Male vs Female Cardinal: What’s the Difference?


Many species of birds have completely contrasting qualities between the female and male, especially in physical appearances. The behavior and physical traits between male and female Cardinals are attractive, keen to find out?

Male and Female Cardinals have distinguishable features from each other. The males are red all over with a distinct crest. The females are fawn with a reddish tint. They both have red beaks and a red dot that covers their face. The males gather food while the females build the nest and incubate eggs. 

Sometimes there are more than just physical appearances that differ a female to a male bird species. Keep reading as we unpack these qualities and how they make these birds a perfect duo. 

How A Typical Male and Female Cardinal Look?

In the Cardinals’ case, the male birds’ vibrancy to their vibrant red plumage. The feathers across the eyes and down the chest are black, which looks like a mask.

Their crest stands distinctly on the top of their heads. Also, Cardinal legs are all this brownish-pink color. 

To be a bit blunt, the females are slightly duller in appearance, with the same mask as the male.

Their chest is a light-yellow fawn, and the rest of their feathers are dark greenish-yellow and have a slight reddish tint to the tail feathers.

Their crest is less distinct than the males as it’s grey with a few red streaks. 

The Difference in Size Between Male and Female Cardinals

Male Cardinals are also slightly larger than females. They share an average weight of 1.58-ounces and enjoy a predominantly seed-based diet, known as granivorous with the occasional insect and fruit. 

The average length American Cardinals can grow is 9.1-inches long, with a wingspan reaching 12.2-inches.

The females can reach 8.5-inches and can weigh a petit 1.5-ounce. For the males, they can reach up to 9.25-inches in height and weigh up to 1.7-ounces. 

A Look into the Different Types of Cardinals

Male and Female cardinal

Cardinals belong to the family Cardinalidae and have three species covering Canada’s areas down to Central America.

The three species: the Northern Cardinal, Vermillion Cardinal, and the Pyrrhuloxia Cardinal [also known as a Desert Cardinal], have relatively the same differences between males and females.  

The lifespan for the Cardinal varies greatly from captivity and the wild. They can live up to 3 years and have a mate for life. If they’re raised in captivity, the average lifespan is increased dramatically to 28 years. 

Identifying the gender of birds is usually different due to their contrasting appearances, which is the case for the Cardinals. However, when they’re young birds, both genders look similar to the adult female Cardinal.

Once the males’ mort between seasons and matures, they lose these feathers and grow the crimson red feathers we love so much. 

Different Types of Cardinals and How They Look?

The Vermilion Cardinal is found in the Colombian and Venezuelan regions. Their climate is a nearly contrasting cousin; the Northern Cardinal, who lives in the north-eastern areas of the States and south-eastern region of Canada. 

The male Vermilion Cardinal has a scarlet quality about its plumage, proudly displayed in their super long punk-looking mohawk.

An easy way to identify a Vermilion from a Northern Cardinal is the color of the beak. They share the same durability, but the beak of the Northern Cardinal is red, and the Vermilions is dark gray. 

The female Vermilion Cardinal, like the Northern and Desert Cardinal, are overall soft shades of gray.

The female Northern Cardinal has some red accents on the tips of her wings, tail, and even her crest. 

How You Can Identify Maler and Female Cardinals By Looking At Their Beaks?

Female Cardinals look similar across the board. A simple way to identify the species is by looking at their strong cone-shaped beaks as they are different colors, depending on the species. 

Both male and female vermilion cardinals share the same type of body shape, and their beaks are ashy-white.

The same for the Northern Cardinal, who both have bright red beaks. The Desert Cardinal has yellow beaks that are slightly curved. 

Male vs Female Cardinal : Which One is a Better Singer?

Songs and Calls are ways for birds to communicate and occasionally flirt with each other. Songs are longer and sung during mating and when ready for courtship or claiming a bit of territory.

The Calls are shorter, and how Cardinals communicate with fellow males or birds of other species. 

Female and male Cardinals can both sing exactly the same, but the males do all the singing. The tone and notes differ from bird to bird and are also influenced by geolocation. 

The males have a bit of an aggressive tone to their call as they are warning off predators that could come after their broods. The females tend to only call out to ask for food from the male birds. 

Male and Female Cardinals’ Roles in Collecting Food

When it comes to assigning roles, the Cardinals know what they’re doing.

The female sings a song to let the male know they’re hungry. Then the male collects food for the female and for their brood if necessary. They also belt out an aggressive call to warn off predators. Their diets primarily consist of insects, fruit, worms, nuts, and seeds. 

How Male and Female Cardinals Build Their Nests?

For males to attract their partners, they pull out some tricks. A bit of dancing here and a bit of singing there. These relationships last for years, if not their entire lifetime. However, divorce and remarriage after death are common among these birds. 

Even though the males have to charm females with their songs, they also are responsible for sourcing the material to build a nest for the couple.

However, they don’t build the nest; the female does. She uses her strong beak to crush the twigs till they are pliable to shape the nest construction around her body.

When the bonding experience between the two commences, the male brings the female food and feeds her beak-to-beak.

If the male impressed the female sufficiently, this process would continue throughout the egg’s incubation process.

The male continues to provide the brood while the female starts preparing incubation for the batch of eggs. 

Check our post “What do Cardinals Eat” to know the Cardinals food habits.

A Summary of the Differences Between Male and Female Cardinals

It’s always lovely when it’s easy to differentiate between males’ and females’ birds.

Even though there are three types of Cardinals, they all follow the same protocol. The males have their own unique shade of red in appearance, and the females are all predominately grey. 

The table below is a summary of what the difference between female and male Cardinals are 

Female CardinalCharacteristicsMale Cardinal
Grey with subtle hints of redCrestBright red
Fawn-color with pale black around eyes and throatFaceRed with black around eyes and throat
Fawn-color body with brownish feathers that have a pale red tint in wings and crestPlumageBright, Crimson red all over
Builds the nest and incubates the eggs till they hatchNest ResponsibilitiesCollects food and building materials for the female to build the nest
Intentional and TacticalSingingAggressive and loud
8.5-inches tallSize9.25-inches tall
Fawn-like tan with pale hints of redTailBright red like the rest of the body
Pale BlackThroatDark, rich Black
1.5-ouncesWeight1.8-ounces
Pale Red and Fawn-like tanWingsBright red

If you love these amazing birds, use these 7 proven ways to attract cardinals to your backyard.

Conclusion

Male and Female Cardinals are easily distinguishable from each other. The immediate difference is the red coat and crest of the male with the brown-fawn of the female. Their faces are similar since they have the same color beaks, with a black circle of feathers covering their eyes. 

Whenever you hear these colorful songbirds sing Cardinal sing slightly aggressively, you know they’re protecting their brood. If you hear a female singing slightly panicked, she’s hungry.

Men are responsible for finding the food and providing protection for the female and family. The females build the nests and ensure the broods are kept warm.

Do you know? There is an another bird that looks similar to Cardinals. Check out our post Robin vs Cardinal, to know the differences between them.

Sources: 

http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Cardinalis_cardinalis/

https://www.dept.psu.edu/nkbiology/naturetrail/speciespages/

https://sciencing.com/different-species-cardinal-birds-8146270.html

https://science.jrank.org/pages/1230/Cardinals-Grosbeaks.html

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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