Female Cardinals: A Complete Guide To Identify!

Given that male birds typically have more vivid colors and spectacular melodies than their female counterparts, it’s simple for bird enthusiasts to develop a negligence for female birds. Female birds, however, are as captivating and worthy of our consideration as male birds.

Female Cardinals have a brownish body with a faint-red tinge on their crests. When breeding, their soft orange-rust color makes it easier for them to disappear into vegetation and bushes. Female cardinals are noticed so little that their chirp can occasionally be the only sound heard of them.

We will read a bit more about these birds to let their mystery unfold. Let’s start!

What Does A Female Cardinal Look Like?

Female cardinals possess the same crest and massive red-orange bill as the male Cardinals do but lack the male’s dazzling red plumage, giving them a more subdued beauty unique to them.

Female Cardinals look much like the  juvenile cardinals immediately after fledging. Both resemble duller variations of adult Cardinals due to their shorter crests, grey or black bills, and absence of subtle shading with crimson red.

Male birds can be distinguished from female birds by their red splotches and moulting juvenile plumage, however birds with dark bills and “female-like” plumage cannot be told apart.

(For more extensive information on Male and Female Cardinals, check “Male vs Female Cardinal: What’s the Difference“)

The Four Keys to Identification

Even though they may be members of the same species, male and female cardinals have different appearances due to sexual dimorphism.

While having a similar profile to males, females have a smaller crest, softer feather coloring, and may even be a little bit smaller overall.

Let’s look at some of the indicators which will help us telling a male Cardinal apart from a female cardinal:

Size & Shape

Compared to the female cardinal birds, the male cardinal birds are significantly taller in height and broader in width.

For example, male northern cardinals measure about 8.7 to 9.25 inches in length, but female northern cardinals measure 8.2 to 8.5 inches.

Both male and female cardinals have triangular crests, however the male’s is somewhat larger than the female’s. Their crests are raised conspicuously. Also, Cardinals have exceptionally powerful beaks that are formed like a cone.

Color Pattern

Female Cardinals have a rusty brown color with subdued red highlights on their wings, crests, and tails, in contrast to the vivid red male. Similar to males, they have a bright red snout, but the black hood on their faces is much softer.

The signature red of cardinals is only seen on males.

These songbirds have red feathers on their entire bodies, from nose to tail. The sole exception being the mask covering the beak and eyes, as well as a thick black chin area.

Although females have some red on them, they have adapted to merge in with their surroundings rather than pop out, having a murky brown color.


Despite the fact that both males and females are reported to protect their nests and territories from intruders and predators, males are perhaps the more territorial ones.

Males establish territories in the spring and sing to warn other males that the area is off-limits. Females, on the other hand, are less aggressive.

Additionally, females depend heavily on males to defend them while they are caring for a nest. When another  female chooses to build a nest in his area, the males follow behind.

Since the female cardinal is the one who incubates the eggs, the male delegates to her the responsibility of constructing the nest and also supplies sticks, which the female uses in the overall plan.

The male might even come over just to look while she works.


Even though they have a striking red color, male cardinals are quite difficult to see. The majority of the time, they choose to hang out in dense bushes where the knotted branches obscure the appearance of their feathers.

For the females, they spend most of the time building their nests and once the nest is made, incubating their eggs.

If you see a cardinal foraging or collecting material for nest building, it is a male and if you see one rearing the chicks, it is a female cardinal.

Why Are Female Cardinals Not Red?

The brown color of female cardinals is a natural selection. This help female cardinals blend into the woods, keeping them safe from intruders and predators.

This color also helps male cardinals easily identify and find their desired mates.

So, the pale brown feathers of female cardinals serve two important natural functions. They provide camouflage and play a vital role in mate selection.

Can a cardinal be both male and female?

In two rare instances, sighting of a cardinal has been reported which is touted to be both male and female. It’s possible that the same bird was seen in both reports. 

Bilateral gynandromorphism is the term used in science to describe this half-male, half-female condition. In the bird that was seen, male cardinal’s distinctive red was present on the right side, while the female cardinal’s beige color was on the left.

The cardinal discovered is an uncommon bilateral gynandromorph, half male and half female, according to researchers.

Although little is known about the strange occurrence, reports of this sexual divide in birds, reptiles, butterflies, and crustaceans exist.

The break in coloration straight through the middle is indicative of the unusual occurrence, but no one can be certain the bird is a gynandromorph without examining its genes with either a blood test or necroscopy, as per ornithologists.

They claimed that the union of two growing embryos that had been fertilised separately may theoretically result in the development of gynandromorphs.

Why Are Male Cardinals Brighter Red Than Females?

Adult male cardinals are colorful and ostentatious in the interest of competing with one another for partners and territory. Compared to their more modestly-colored competitors, the bright red male cardinals mate earlier and in better settings.

The bright red plumage appears more stunning to a bird’s eye as opposed to ours because birds can perceive more colors than humans can. This color is used by female birds to assess a male’s wellbeing and suitability to serve as the father of her eventual progeny.

The carotenoids in the fruit that male cardinals eat give them their color, which can be a sign of their nutritional status. So the ladies can actually tell how robust and healthy they are by looking at their unusually colorful feathers!

Female birds aren’t required to be showy because they typically make the selection. So, that, together with the benefits of concealment in the wild among the predators, is probably the reason why female cardinals are brown.

How Rare Is It To See A Female Cardinal?

Cardinals are anything but rare. Both their sexes: the buffy-brown female  and male red cardinals are common. At present, there are around 120 million breeding cardinals, and the population is rapidly growing. You have a fair chance of seeing one if you reside in their home range.

Owing to their brightly colored plumage, both male and female cardinals, are simple to identify amidst the rich foliage.

In contrast to other migratory birds, it is actually relatively simple to differentiate between two cardinal genders just based on looks.

The buffy-brown female northern cardinal contrasts with the male’s vivid red plumage. Many people are unaware that both different- looking birds belong to the same species. This may explain why people are curious about its rarity.

It is logical!

If you believe that every cardinal in your region is red, you are only seeing half of them.

What Other Birds Look Like A Female Cardinal?

There are several birds that resemble cardinals. Let’s examine some birds that, in terms of color, shape, or size, resemble female cardinals.

You should be able to distinguish between cardinals and other songbirds more quickly and accurately as a result of this.

Pyrrhuloxia ranks first on our list. This bird is exceedingly simple to misjudge for a female cardinal, especially up close. It resembles a female Cardinal in that it is softer overall and has red on its head, wings, sides, chest, and even the apex of its crown.

Another example is tufted Titmouse. These little songbirds called tufted titmouse have a different color pattern than a male cardinal. The crest on their head, though, might give them a female cardinal resemblance up close.

Additionally, it’s common to confuse the California Towhee with a female Cardinal. It can be mistaken for a Cardinal from a distance because of its resembling skeletal structure and purplish-tinted wings and tail.

The House Finch is another commonly occuring bird that looks like a female cardinal. It is frequently misidentified as the female Cardinal because it has a red head with red on its chest. However, there are some notable differences between the House Finch and a female Cardinal.

Frequently Asked Questions

What colors are female cardinals?

Female cardinals are pale brown in color with hints of red in the wings and tail crest. You can tell a female cardinal apart from other brown birds by their striking red beak and stylish hair crest. They also have less of an orange tint than males.

Female cardinals tend to be quieter and more subtle in their vocalizations. They also tend to remain close to the nest, often tending to young birds or gathering food for them.

Although they may not be as brightly colored as male cardinals, female cardinals are just as important when it comes to expressing the cardinal’s beauty and song. They have an important role to play in maintaining the balance of life in the environment.

As such, you must appreciate female cardinals for their color and behavior just as much as male cardinals.

Do female cardinals change colors?

No, female cardinals do not change color. Male cardinals are easily recognizable due to their bright, red feathers; however, the females have a much more subtle appearance with grey and brown coloring. This is why it can be difficult to determine whether or not female cardinals have changed colors since they often look similar in different seasons.

What does it mean when you see a female cardinal?

When you see a female cardinal, it’s a sign of good news and positivity heading your way. This vibrant bird brings a message of bright days ahead, where you have the opportunity to turn your dreams into reality.

Are all female cardinals yellow?

Female cardinals are brownish with red accents. However, some lucky birders have spotted rare yellow cardinals.

What’s a female cardinal bird called?

A female cardinal bird is known as a hen. Interestingly, male and female cardinal can be distinguished by more than just their color. Male cardinals typically have a bright orange-red bill and a black face mask that extends to the upper breast, whereas females have buff or brown bills and no face masks.

Do Female Cardinals Sing?

It’s a common misconception that female cardinals cannot sing, however, this is not true! Female cardinals can indeed produce melodic songs as well as their male counterparts.

Male and female cardinals have different singing styles – the male birds tend to be more aggressive with their vocalizations while the females are softer in tone.

Additionally, female cardinals often engage in a kind of duet with their mates. They will respond to the male’s singing with a more complex and melodious song that adds harmony to the pair’s song.

While both male and female cardinals typically sing from perches, they also use their vocalizations for mapping efficiency during migration. As birds migrate, they rely on landmarks like mountains and rivers as part of their navigation. To help orient themselves, cardinals use vocalizations that provide a kind of musical map to aid in their journey.

Female cardinals are an impressive example of the power and versatility of birdsong! Their vocalizations can be used for mating, communication and even migration.

Final Thoughts

Female cardinals aren’t quite as blessed as their male counterparts who don a feathery-crimson robe. The main color of a female’s plumage is a light grey that has a nearly reddish olive undertone. They have a grey face and a yellow-brown neck. The only red that females usually have is a small amount of faint red on their feathers when they are flying and a small amount of red with grey on their crown.

Donald Bergeson

I have always been fascinated by the skill, strength, and beauty of birds.They help in maintaining a balance of ecological environment. At Best Bird Guide, I share all of my experiences and discoveries that I have got so far and inspire more devoted fans.

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