Birds That Look Like Cardinals But Is Not

Red birds are also known as cardinals. However, not all red birds are cardinals. Take a look at other birds that resemble cardinals. People often get mistaken for these birds are they are sometimes also referred to as cardinals.

Hepatic TanagerHepatic Tanager
House FinchHouse Finch
Pine GrosbeakPine Grosbeak
Purple FinchPurple Finch
Scarlet TanagerScarlet Tanager
Summer TanagerSummer Tanager
California TowheeCalifornia Towhee
Tufted TitmouseTufted Titmouse
Vermilion FlycatcherVermilion Flycatcher
Cedar WaxwingCedar Waxwing
Red CrossbillRed Crossbill
Rose FinchRose Finch

What Birds That Look Like Cardinals But Is Not?

1. Pyrrhuloxia


Pyrrhuloxia birds resemble cardinals and are frequently referred to as desert cardinals. Like the northern cardinal, this species may be found throughout the Southwest and has a beautiful crest. On the other hand, male pyrrhuloxias have a distinct coloring: they’re primarily grey with red highlights.

This bird resembles the cardinal in appearance and size and has a distinctive crown. The two birds, however, have significant variances.


The pyrrhuloxia is generally grey in hue, with red and black spots. The pyrrhuloxia also wears a red facial mask, whereas the cardinal wears a charcoal mask. The pyrrhuloxia has a brilliant yellow beak, whereas the cardinal has an orange one.

2. Hepatic Tanager

Hepatic Tanager
Credits – Wikipedia

The male hepatic tanager seems red from afar, but closer inspection reveals additional orange feathers on the crest, chest, and abdomen. The rear feathers are brown or tan. The hepatic tanager is distinguished from the cardinal by its absence of a crown.


This tanager has an orange-red face and a tan spot right behind the eye. It also has a longer and more pointed grey beak. This bird also possesses a remarkably smaller tail than the cardinal.

The male hepatic tanager possesses red on different segments of its body, but not to the extent that the male northern cardinal does. Additionally, the red color is more likely a blend of orange and red coloration, with light brown parts. Cardinalidae is the same family as the two birds. Other distinctions include:

The male cardinal is average, whereas the hepatic tanager is small. The male cardinal possesses elongated crimson head feathers, whereas the hepatic tanager lacks this.

The tanager inherits a  brown and red face, whereas the male cardinal wears a black mask. The male cardinal inherits a sharp grey beak that is smaller and much orange as compared to the hepatic tanager. The tanager possesses tanned wings, whilst the male cardinal has red wings.

3. House Finch

House Finch

The house finch is shorter than the cardinal. It has a redhead and a few additional red feathers mixed with brown feathers. One of the primary distinctions between the house finch and the cardinal is that it does not have a crown.


The house finch’s face is browner with red stripes, and the black face mask is absent. The house finch also has a brown beak and a shorter tail than the cardinals. It has tan wings as well.

4. Phainopepla

Credits – Wikipedia

Although the phainopepla has a similar form and size to the cardinal, the coloration is different since the phainopepla is completely black. It also has a grey beak and a black crown that is shorter.

Because it resembles a cardinal, the phainopepla is usually referred to as the “black cardinal.” There’s no denying that the faces’ structure, size, and hue are identical, yet the overall color could not be more unlike.


The phainopepla is black, with the male cardinal being red and the female being predominantly buff-brown. The phainopepla’s body is likewise a little slimmer than the cardinal’s.

There are also some obvious distinctions. The male cardinal’s beak is orange, whereas the phainopepla is charcoal. The male cardinal has towering red crown feathers, whereas the phainopepla has a tiny black crown.

The male cardinal’s tail is red, whereas the phainopepla’s tail is black. The wings of the phainopepla are black, whereas the wings of the ale cardinal are red.

5. Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

The male pine grosbeak and the male cardinal are identical to each other on the basis of the body size but still, we have many differences that are quite remarkable.


The pine grosbeak lacks the crown. The grosbeak possesses a red face, but the cardinal possesses a black face. The pine grosbeak possesses a grey beak, but the male cardinal has an orange beak which is a difference between these two.

The male cardinal possesses an elongated tail with a black tip, whereas the pine grosbeak possesses a medium-sized tail with a black tip. The grosbeak possesses black, white, plus red wings, but the cardinal has fully red wings.

6. Purple Finch

Female Purple Finch

Finch vs. Cardinal

The purple finch is mostly white/tan with red and pink patterns. Another observable distinction between the cardinals and the purple finch is cardinals are medium-sized birds, whereas the purple house finch is a little bird.

The male cardinal has a black face, whereas the purple house finch has a white and tan face with red and pink stripes. The male cardinal’s beak is orange, whereas the purple house finch is brown.

The finch has a short tail, but the cardinal seems to have a long tail. The finch has red, pinkish, and coal wings, whereas the cardinal possesses red, pink, and dark gray wings.

7. Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanagers

The scarlet tanager, like the cardinal, has a lot of vivid red plumage. This bird, on either side, will not have an upright crown. Despite having a black ring around its eye, this bird lacks the cardinal’s black face mask.

This bird has a significantly shorter tail and a tan bill that is larger and more pointed than the cardinal. The scarlet tanager has black feathers and a black tail, another distinctive feature.

8. Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager

This bird, like the male cardinal, is all red. On the other hand, the summer tanager does not have the same elevated crown. It’s also a tiny bird that lacks the cardinal’s black face mask.


The male cardinal possesses, red crown feathers, but the summer tanager does not. The male cardinal is average, whereas the summer tanager is small.

The male cardinal possesses a mask in black coloration, but the summer tanager possesses a totally red face. The male cardinal possesses a smaller orange beak as compared to the summer tanager, which has a long tan beak.

The male cardinal possesses an elongated tail, whereas the summer tanager inherits an intermediate-sized tail.

9. California Towhee

California Towhee

The female California towhee bears a similarity to the female northern cardinal, most notably in body form. The male and female California towhees are primarily gray/brown, whereas the female cardinal is a light buff-brown with traces of scarlet and gray.

The cardinal has a tan face with a charcoal mask, whereas the California towee has a grayish face.

The beak of the California towee is light grey, whereas the beak of the female cardinal is orange. The female cardinal has long brown and red crown feathers, but the California towee does not have one.

The female cardinal possesses a reddish tail, whereas the California towee inherits an elongated brown and orange tail. California towees have grayish/brown wings, whereas female cardinals have red wings.

10. Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

The female cardinal and the tufted titmouse are mistaken for each other on a number of occasions because of the reason that the tufted titmouse has a crown.

On the other hand, the titmouse has a gray-colored head and a gray-colored beak. It has grey wing feathers and a white face, breast, and belly.

11. Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

You may mistake this bird for a cardinal from afar because it is vivid red and has a black face mask. This flycatcher’s face mask, on the other hand, is more of a striped pattern that extends from the eye to the rear of the head.

The flycatcher’s wings and tail are likewise black, but its tail is considerably shorter than the cardinal’s. In addition, the flycatcher has a pointed black beak.

12. Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

With a black face and a brown crown, the cedar waxwing is a brightly colored bird. It has a brilliant yellow tip on the tips of its tail and a yellow breast and belly. The beak is black and short.

The wings are tan and grey, with white and red spots. They look similar to cardinals, but their peculiar hue distinguishes them.

13. Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill

The Red Crossbill is a bird that lives in the United States. Although it is dubbed a red crossbill, the bird’s feathers are more orange-red in hue. It possesses a larger brownish beak and a brown mask around its eye.

It also lacks the characteristic crown and has a shorter tail than the cardinal.

14. Rose Finch

Rose Finch

Rose Finch is a bird that lives in the United States because of its vivid colors. These birds are occasionally mistaken for cardinals. The bird’s face and head are red, while the rest of its feathers are a mix of red, pink, orange, brown, and purple. It has a brown beak as well.

Final Thoughts

It’s worth noting that 16 bird species are closely related to cardinals. Some have the same vivid red colorings as the cardinal, while others have the tufted crown and might be mistaken for the cardinal’s more demure colorings.


Are all red birds cardinals?

No, not all red birds are cardinals.

What is the color of red crossbill feathers?

They are of orange color.

Is the vermilion flycatcher a cardinal bird?

They look alike but no vermilion flycatcher is not a cardinal.

What is the color of scarlet tanager plumage?

Their plumage is of red color.

Last Updated on March 22, 2023 by Lily Aldrin

About Lily Aldrin

I am Lily Aldrin. I attended Cornell University, where I obtained my degree to become an Ornithologist so I could pursue my love of these magnificent creatures in and out of their natural habitats.

1 thought on “Birds That Look Like Cardinals But Is Not”

  1. Hi Lily,
    I have a frequent visitor, this Spring, that is a dead ringer for a female cardinal in every way but one. She (it) has not even a hint of a crest. In the many times it’s visited, I’ve never seen anything other than a smooth crest. Any ideas?

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