Many backyard bird enthusiasts are curious to learn whether the cardinal they usually see is a male or a female. As a birdwatcher, I’m always willing to know the gender of the cardinal I often notice in my garden. I can tell a male cardinal from a female one.
So, how do I tell a male cardinal from a female cardinal? Cardinals are really easy to differentiate. Male cardinals have vibrant red plumage overall, while female cardinals are pale brown all over with warm reddish tinges in the crest, wings, and tail. Both male and female cardinals have reddish bills and a black face around the bills.
Apart from that, there are 3 types of cardinals, and each type has distinctive males and females. We’re going to talk about all these. Anyway, you can take a look at another article on attracting northern cardinals after finishing the current article.
Male vs Female Cardinal: At a Glance
|Characteristics||Male Northern Cardinal||Female Northern Cardinal|
|Plumage||Bright Red||Pale Brown (Reddish Olive|
|Size||8.7 – 9.25 In (22.2 – 23.5 Cm)||8.2 – 8.5 in (20.9 – 21.6 cm)|
|Throat||Red and Black||Yellow Brown|
|Wings (In Flight)||Bright Red||Pale Red|
|Crest||Bright Red||Gentle Red with Grey|
|Weight||42 – 48 grams (1.5 – 1.7 ounces)||39 – 42 grams (1.4 – 1.5 ounces)|
|Breeding||Collect Nesting Materials & Food||Build Nests & Hatch Eggs|
|Bills||Thick, Pointed, & Red||Thick, Pointed, & Red|
|Tail||Bright Red||Slightly Pale Red|
|Diet||Seeds, Nuts, Fruits, & Insects||Seeds, Nuts, Fruits, & Insects|
|Lifespan||3 years (approx.)||3 years (approx.)|
Differences Between Male and Female Cardinals
Even though cardinals are mainly red, bright red cardinals refer to their males (bright red all over the breasts and pale red on the back). On the other hand, female cardinals are pale brown, sometimes reddish olive, overall with reddish tips on the wings, tail, and crest.
In terms of size, male northern cardinals are 8.7 to 9.25 inches long (22.2 to 23.5 cm). In contrast, female northern cardinals are 8.2 to 8.5 inches long (20.9 to 21.6 cm). In a word, male northern cardinals are a bit larger than their counterparts.
Male northern cardinals have bright red throats with a black mask. On the other hand, female northern cardinals feature yellow-brown throats. The throat feathers of the females are shaggier than those of the males.
Both males and females have a black mask covering their faces. However, male northern cardinals come with a brilliant black mask around the bills. On the contrary, female northern cardinals feature a pale, slightly grey mask on the face.
Both male and female cardinals have a wingspan of 9.8 to 12.2 inches (25 to 31 cm) with an average of 30.5 cm. In flight, the males are extremely red, flying or not, but the females show pale red undertails only when they fly.
The main way to identify cardinals is their crests. However, the crests of male cardinals differ from those of females. The male northern cardinals come with bright red crests, while the females have gentle red crests with grey plumage.
Male northern cardinals weigh 42 to 48 grams (1.5 to 1.7 ounces). On the other hand, the average weight of female northern cardinals is 39 to 42 grams (1.4 to 1.5 ounces). For further information, read our article on how much cardinals weigh.
Both male and female cardinals can sing. However, male cardinals usually sing aggressively to protect their broods. Oppositely, female northern cardinals sing more tactically, particularly seeking more food from the males.
When it comes to breeding, both male and female cardinals have specific roles. Female northern cardinals build their nests, while the males supply nesting materials. Besides, females incubate and hatch the eggs, but males collect food for the family.
Similarities Between Male and Female Cardinals
You can identify cardinals with their bills, whether they’re males or females. Both male and female cardinals have reddish (sometimes, orangish) bills. Their bills are thick and pointed.
The tails of both male and female northern cardinals are red. However, the male cardinals have slightly more reddish tails than those of the females. Both sexes come with long tails.
Both male and female northern cardinals eat weed seeds, grains, fruits, insects, the bark of elm trees, and drinks of maple sap. In addition, both sexes prefer feeding on platform feeders.
Northern cardinals, whether males or females live for approximately 3 years in the wild. However, several cardinals have lived for 13 to 15 years. In captivity, a northern cardinal is recorded to live for 28.5 years.
Differences Among Other Male and Female Cardinals
1. Vermilion Cardinal
Vermilion cardinals, mostly found in South America, are scarlet overall with thick, seed-cracking bills. These beautiful cardinals have a bit longer chests (resembling natural mohawk) than those of true northern cardinals.
Male vermilion cardinals are completely red, while the females are grey overall with some red accents. However, both male and female vermilion cardinals share the same type of body shape and bills. The bills are ashy-white.
2. Desert Cardinal (Pyrrhuloxia)
Compared to northern cardinals, desert cardinals, popularly known as Pyrrhuloxia, are soft grey overall with accented burnt-red on wings, faces, crests, tails, and bellies. While northern cardinals have straight red bills, desert cardinals come with slightly curved yellow bills.
On the other hand, female desert cardinals look like male ones. However, the females are grey with shaggier plumage. Besides, they come with slightly muted red, which sometimes turns orange. They also have slightly curved yellow bills like the males.
3. Red-Crested Cardinal
Red-crested cardinals are medium-sized birds, featuring a red-color head and a short red crest. Their bellies, breasts, and undertails are white. But, the wings, tail, and back are grey. Juveniles look like adults, except for a dull brownish orange head.
Unlike Northern cardinals, both male and female red-crested cardinals have the same plumage. However, the males have much brighter heads than those of the females. Both sexes feature silver-grey bills and dark legs.
Northern cardinals, vermilion cardinals, and desert cardinals (pyrrhuloxia) can easily be distinguished between males and females. In contrast, red-crested cardinals are difficult to understand their genders as they don’t belong to the cardinal family.
However, I hope you find this post quite helpful to identify different types of male and female cardinals. If you love this article, share it with others. Leave your valuable comments below if you want to share your experience with cardinals.
- How Long Do Cardinals Live? [Read here]
- What Do Cardinals Look Like? [Read here]
- Robin VS Cardinal [Read here]
- Can Cardinal Birds Be Pets? [Read here]
- Where Do Cardinals Build Their Nests? [Read here]
- Do Cardinals Use Birdhouses? [Read here]
- What Do Cardinals Eat? [Read here]
- How To Attract Cardinals? [Read here]