 8.7 to 9.25 inches long, whereas the female northern cardinals are 8.2 to 8.5 inches long.


Male cardinals are very hard to spot despite their bright red color. They mainly prefer to hang out in dense shrubs where the tangled branches block the view of their feathers. Female cardinals do much of nest building while the male cardinal supplies her with the materials required. Female cardinals are considered more articulate in their work; that is why they take up the duty to build nests while their male partners, who are stronger, supply them with the raw materials.

  The female cardinals crush twigs with her beak until they are pliable and then bend the twigs around her body and push them into a cup shape with her body into the nest.  The nest has four layers. The building of a nest takes approximately nine days to be completed. The males also forage and bring food back to the nest. Female cardinals are more muted and tend to stay mostly in their nests. The female cardinals lay eggs one to six days after the completion of the nest.


Cardinals are songbirds and sing a variety of different melodies. Both female and male cardinals whistle all year round. Cardinal sounds vary between the males and females as well as the regions.

The male cardinals sing to attract mates or to ward off intruders. The male cardinals are known to be aggressive, especially when defending their territories. The male cardinal sings from the top of a tree or a high location to defend their territory. If a male identifies human or other animals as a potential threat, they make a chip sound to alert their family of a potential predator or to scare away the threat. The frequency and volume of the sounds increases as the threat becomes greater. This tendency makes the cardinals charge at an ‘intruding bird’ in glass windows when it’s really their own reflection. The male cardinal birds sing louder than the female birds.

The female cardinals sing to tell the male when they need food. The female signals the male to bring food to the nestlings through singing. The females sing more elaborate songs compared to the male’s aggressive singing. The female cardinals sing in a more tactical fashion and sing the most beautiful notes. The songs of the female cardinals are longer and quite hard to grasp.

Cardinals can sing up to 24 songs. The male cardinals sometimes sin up to 200 songs in an hour. The female and male cardinals sometimes get together to sing cheerful melodies. That’s when you will hear the cardinals chirping. The cardinal birds also sing so as to locate their mates, especially during evening hours when visibility reduces.


Cardinal birds are omnivorous in nature. They feed on seeds, nuts, greens, fruits, and insects. The birds love sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and insects like flies, spiders, grasshoppers, and crickets. Wild cardinals mostly feed on wild grapes and berries.

The male cardinals forage when the female cardinals are incubating eggs. During incubation, the females cannot leave the nest. They bring their partner’s food into the nest all through the incubation process. The female cardinals start foraging after the eggs have been hatched. Baby cardinals feed on whatever their parents bring them. During their early stages, the nestlings eat consumed and regurgitated insects from their parents. As they grow older, they learn to eat whole insects. Young cardinals typically eat more than their parents, regardless of gender.


Both the female and male cardinals are very territorial. You might be surprised by the sight of a cardinal bird attacking its reflection in a window or car mirror. During their reproduction season, the hormones in the cardinal birds rise, making them more aggressive. They are obsessed with defending their territories against any intruders to the extent of attacking their own reflections. They may spend hours fighting their reflection. Aggressive hormones subside with time.

Life span

The average life span of cardinal birds is between 10 to 15 years. The northern cardinals can live for at least three years. Cardinals in higher altitudes especially tend to live longer. Wild birds have a longer lifespan than domesticated birds. Cardinals prefer to live in high-altitude areas, thus helping to add on their life spans. They also shy away from the human, thus reducing chances of early death that come from interaction with them.

The oldest recorded cardinal bird was a female in Pennsylvania. The bird was fifteen years and nine months old.

Can a cardinal bird be both male and female? Yes. In some instances, you might spot a cardinal bird whose half of its body is red while the other half is tan. The colors might be split down the middle, and it looks as if two birds have been sewn together. It may seem strange, but it is completely normal and rare too. An organism that is both male and female is called a gynandromorph.

This condition is genetic and occurs as a result of mutation of chromosomal cells. The gynandromorph has a combination of the male and female chromosomes.


Cardinals are social birds, and they join in flocks that may even include other birds when flying. However, during the mating season, the groups dissolve, and the birds pair up in twos are male and female. Cardinals are monogamous in nature. The male cardinal chooses a female mate, and the two then begin the journey of constructing a nest by the use of materials like leaves, grasses, tree bark and small twigs. Some cardinal pairs stay together all year long in their nesting territory. If a member of the pair dies, the survivor will quickly look for a new mate. During courtship, the male cardinals feed the female cardinals seeds from beak to beak.

 The male cardinals feed their monogamous partners as they incubate clutches of eggs. Male cardinals are so hot-blooded that they never allow another male cardinal to trespass on their property even though they breed near them. The male is considered to be among the toughest birds despite their average size.

Cardinals brood twice a year. The female cardinals incubate an averagely of three eggs per season. Cardinals produce two to four clutches each year. Cardinal birds lay eggs that are whitish with a greenish, bluish or brownish tint and are marked with brown or gray blotches.  The egg size is average 26mm by 19mm. Incubation takes place for 12 to 13 days. The female cardinal bird incubates the eggs, but on rare occasions, the male cardinal incubates the eggs for brief periods.

Learn more about cardinals

Cardinals are considered one of the most beautiful wild birds in the world.  Cardinals belong to the taxonomic family, cardinalidae and are widely distributed in north and south America. The family Cardinalidae also includes Grosbeaks and buntings. The South American cardinals belong in the genus Paroaria and the family Thraupidae. The Thraupidae are the second largest family of birds with a 4% representation of all avian species and a 12% representation of the neotropical birds.

There are nineteen subspecies of cardinals. The cardinals are distinguished by their colors. Northern cardinals are spread from southeastern Canada to the south in Louisiana. The northern cardinal has a body length of between 21 – 32.5 cm and a wingspan of 25- 31 cm; an adult cardinal bird weighs approximately between 33.6 grams to 65 grams. The Florida cardinal is found in Florida and Georgia. The scientific name for this bird is Cardinalis floridanus. The grey-tailed cardinal, also known as Cardinalis canicaudus is found in Texas and Oklahoma all through to central and eastern Mexico. The Cozumel northern cardinal which scientific name is Cardinalis saturatua lives in Cozumel islands in the Caribbean Sea off the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. The vermillion cardinal, whose scientific name is Cardinali’s phoenixes, lives in Venezuela and Columbia. The male desert cardinal, also called Cardinalis sinuatus, lives in the southern U.S and Mexico deserts. This bird is not bright red like other cardinal birds.

The north cardinals, which is the most popular state bird, is named the state bird of seven states in the United States of America.  The cardinal is a state bird in Kentucky (1942), Illinois (1929), Indiana (1933), Ohio (1933), North Carolina (1943), Virginia (January 25, 950) and West Virginia (March 7, 1949).

Cardinals are also referred to as redbirds due to their red color. They were named cardinal for their color, which looks similar to the red robes worn by Roman Catholic Cardinals.

Are cardinal birds spiritual birds?

Some people dream, get visions, and others happen to literally see cardinal birds by chance. Cardinals are associated with the spiritual world, and many people, especially in America, believe that cardinal birds are offsprings of the sun and are connected to lucky fate. Some believe that when the bird visits you, it brings along a spiritual message from the ancestors. The cardinal bird can be a message or a warning from your deceased loved ones to assure you of their love and presence in your life. Many believe that when you see a cardinal bird that is neither red nor blue in your dreams, it’s a sign that something unusual will happen in your life.

Are cardinal birds lucky charms?

Many believe that seeing a cardinal bird is a sign of good luck or loyalty. Cardinal birds are a symbol of joy, and festivity is associated with new hopes, better, brighter futures and great health coming your way. Seeing a cardinal bird, especially a female, means that you will get lucky shortly.

Cardinal birds are a symbol of stability and power. This is exhibited by the male cardinal birds’ character of being protective of his family, especially during the breeding season. The male cardinal is also responsible for the healthy naturing of its nestlings, whereas, in other species, it’s the mother’s job to nurture the young ones.  The cardinals, either male or female, are very possessive and protective of their families and mates.


Cardinal birds are one of the cutest birds in the bird family. The cardinal birds are proud birds and do not shy away from humans. They often show off themselves by visiting gardens and bird lovers. To attract these birds, you can use feed like sunflower seeds, and the birds will be flocking your garden.