Male Vs Female Cardinal: Duals of Dazzle




Male Vs Female Cardinal

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In the avian world, cardinals hold a special allure, not only for their musical serenades but also for their striking appearances. However, not all cardinals are created equal in their visual splendor. When it comes to gender distinctions, male and female cardinals showcase unique characteristics that set them apart.

Delve into the contrasts and commonalities between these two equally fascinating counterparts.

The primary distinction between male and female cardinals lies in their coloration. Males are renowned for their brilliant red plumage, which stands out vibrantly against many natural backdrops. This bold coloration serves to attract females and deter rival males. In contrast, female cardinals exhibit a more subdued, tan or brown coloration with hints of red on their wings and tails. Aside from their color differences, females have slightly smaller bodies and less pronounced facial masks than males. Both genders, however, boast the characteristic crest atop their heads and share similar vocalizations.

Quick Summary of Differences Between Male and female cardinal

AspectMale CardinalFemale Cardinal
Coloration– Bright red overall– Pale brown overall with warm reddish hues
– Black mask on face– Slight shading of red on wings
Size– Slightly larger on average– Slightly smaller
Song– Loud, clear whistles– Also sings, but less frequently
– Often sings to mark territory– Uses song to signal or respond to mate
Behavior– More conspicuous; often seen singing– More discreet, often stays in thickets
Nesting– Helps gather nesting materials– Builds the nest
– Provides food during incubation– Incubates the eggs
Parental Care– Feeds and cares for chicks– Primary caretaker in early stages
Lifespan– Similar in both; varies based on factors like predation, food availability, etc.
Threats– Predators, habitat loss, diseases– Similar threats as males


  • Males: Bright red in color with scarlet feathers from head to tail, excluding a black patch on the chin and mask around the beak and eyes.
  • Females: Have some red accents but are primarily designed to blend into their environments. They are tawny brown with muted red accents on wings, crest, and tail.
  • Males and Females: Cardinals are sexually dimorphic. While both sexes have a crest, females have a smaller crest, more subdued feathers, and might be slightly smaller in size.


Male Cardinals have bright red plumage that instantly catches the eye. Their feathers are a vivid hue of red, which makes them easily distinguishable in their environment. On the other hand, female Cardinals exhibit muted red accents on their feathers, allowing them to blend in with their surroundings.

This difference in coloration between the male and female Cardinals serves an important purpose in their survival and reproduction.


In terms of size, there is a slight difference between the male and female northern cardinal. Males tend to be slightly larger compared to their female counterparts. This difference might not be immediately noticeable, but upon closer observation, it becomes apparent. This size disparity between the genders is characteristic of many bird species, and Cardinals are no exception.


Apart from their coloration and size, Cardinals also display distinct differences in their plumage. Male Cardinals exhibit vibrant red feathers all over their body, which gives them their iconic appearance. The rich red plumage makes them stand out and adds to their overall attractiveness.

On the other hand, the female birds have tawny brown plumage with lighter facial masks. While their plumage may not be as attention-grabbing as that of the males, it is still beautifully patterned and serves its own purpose in their survival. It is said that the female Pyrrhuloxia and female cardinals are very similar.


Cardinals exhibit a range of behaviors that are unique to their species. These behaviors play a crucial role in their survival, communication, and reproduction.


  • Males: Sing louder and chirp more frequently, especially in spring. Their song is meant to mark territory and indicate availability to females.
  • Females: Also sing, which is unique among North American songbirds. Their songs can be more complicated and longer than the male’s.

One of the most distinctive behaviors of Cardinals is their singing. Males are particularly known for their loud and frequent chirping, especially during the breeding season.

Their songs are melodic and can often be heard from a considerable distance. The purpose of their singing is to communicate with other males, attract females, and establish their territory.

Interestingly, female cardinals sing as well and have complex songs of their own, although they may not be as vocal as the males.


  • Males: More territorial, especially during the breeding season. They are known to alert other males to their territory boundaries through singing.
  • Females: Depend on males for protection while incubating nests, although they too will defend their territories and nests.

Male Cardinals are known to be more territorial compared to females. They fiercely defend their nests and territory from competitors and predators. During the breeding season, males become especially territorial, as they are focused on attracting a mate and protecting their offspring.

This territorial behavior can lead to interesting phenomena, such as male Cardinals mistaking their reflection for another male and engaging in aggressive behavior. It is not uncommon to hear about Cardinals colliding with windows due to this mistaken identity.


  • Males: Assist by providing nesting materials but leave the nest building to the females. They also bring food to their mates during the incubation period.
  • Females: Are the primary nest-builders and incubate the eggs. They select the nest site within the male’s territory and incorporate materials he brings into the nest’s design.

While males contribute to nest-building, it is primarily the responsibility of female Cardinals. Males play a role by bringing sticks and other materials for constructing the nest.

Once the materials are brought, females incorporate them into the nest, using their expertise in crafting a safe and comfortable environment for their eggs. The collaborative effort between the male and female Cardinals showcases their ability to work together in creating a suitable nesting space.

Food choice

  • The brightness of a male cardinal’s red feathers is influenced by his diet, specifically the consumption of bright red berries containing the pigment rhodoxanthin.
  • Both males and females can sometimes mistake their reflections in windows for intruders, leading them to peck and flap at the windows. However, males are more likely to exhibit this behavior.

Both male and female Cardinals have a similar diet, consisting of seeds, insects, and berries. They have a preference for seeds and berries, which provide them with the necessary nutrients to stay healthy and maintain their vibrant plumage. To attract cardinals to your yard, ensure you leave their favorite food in your bird feeders.

Insects also play a vital role in their diet, especially during the breeding season when Cardinals must provide a protein-rich diet to their growing offspring. Their food choice reflects their adaptation to their environment and the availability of resources.

Mating behavior

  • Males: Woo their mates through song, display of bright plumage, and feeding rituals. They defend their nests.
  • Females: Sing duets with males and play an active role in selecting nesting sites. They primarily build the nests and incubate the eggs.

Mating behavior in Cardinals involves elaborate rituals and displays. Male Cardinals woo females by singing duets, a behavior known as “duetting.” The duets are synchronized, melodic performances that the male and female engage in together. This behavior not only attracts the attention of the female but also reinforces their bond and compatibility.

Males also feed the females seeds as part of their courtship behavior. This act of offering food symbolizes the male’s ability to provide for the female and demonstrates his dedication to the relationship. Once the mating pair is established, the female takes on the responsibility of incubating the eggs, while the male continues to support and protect the nest, particularly at night.

FAQS on Cardinal Female Vs Male

Why are female cardinals not red?

Female cardinals are not as vibrantly red as males due to evolutionary factors related to camouflage and mating. While the bright red plumage of the male is designed to attract females and establish territory, the more subdued brownish coloration of females helps them blend in with their surroundings, providing protection when they are incubating eggs and rearing young.

What does it mean if you see a female cardinal?

Seeing a female cardinal is a common natural occurrence in areas where these birds are native. However, many cultures and individuals attach symbolism to sightings of birds, and cardinals are no exception. Some believe that seeing a cardinal, whether male or female, is a sign that a deceased loved one is visiting or watching over them.

What is the spiritual meaning of the male and female cardinal?

The cardinal, both male and female, is often considered a bridge between Earth and Spirit, symbolizing faith, hope, and love. Their striking appearance can be seen as a reminder to appreciate the world around us.

Some believe that the cardinal represents loved ones who have passed, bringing messages of love and peace. The vibrant red of the male cardinal can be viewed as vitality and passion, while the more muted female can signify nurturing energy and subtlety.

Do both male and female cardinals sing?

Yes, both male and female cardinals sing. While the male’s song is often louder and more frequent, especially during the breeding season to establish territory, the female also has a rich repertoire of songs and calls. Female cardinals are among the few North American bird species that sing, and they might do so to communicate with their mates or signal that they need assistance with nesting duties.

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