When it comes to cardinals, you would be thinking of northern cardinals, right? You may know how northern cardinals look like. However, some other birds are out there in the wild, looking quite similar to northern cardinals, but they aren’t.
So, which birds look like cardinals? Cardinal look-alike birds are pyrrhuloxias, phainopeplas, vermilion flycatchers, scarlet tanagers, summer tanagers, and more. Surprisingly, a pyrrhuloxia could be confused with a female northern cardinal, since they’re quite similar.
This page is a supplement to our recently published article on attracting cardinals to your yard. Once you finish reading here, we suggest visiting the recommended article to learn more about inviting these beautiful songbirds using a few simple strategies.
Now, let’s see the list of cardinal look-alike birds below.
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Birds That Look Similar to Northern Cardinals
Pyrrhuloxia, also known as desert cardinals, usually like drier desert scrubs. These cardinal look-alike birds live in Mexico and the southwestern United States. They can barely be found in Arizona, southeastern Texas, and southern New Mexico.
- The pyrrhuloxia is brownish-grey.
- It has red patches on the crest, upper wings, chest, throat, and tail.
- It has a thick yellow bill with a strong, curved upper ridge.
- It has a red face mask.
- The male looks slightly reddish on its breast and belly.
Pyrrhuloxias and cardinals belong to the same genus (Cardinalis). These birds are quite similar to cardinals in terms of body shape, size, tall crest, and red feathers in the wings. Both birds weigh almost equal and have the same songs. In terms of coloration, a pyrrhuloxia and a female cardinal are almost the same.
Male cardinals have mostly red plumage, while pyrrhuloxias are brownish-grey. Besides, pyrrhuloxias have small, parrot-like, yellow bills, but cardinals have large, thickly pointed, red bills. Around the bill, a cardinal has a black face mask, but a pyrrhuloxia has a red face mask.
02. Vermilion Flycatcher
Vermilion flycatchers are available in Mexico, southwestern United States, Central America, northwestern and central South America, and as far north as Canada. These birds usually like open areas, savannah, riparian woodlands, scrub, tropical forests, and agricultural fields.
- Vermilion flycatchers have short tails and small bills.
- The body color of these birds is brilliant orange-red and black.
- They have a dark brown mask through the eyes.
- They’re brown in the back, wings, and tail.
- Immature males have slight red patches on the head and breast.
Although vermilion flycatchers don’t have a crest like cardinals, these birds have raised crown feathers on the head and a thin black mask. In fact, they are similar to cardinals in terms of red color throughout the breast and belly.
As you already know, vermilion flycatchers don’t feature a crest similar to northern cardinals. These birds have short, small bills, while cardinals come up with strong, long bills. In addition, vermilion flycatchers are slightly blackish in the tails, but cardinals have red tails.
Phainopepla is found throughout the southwestern United States. These birds are readily available in the deserts of Arizona, southern California, southern Nevada, and the Baja Peninsula. Apart from deserts, they prefer dry woodlands. They’re often seen on tall trees and shrubs.
- Phainopeplas have shaggy crests and a slender appearance.
- Males are glossy black.
- Females are dark grey.
- Both sexes have visible white patches on the wing feathers.
- The tails are long, and the eyes are red.
Phainopeplas are quite similar to northern cardinals in terms of size and shape. Like cardinals, these birds have shaggy crests and long tails. They also have round eyes and cardinal look-alike legs with sharp nails.
The key difference between a phainopepla and a northern cardinal is coloration. Males and females are glossy black and dark grey, respectively, while cardinals are red (females are bright grey). Besides, phainopeplas have slimmer beaks and more slender bodies.
04. Scarlet Tanager
Scarlet Tanagers usually live in evergreen forests in eastern, midwestern, and northeastern parts of North America. In winter, these birds head to the south in the northwestern part of South America. Apart from forest areas, they prefer shrubby habitats and backyards.
- Scarlet tanagers are stocky songbirds with a thick, rounded bill.
- Males have bright-red plumage with black wings.
- Females have olive-yellow plumage with darker olive wings.
- The tails are short and broad.
- Some males have orangish feathers in the wings.
The main similarity between a scarlet tanager and a male cardinal is the red color. Like cardinals, scarlet tanagers have rounded eyes. Although they don’t have crests, they have slightly-raised crown feathers on the head.
The key difference is scarlet tanagers don’t have crests like cardinals. These birds have smaller bills, while cardinals have larger and thicker bills. In addition, scarlet tanagers have short yet broad tails, but cardinals have long tails. Also, they don’t have a black mask in the face.
05. Summer Tanager
Summer tanagers are usually available in the Southern (both southeast and southwest) United States. These birds head to northern South America, Central America, and Mexico in winter. You may also find a few of them in Texas and Florida in winter.
- Summer tanagers are crimson red.
- Females are greenish-yellow with orange splotches.
- Males have slightly longer, pale yellow bills.
- They have slightly shorter tails and rounded eyes.
- The wings are a bit blackish in the end.
In terms of body and wing color, summer tanagers are quite similar to cardinals. The wings of both birds are slightly blackish in the end. In addition, summer tanagers and northern cardinals are almost the same in terms of size.
The main difference is summer tanagers don’t have crests like cardinals. These birds have slightly long, pale yellow bills, while cardinals own red thicker bills. Besides, the tails of summer tanagers are shorter, but northern cardinals have longer tails.
Now that you know the birds that look like cardinals, you won’t get confused in identifying northern cardinals and their look-alike birds. A pyrrhuloxia is quite confusing, looking like the same as a female northern cardinal.
However, other similar birds can easily be identified since they’re pretty different from cardinals. Keep in mind that phainopeplas have crests with shaggy feathers like northern cardinals, but they’re glossy black.