Male Cardinals Vs Female Cardinals: Male vs Female Comparison

Spotting the bright red feathered cardinal in your backyard is a thrill, but telling males from females can be tricky. Male cardinals are known for their vivid ruby plumage, a signature trait of this beloved bird species.

Our guide will make it easy to distinguish between these winged wonders and enrich your bird watching experience. Keep reading and become a cardinal expert!

Key Takeaways

  • Male cardinals are bright red with black masks, while female cardinals have brownish-red coloring with hints of red on their wings and tail.
  • Male cardinals are slightly larger than females, and they engage in courtship behaviors such as singing to attract mates.
  • Female cardinals are primarily responsible for nesting and incubating eggs, while both parents share feeding and care duties for the chicks.


Physical Differences between Male and Female Cardinals

Male cardinals are vibrant red in color with a black mask on their face, while female cardinals have a more muted brownish-red coloring with hints of red on their wings and tail.


Male and female cardinals look different from each other. The male Northern cardinal is bright red all over. He is easy to spot because his color is so bold. This red coat tells other birds he is strong and ready to find a mate.

On the other side, the female cardinal wears more soft colors. She has pale brown feathers with some red on her wings, tail, and crest. Her lighter colors help her stay hidden when she sits on the eggs in her nest.

Kids can have fun trying to spot these cardinals at bird feeders or in trees. Look for that flash of red; it’s probably a male singing loud to guard his space. If you see a bird blending into the bushes while picking seeds, it might be a female cardinal busy feeding herself.


Male and female cardinals also differ in size. Typically, male cardinals are slightly larger than females, with a length of around 8-9 inches and a wingspan of about 10-12 inches. In contrast, females are generally smaller, with an average length of 7-8 inches and a wingspan of 9-11 inches.

Their size difference can be subtle but noticeable when observed together. This variation in size plays a role in their behaviors and interactions within their environment.


Male and female cardinals have distinct plumage. The male sports vibrant red feathers on its body, while the female flaunts a more subdued coloration with shades of brown and red. This difference in color makes it easier to distinguish between the two genders, even from a distance.

Furthermore, the male cardinal’s black face mask contrasts with its bright red plumage, emphasizing its striking appearance.

The distinctive differences in plumage allow observers to easily identify and appreciate these beautiful birds as they frequent backyard feeders or gracefully fly through their natural habitats.

Behavioral Differences between Male and Female Cardinals

– The courtship and mating behaviors of male cardinals include singing to attract females, while females display the same behavior to signal their readiness to mate.

Courtship and Mating Behaviors

Male and female cardinals display distinct courtship and mating behaviors. The male cardinal exhibits vibrant plumage to attract a mate, with its striking red coloration being particularly attention-grabbing during the breeding season.

Additionally, the male engages in lively hopping or “courtship feeding” behavior to woo the female. On the other hand, the female cardinal responds to these advances by vocalizing and participating in mutual preening rituals as part of their bonding process before nesting.

During mating rituals, both male and female cardinals engage in beak-to-beak feeding exchanges as a display of commitment and affection. This reinforces their pair bond leading up to egg-laying which is predominantly done by the female cardinal.

Parenting and Territorial Habits

After mating, female cardinals are primarily responsible for building the nest and incubating the eggs. They use their beaks to create a cup-shaped nest in dense shrubs or small trees.

The male cardinal assists by bringing food to the female while she’s nesting. Once the eggs hatch, both parents take turns feeding and caring for the chicks. Cardinals are known for being territorial birds, especially during the breeding season.

They defend their nesting territory against other cardinals and other bird species that may pose a threat to their young.

During nesting season, cardinals become more aggressive in defending their territory against intruders like squirrels or other birds who might approach too closely to the nest site or try to steal food meant for their offspring.


In conclusion, male and female cardinals have distinct physical and behavioral differences. Their coloration, size, and plumage set them apart visually. Behaviorally, their courtship rituals, parenting habits, and territorial behaviors showcase their unique characteristics.

Understanding these differences adds to our appreciation of these beautiful birds in the wild.


1. What’s the difference between male and female cardinals?

Male cardinals are bright red, while female cardinals have more brown and soft red feathers. This is called bird plumage, which means the feathers on a bird.

2. Do male and female cardinals act differently?

Yes, bird behavior can vary by gender. Male cardinals often sing to mark their territory or attract a mate, while females may call when they see danger.

3. How do I tell apart a male and a female cardinal when feeding birds?

You can identify them by color at your bird feeder: males are vivid red all over with a black mask on their face; females are tan with hints of red on wings and tail.

4. Why should we learn about male vs female cardinals in bird conservation?

Knowing about both helps us understand how they live together, migrate, find food, raise babies – this knowledge helps people work to keep these beautiful birds safe.

Julian Goldie - Owner of

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.