What Colour Is A Female Cardinal?

Are you a bird lover curious about the subtle beauty of female cardinals? Unlike their male counterparts, these songbirds are characterized by their buffy tan color with red-orange wings.

This blog post will serve as your complete guide to understanding the unique physical attributes and roles of female cardinals in the avian world.

Dive in – there’s much more to these birds than meets the eye!

Key Takeaways

  • Female cardinals have a subtle beauty with a buffy tan colorred-orange wings, and a blackish mask around their eyes.
  • Male cardinals are known for their bright red plumage, while females have more muted colors to blend in with their surroundings.
  • Female cardinals play an important role in nesting and raising their chicks, building nests and incubating eggs while the males provide food.


Overview of Cardinals

Cardinals are a species of birds known for their vibrant colors and beautiful songs. They belong to the Cardinalidae family and are found primarily in North America, particularly in the eastern and central regions.

What are Cardinals?

Cardinals are medium-sized birds known for their bright colors and crested heads. Male cardinals show off a brilliant red color that is easy to spot. Female cardinals have a more subtle beauty, with warm buffy tan bodies and red-orange wings, tail, and crown.

Both males and females sport a chunky red-orange bill. These birds live all over North America and parts of Central America too. Cardinals like to eat seeds, especially sunflower seeds! They’re non-migratory, meaning they stay in the same area year-round.

Types of Cardinals

Bird lovers find many types of cardinals across North America and Central America.


  1. The Northern Cardinal, known for its bright red color, is common in the eastern and central U.S., Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. Both males and females have a chunky red-orange bill.
  2. The Vermillion Cardinal, also called Cardinalis phoeniceus, has brilliant red males. It calls warm climates home.
  3. Desert Cardinals or Pyrrhuloxia are gray birds with rosy tinge on their wings and tail feathers. You see them mostly in Desert Southwest.
  4. Genus Cardinalis is not all that exists in the Cardinalidae family! In the fourteen genera of this family, you can see different colors and bird sizes.


Physical Attributes of the Female Cardinal

The female cardinal has a subtle beauty with a buffy tan color, red-orange wings, and a blackish mask. She also sports a crest on her head and has a chunky red-orange bill.

Appearance and Color

Female cardinals turn heads with their quiet charm. Their backs, breasts, and sides boast a warm, buffy tan color. Red-orange hints grace their wings, tail, and crown. A unique touch is the blackish “mask” that covers the area around their eyes.

Females may also show off colors like gray and brown. Some even have spots of yellow or green. Unlike males with bright red feathers, female cardinals shine in more subtle shades.

Size and Weight

Female cardinals are slightly smaller and lighter than their male counterparts. They typically weigh between 0.9-1.1 ounces (25-30 grams). Female cardinals have a stocky body shape with a short neckbroad shoulders, and a rounded head.

Compared to males, they have a shorter tail and smaller bill.

Differences Between Male and Female Cardinals

Male cardinals are known for their bright red plumage, while female cardinals have a more subtle beauty with a buffy tan color, red-orange wings, and a blackish mask around their faces.

Color and Plumage

Female cardinals have a more subtle beauty compared to their male counterparts. Their plumage is mainly shades of red, brown, and gray, with an orange-ish tinge on their breast feathers.

While not as vibrant as the bright red of the males, female cardinals still possess their own unique charm. They also have a slightly fluffier crest on top of their heads, adding to their overall appearance.

These colors and plumage help female cardinals blend in better with their surroundings and provide them with camouflage while nesting or foraging for food.

Behavioural Differences

Female cardinals have some interesting behavioral differences compared to their male counterparts. While both males and females are territorial, female cardinals tend to have smaller territories than males.

They also engage in courtship feeding, where the male brings food to the female as part of their breeding ritual. Female cardinals are responsible for building the nest and incubating the eggs, while both parents share the responsibility of feeding the chicks once they hatch.

In terms of vocalizations, female cardinals have a softer and more subdued song compared to the louder and more varied repertoire of male cardinals. Despite these behavioral differences, both male and female cardinal pairs often form strong bonds and defend their territory together against intruders or threats.


Female cardinals may not be as showy as their male counterparts, but they have their own unique way of communicating. While their songs are not as loud or complex as the males’, female cardinals produce simpler melodies with a limited range of notes.

They may emit high-pitched whistles and short chirps to communicate with other birds, including their male partners. These vocalizations serve various purposes, such as attracting mates and defending territories.

Despite their subtler vocal abilities, female cardinals play an important role in maintaining social connections within their species through these melodic exchanges.

Nesting and Breeding Habits of Female Cardinals

Female cardinals are responsible for building nests and incubating eggs, while the male cares for her by providing food.


Female cardinals are skilled nest builders and choose secure locations for their nests. They typically build their nests in trees or low-growing shrubs close to the ground. The female cardinal takes on the responsibility of incubating the eggs, which usually takes about two weeks.

During this time, she diligently keeps the eggs warm and protected until they hatch. Once the chicks arrive, the female continues to care for them, providing food and ensuring their safety until they are ready to leave the nest.

Female cardinals play a vital role in raising their young and contribute significantly to the species’ reproductive success.


Female cardinals have specific feeding habits that distinguish them from males. They are more likely to search for food on the ground, where they can find seeds, fruits, and insects.

Unlike the males who tend to feed in higher perches or trees, females prefer to stay closer to the ground. This behavior is linked to their role as primary caregivers for eggs and young chicks, as they need easy access to food sources while caring for their offspring.

Additionally, female cardinals may defend smaller territories related to feeding compared to males, ensuring a sufficient supply of food for themselves and their young.

Singing and Calls

Female cardinals may not be as brightly colored as their male counterparts, but that doesn’t mean they’re silent! These birds produce high-pitched whistles and short chirps as part of their singing and calling behavior.

They use these sounds to communicate with other cardinals and attract males during courtship. Female cardinals have specific calls that they use to signal to their male partners during mating.

During the nesting season, female cardinals may increase the intensity and frequency of their songs and calls to establish their territory and attract potential mates. So even though they may not have the flashy plumage, female cardinals still know how to make themselves heard!

Interesting Facts About Female Cardinals

Female Cardinals are not as brightly colored as their male counterparts but still possess subtle beauty with their buffy tan color, red-orange wings, blackish mask, crest, and chunky red-orange bill.

They play an important role in ecosystems and exhibit monogamous relationships with their male partners. Want to learn more fascinating facts about female Cardinals? Keep reading!

Why Male Cardinals are Brighter Red than Females

Male cardinals are brighter red than females because of a pigment called carotenoid. This pigment is obtained through their diet, mainly from consuming fruits and seeds. Carotenoid gives the feathers their vibrant red color.

The brighter plumage of male cardinals serves as a visual signal to attract mates and establish dominance in their territory. On the other hand, female cardinals have duller shades of red, browns, and grays in their plumage with an orange-ish tinge on their breast feathers.

By being less conspicuous, female cardinals can blend into their surroundings better when they are nesting and taking care of their young.

Monogamy in Cardinals

Male and female cardinals are known for their monogamous relationships. They form pairs where both partners stay together for several years, showing a strong bond. This monogamy involves defending their territory and nests together.

The female cardinal takes on the primary caregiving role, taking care of the eggs and young while the male fertilizes the eggs. These pairs usually remain together in the wild for about 2-3 years, showcasing their commitment to each other.

Role in Ecosystems

Female cardinals play a crucial role in ecosystems. They are responsible for incubating the eggs for about two weeks, ensuring their survival and development. By laying one to five eggs that are fertilized by male cardinals, females contribute significantly to the reproduction of their species.

After hatching, female cardinals continue to be primary caregivers, protecting and caring for the young birds. Their dedication and contribution to raising new generations make them an essential part of the ecosystem.

Commonly Confused Species

Other birds that look like female cardinals include the female Indigo Bunting, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Pyrrhuloxia.

Other Birds that Look Like Female Cardinals

The female cardinal may be mistaken for other birds with similar appearance. These birds have similarities in size and shape but differ in coloration. Here are some birds that look like female cardinals:


  • Female indigo buntings resemble female cardinals.
  • The Vermilion Cardinal and the Desert Cardinal are other species that look like female cardinals.
  • Red – winged blackbirds, cedar waxwings, and pyrrhuloxias also resemble female cardinals.
  • These birds share similarities in size and shape with female cardinals.
  • However, the coloration of female cardinals differs significantly from these other species.
  • Female cardinals have a predominantly brown – greyish plumage with a hint of green. while the other species have their own distinct color patterns and markings.



In conclusion, the female cardinal may not have the flashy red feathers like the males, but she has her own subtle beauty. With her buffy tan colorred-orange wings, and blackish mask, she stands out in her own way.

While male cardinals are known for their bright red plumage and vibrant songs, female cardinals play an important role in nesting and raising their chicks. So let’s appreciate the unique colors of the female cardinal and celebrate her contributions to our ecosystems!


1. What color is the female cardinal?

The female cardinal is primarily brown with tinges of red on her wings, tail, and crest.

2. Is the color of a female cardinal different from that of a male cardinal?

Yes, the color of a female cardinal is different from that of a male. While males are vibrant red all over, females have more subdued colors with hints of reddish-brown.

3. Why does the female cardinal have less bright colors compared to the male?

The duller coloring in female cardinals helps them blend into their surroundings and provides better camouflage while nesting and caring for their young.

4. Do all birds have colorful females like the male cardinal?

No, not all bird species exhibit vividly colored females like the male cardinal. Some bird species have both sexes displaying similar plumage while others may have completely different colors between males and females based on their unique evolutionary adaptations or mating strategies.

Julian Goldie - Owner of ChiperBirds.com

Julian Goldie

I'm a bird enthusiast and creator of Chipper Birds, a blog sharing my experience caring for birds. I've traveled the world bird watching and I'm committed to helping others with bird care. Contact me at [email protected] for assistance.