Why are Cardinals red?

Why are Cardinals red?

Cardinals are red because of the unique pigments present in their feathers. Here’s what you need to know…

Why Are Cardinals Red?

why are cardinals red

Cardinals are red because of the unique pigments present in their feathers.

Unlike other birds, cardinals produce their red coloration themselves instead of relying on external factors such as diet or environment.

Carotenoid pigments

The bright red feathers are a result of carotenoid pigments, which are produced by the bird’s body and ingested through their diet.

The male cardinal has a brighter red appearance, while females have a more subdued reddish-brown coloring.

The bright red feathers of male cardinals are a crucial factor in attracting mates and defending their territory. Therefore, the more vibrant the red color, the more successful they will be in competing with other males for a mate.

It is important to note that the color of their feathers is essential to their survival, and any alteration in the cardinal’s ability to produce red feather pigments could have negative consequences on their reproductive success.

The Science Behind the Color Red

The bright red color of cardinals is due to a combination of pigments and structures in their feathers that create the coloration. These pigments and structures play a crucial role in the survival and reproductive success of cardinals.

The red color of cardinals is produced by a pigment called pterorhodin, which is a type of carotenoid pigment. Carotenoids are organic pigments that are responsible for the bright colors in many animals and plants.

The red coloration in cardinals serves as a visual signal to attract mates and deter rivals. Male cardinals with brighter, more intense red feathers are seen as more attractive to females, which increases their chances of mating and passing on their genes to the next generation.

Additionally, the bright red color of cardinals makes them harder for predators to catch. The coloration serves as a warning signal, indicating to predators that the cardinal is toxic or difficult to catch.

The Evolutionary Advantages of Red

The bright red color of cardinals serves several evolutionary advantages. Cardinals are predators and are known for their bright, red plumage that varies across males and females.

Here are the reasons why cardinals are red:

  1. Camouflage: The bright red color of male cardinals helps them to camouflage in dense foliage by blending in with the red leaves, flowers, and berries.
  2. Attraction: The bright red color of male cardinals helps attract potential mates during breeding season. The brighter the color, the more desirable the male.
  3. Dominance: The red color signifies dominance and power, which helps males to establish their territory and intimidate other males from mating with females.

Overall, the red color of cardinals plays an essential role in both their camouflaging and reproductive strategies.

Pro Tip: Cardinals are extremely territorial. Setting up a cardinal feeder can attract these beautiful birds to your yard, especially during breeding season.

The Role of Diet in the Brightness of Red

The bright red color of cardinals is due to their diet, which includes foods that contain carotenoid pigments such as beta-carotene and astaxanthin.

Carotenoids cannot be produced by birds but are obtained through the consumption of plants, insects, and other animals that contain these pigments.

The presence of carotenoids in the diet of cardinals is directly linked to the brightness of their red coloration.

Factors such as the age, sex, and overall health of the bird can also affect the brightness of its red plumage, but diet remains the primary contributing factor.

Pro tip: Including foods such as red peppers, carrots, and sweet potatoes in the diet of pet birds can help enhance their red coloration due to the presence of carotenoids.

The Significance of Red in the Animal Kingdom

Red is a significant color in the animal kingdom, serving important functions such as communication, camouflage, and mating. Cardinals are one prime example of a red-colored animal and are known for their striking crimson plumage.

Apart from being visually appealing, the bright red color of cardinals is significant because it serves as a form of communication between the birds. Additionally, the male cardinal’s brilliant red coloring is an important factor in the mating process, as it is a signal of good health and fitness.

Furthermore, the red plumage of cardinals also serves as a natural defense mechanism, as it allows them to blend in with their surroundings and avoid potential predators.

Overall, the significance of red in the animal kingdom is quite substantial, serving an important role in everything from communication to survival.

Pro tip: Red color can be used in bird feeders to attract more cardinals and brighten up your garden.

The Symbolism of Red in Human Culture

The color red has been symbolically significant in human culture for centuries, representing a range of meanings across different cultures and traditions. Cardinals, with their bright red coloration, have also become a significant cultural symbol, with many stories and myths associated with the bird.

In Christianity, the red color of cardinals is thought to represent the blood of Christ and serves as a reminder to Christians of the sacrifice that he made. In Native American traditions, cardinals are believed to carry messages of spiritual guidance and are considered to be a connection between the living and the dead.

Overall, the red color of cardinals is steeped in symbolism and represents different things for different people and cultures, including vitality, passion, and love.

Pro tip: If you want to attract cardinals to your yard, provide food such as sunflower seeds or safflower seeds, and offer them some shelter with trees or bushes.

The Impact of Red on Bird Behavior

Cardinals are red as a result of their genetic makeup, which includes carotenoid pigments that give them their vibrant coloration. The color red has a significant impact on bird behavior, including attracting potential mates and deterring rivals.

In particular, male cardinals use their red coloration to establish dominance and attract females during breeding season. Female cardinals are also more likely to choose a mate with brighter red plumage, indicating their genetic fitness and ability to acquire food.

Studies have shown that birds, including cardinals, have the highest sensitivity to the color red, which may also play a role in detecting food sources and avoiding predators.

Pro Tip: If you want to attract cardinals to your backyard, incorporate red items such as bird feeders, birdbaths, or flowering plants to make it a more inviting and attractive environment.


In conclusion, the red color of male cardinals is essential for their survival and reproduction, making them one of nature’s most magnificent creatures.

The bright red plumage of male cardinals serves two primary purposes: attracting mates and defending territory.

Female cardinals are attracted to the bright red color of males, as it signifies their health and ability to provide for offspring.

Additionally, male cardinals use their red color to establish and protect their territory from other males. The brighter the red, the stronger the signal, making it easier for other males to recognize and avoid conflicts.

Interestingly, the red color of cardinals is not actually a pigment but is produced by tiny air pockets in the feathers that scatter light in various ways, resulting in the bright red hue.

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.