Many birders are confused by robins and cardinals due to their similarities in their bright coloring, sounds, and songs. While researching the differences between the two birds, some interesting facts about their differences and distinguishing between them came to light. So what are the differences between robins and cardinals?
Male robins have dark heads, brown-gray underparts, and rusty-colored breasts, females, are of similar coloring, just a little paler; both measure 7.9 – 11 inches in length. Male Cardinals are bright red, with a black throat and mask, females are pale brown; both measure 8.3 – 9.1 inches in length.
There are many different types of robins and cardinals; the following article will discuss key differences between the American Robin and the Northern Cardinal.
These two species are found all over the United States.
Robin Vs Cardinal: Physical Differences?
Robins have dark heads, white outlines around their eyes, black streaks on the throat, yellow bills, brown-gray upperparts, white-tipped outer tail feathers, and a rusty-colored breast. The females are a paler version of the males.
Cardinals are long-tailed songbirds with short, thick cone-shaped bills, a black throat and mask, and a prominent crest. Males are a vibrant red all over, and females are a pale brown with reddish tinges in the tail, wings, and crest.
Robins are slightly larger than cardinals. Both males and females are around 7.9 – 11 inches (20 – 27.9cm) in length, with a wingspan of 12.2 – 15.8 inches (30.9 – 40.1cm); they weigh about 2.7 – 3.0 oz (76.5 – 85 grams).
Male and female cardinals are around 8.3 – 9.1 inches (21 – 23.1cm) in length, with a wingspan of 9.8 – 12.2 inches (24.8 – 30.9cm), weighing about 1.5 – 1.7 oz (42.5 – 48.2 grams).
Robin Vs Cardinal: How Do Their Habitats Differ?
You can find robins all over the American continent in urban areas such as fields, lawns, and city parks. You will find them in forests, woodlands, mountains close to the tree line, tundra, and recently burned forests in the more rural areas.
In the winter, many robins will move to places such as moist woods, where berry-producing shrubs and trees are abundant.
On the other hand, cardinals prefer dense shrubby areas such as overgrown fields, forest edges, backyards, hedgerows, mesquite, and marshy thickets, ornamental landscaping, and re-growing forests.
They like to nest in dense foliage and look for pretty high perches off the ground for their singing.
As towns and suburbs expand and grow in North America, the cardinal expands its range northwards too.
Robin Vs Cardinal: How Do Their Diets Differ?
Robins have a rather diverse diet, eating both fruit and invertebrates. In the spring and summer months, robins eat many insects, earthworms, and even some snails. Robins have been seen on occasion eating small snakes, shrews, and aquatic insects.
They also like to eat various fruits, such as hawthorn, chokecherries, dogwood, juniper berries, and sumac fruits. One study theorized that robins specifically ate fruits with bugs in them to round out their diet.
Cardinals diet consist mainly of fruit and seeds. Although they will supplement these foods with insects, feeding their nestlings on a mostly insect diet. Their typical food sources include wild grape, dogwood, grasses, buckwheat, sedges, hackberry, mulberry, blackberry, tulip-tree, sumac, and corn.
Cardinals are also happy to eat many different types of birdseed, black oil sunflower seeds being one of their favorites.
They will also happily eat crickets, beetles, katydids, cicadas, leafhoppers, flies, spiders, centipedes, moths, and butterflies.
Robin Vs Cardinal: Flying And Foraging
Robins are strong, fasts, and straight fliers. When on the ground, foraging for food, robins may run a few steps forward and then come to an abrupt stop. In long grass, robins may fly over the grass using slow, powerful wingbeats or hop.
When it comes to searching for grubs, robins will often sit and stare, motionless at the ground with their heads cocked to one side, waiting for food to show itself to them. They might even fight with another robin for its recently caught dinner.
Cardinals prefer to forage on or near the ground, hopping through low branches. They are reluctant fliers, only taking short trips between thickets on their round, short wings while they forage.
A favorite pastime for a cardinal is sitting in a high branch of a shrub singing and preening.
When it comes to foraging, females will often give way to males, and the young will give way to adults.
Cardinals also forage with other species such as White-throated Sparrows among other sparrow species, Dark-eyed Juncos, Tufted Titmice, Pyrrhuloxias, and goldfinches.
Robins Vs Cardinals: How Do Their Vocalizations Differ?
It might sound like cardinals and robins are making identical songs and sounds when it comes to singing. If you listen closely, you will hear cardinal songs are more melodic and often slower than robins.
Robins will often only sing when they need to impress a female or defend their territory.
In contrast, many believe cardinals make more appealing sounds, although they also use songs to attract females and defend their territories.
Robins Vs Cardinals: Where Do They Build Their Nests?
Female robins choose the nesting site. They like to hide their nests just below or in layers of dense leaves. They typically nest in the lower half of the tree, although you can find a nest high up in the treetop on occasion.
You can also find a robin’s nest in eaves, gutters, other structures, and outdoor light fixtures. In western prairies, you might find a robin’s nest in a thicket or on the ground.
Cardinal females will start to peruse nesting sites a week or two before she makes a final decision. The male often tags along for all these site inspections. Once they decide, they will build their nest in the fork of small branches in a shrub, sapling, or vine tangle.
They will place the nest 1 – 1.5 feet (30.4 – 45.7 cm) above the ground, hidden in the dense foliage. They are not picky and are happy to nest in many different shrubs and trees.
Robin Vs. Cardinal: How Do Their Nests And Clutches Differ?
Female robins create a cup shape with their building materials, including dead grass, twigs, feathers, paper, moss, or rootlets. She will reinforce the nest with soft mud making it sturdy.
The finishing touches include lining the nest with fine dry grass, with the final product being 3 – 6 inches (7.6 – 15.2 cm) high and 6 – 8 inches (15.2 – 20.3 cm) across.
Robins will lay 3 – 5 eggs, which will be blue-green or sky-blue and unmarked. The size of the eggs will be 1.1 – 1.2 inches (2.8 – 3 cm) in length and 0.8 inches (2 cm) in width.
The eggs incubate for 12 – 14 days, and the nesting period is 13 days. When robin babies are born, they are helpless and primarily naked, only covered in spare whitish down.
Female cardinals do most of the nest building, although their male might bring them some building material. She will make twigs pliable with her beak before she shapes them into a cup shape with her feet.
Her building materials include twigs, grapevine bark, grasses, rootlets, pine needles, and stems. It typically takes the female 3 – 9 days to build her nest.
The completed product is 4 inches (10.1 cm) across and 2 – 3 inches (5 – 7.6 cm) high, and the inner diameter is about 3 inches (7.6 cm).
The typical clutch size for a cardinal pair is 2 – 5 eggs, which are buffy white, grayish-white, or greenish-white in color, speckled with pale brown to gray.
The size of the eggs is 0.9 – 1.1 inches (2.2 – 2.7 cm) in length and 0.7 – 0.8 inches (1.7 – 2 cm) in width.
The eggs incubate for 11 – 13 days, and the nesting period is 7 – 13 days. The babies are naked when they are born with sparse tufts or grayish down, they are clumsy, and their eyes are closed.
Robins and cardinals are of a similar size, but overall they are inherently different. The differences range from their physical appearance to their preferred habitats and their nesting techniques to their clutches. Overall, they are two very different birds.