You might be one of them who often mix up American robins and northern cardinals. Regardless of quite similar songs, both wild birds are bright overall. But, if you look at the birds closely, you can find differences between them.
So, what’s the main difference between an American robin and a northern cardinal? American robins have a bright orange-colored chest with a blackhead and grey back. On the other hand, northern cardinals have bright red for males and pale brown for females. In terms of size, robins are a bit larger than cardinals.
Apart from that, there are a variety of differences between these two wild birds. In this article, we’re going to talk about how to exactly tell the difference between them. After reading this comparison, read our article on male and female cardinals.
Robin vs Cardinal: At A Glance
|Characteristics||American Robin||Northern Cardinal|
|Color||Bright orange with blackhead and grey back||Bright red for males and pale brown for females|
|Size & Shape||Round body, 9 to 11 inches long (22 to 28 cm)||Mid-sized body 8.3 to 9.3 inches (21 to 23.5 cm)|
|Beak||Slightly upward, small, yellow beaks||Cone-shaped beaks with a black face mask|
|Wings||Rounded (12 – 16 inches wingspan)||Rounded (10 to 12 inches wingspan)|
|Flight||Swift, strong direct flight||Rapid wing beats|
|Flocks||Large flocks||Small family groups only during mating season|
|Call||Slightly harsher||Slower and more melodious|
|Weight||77 grams (2.7 ounces)||43 grams (1.51 ounces)|
|Lifespan||2 years (wild)||3 years (wild)|
|Origin & Name||Named after robin red-breasted in England||Named after the robes of cardinals in the church|
|Behavior||Industrious, flock together in winter||Less industrious, remain in pairs|
|Habitat||Close to human settlements||Close to human settlements|
|Migration||Don’t migrate||Don’t migrate|
|Breeding (Eggs)||5 – 6 eggs, sky blue or blue-green, unmarked||2 – 5 eggs, greyish-white, buffy-white, or greenish-white, speckled|
While a male northern cardinal is pure red, an American robin comes with different colors that don’t include red. American robins are bright greyish-brown on their chest, dark on the head, and orange underparts. The females come with pale heads.
On the other hand, male cardinals are bright red overall, and the females are pale brown with warm reddish tinges on their crest, wings, and tail. In both cases, the female birds have a duller appearance than their male counterparts.
In terms of size, American robins are slightly larger than northern cardinals. American robins, on average, are 9 to 11 inches long (22 to 28 cm). On the contrary, northern cardinals are usually 8.3 to 9.3 inches long (21 to 23.5 cm).
When it comes to shaping, both male and female American robins have a round body. On the other hand, northern cardinals are also rounded but have a slightly tallish body. Both North American species have long legs with multiple claws.
Northern cardinals have a red-orange colored, cone-shaped beak with a black circle around the beak. These birds also have a distinct crest that’s missing on robins’ heads. In contrast, American robins have slightly upward, small yellow beaks.
American robins have rounded wings with a wingspan of 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 cm). On the other hand, northern cardinals also have rounded wings. However, their wingspan is 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm).
While American robins feature fan-shaped tails, northern cardinals have rounded tails. When it comes to tail color, American robins have black tails. In opposite, northern cardinals come with red tails. The females have reddish tings on the tails.
In flight, American robins have a swift, strong direct flight. A white patch is noticeable on their lower belly and lower tail. On the contrary, northern cardinals can fly with rapid wing beats. Regardless of flying, they can walk, hop, and flutter.
American robins usually belong to large flocks, particularly in the fall and winter. However, northern cardinals join small family ground only during their mating season. Once the mating season is over, the groups dissolve into pairs.
Both robins and cardinals make identical sounds and songs. That’s why many backyard birders confuse robins with cardinals and vice versa. However, the main difference between them is cardinal calls are slower and more melodious.
Listen to the Calls of American Robins
Listen to the Calls of Northern Cardinals
American robins make their sounds to impress females or defend their territory from other males. On the other hand, northern cardinals make more appealing sounds. They also create sounds to attract females and protect their territory from predators.
When it comes to weight, American robins are much bulkier than northern cardinals. American robins weigh around 77 to 80 grams (2.7 to 3.0 ounces). However, northern cardinals weigh 43 to 45 grams (1.51 to 1.58 ounces).
Northern cardinals can live more than American robins. In the wild, the average lifespan of American robins is 2 years. If they survive till adulthood, they can live for 5 to 6 years. On the other hand, northern cardinals usually live for 3 years, but they can live up to 15 years.
1. Origin & Name
When first arrived in America, European settlers didn’t communicate well with local people. They named for what they saw. For example, robins are named for England’s beloved robin red-breasts, and cardinals are named for the robes of cardinals in the Church.
Both American robins and northern cardinals are very territorial. They need more time to trust their surroundings. While American robins remain in flocks in winter, northern cardinals are in pairs. American robins are more industrious than northern cardinals.
Both American robins and northern cardinals live in woodlands, suburban backyards, gardens, parks, shrublands, and wetlands. Although both species live near human settlements, northern cardinals are found more close to humans.
When it comes to migrating to somewhere else during winter, both American robins and northern cardinals don’t migrate. You can hear the joyous chirps and songs of robins and cardinals even in winter when most birds migrate to warmer regions.
Northern cardinals have greyish-white, buffy-white, or greenish-white eggs speckled with pale grey to brown. On the other hand, American robins have sky blue or blue-green, unmarked eggs. Cardinals lay 2 to 5 eggs at once, while robins lay 5 to 6 eggs.
Now that you know the differences between American robins and northern cardinals, you can easily tell them apart. Although their appearances are distinctive, they have quite similar songs, which are not easy to differentiate.
However, we hope you found this article quite helpful to understand the differences between robins and cardinals. If you still have any queries regarding these two species, feel free to let us know below in the comment section.
You Can Also Read:
- Male VS Female Cardinal [Read here]
- What Animals Eat Cardinals? [Read here]
- Can You Eat Cardinals? [Read here]
- What Do Cardinals Look Like? [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]