4 Types of Cardinal Birds

Hello, bird enthusiasts!

Welcome to an exciting exploration of the avian world.

In this article, we will dive into the vibrant realm of cardinal birds, known for their striking beauty and melodious songs.

From their vivid plumage to their distinctive calls, these charismatic creatures have captured the hearts of birdwatchers and nature lovers alike.

Join me as we uncover the fascinating world of cardinals and discover the four captivating types that grace our skies.

So, let’s spread our wings and embark on this delightful journey together!

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

  • Scientific Name: Cardinalis cardinalis
  • Family Name: Cardinalidae
  • Length: 8.3-9.3 inches (21-23.5 cm)
  • Weight: 1.5-1.7 ounces (42-48 grams)
  • Wingspan: 9.8-12.2 inches (25-31 cm)
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Desert Cardinal

Desert Cardinal

  • Scientific Name: Cardinalis sinuatus
  • Family Name: Cardinalidae
  • Length: 7.5 inches (19 cm)
  • Weight: 1.3-1.7 ounces (37-48 grams)
  • Wingspan: 10-12 inches (25-30 cm)
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Vermilion Cardinal

Vermilion Cardinal

  • Scientific Name: Cardinalis phoeniceus
  • Family Name: Cardinalidae
  • Length: 7.5 inches (19 cm)
  • Weight: 1.3-1.6 ounces (37-45 grams)
  • Wingspan: 1.3-1.6 ounces (37-45 grams)
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Red-crested Cardinal

Red-crested Cardinal

  • Scientific Name: Paroaria coronata
  • Family Name: Thraupidae
  • Length: 7.5-8.5 inches (19-22 cm)
  • Weight: 1.5-2 ounces (42-57 grams)
  • Wingspan: 12 inches (30 cm)
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If you don’t have the time to read the whole article, check out this video for a quick understanding.

Types of Cardinals

1. Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

The most numerous and widespread birds are the northern cardinal.

You might have viewed it in different celebratory cards, on holiday, and vacation cards.

Their presence is also felt by a number of people.

The blazingly cherry red birds are the northern cardinals. 

Northern cardinals have a belly color, and northern cardinals and Mohawk have the same beak structure.

During the winters, in the white snowy background, their presence is felt very much.

Their dark and vibrant colors can be felt from a huge distance.

These birds are not normally nomads and don’t tend to migrate much.

So they are most likely chances that you can have a view of these majestic birds all around the year.

Since their presence is abundant so there are most likely chances that you might be viewing a northern cardinal.

Males and their female counterparts are usually the same.

However, the male northern cardinals are sporting classic red birds.

Their tail tips, crests, and the tips of wings are red in color.

Both sexes share patches up their nostrils and also on their necks.

The color of the male patch is a dark velvety astounding black.

While the patches of the females are normally dull in color, resembling light gray.

They like eating a variety of things, and most commonly, they feed on fruits, and seeds that normally range from wild grapes, berries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, mulberries, sunflower seeds, buckwheat, and safflower seeds.

Other than this, they can also feed their bellies, feeding on insects fulfilling their protein needs, and while supplementing their body with protein sources, they prefer eating butterflies, spiders, beetles, flies, and crickets.

If you want to attract these beautiful red birds to your backyard feeders, try putting safflower and sunflower seeds in them.

There are most likely chances that they will pay a visit to your feeders.

The Eastern United States, as well as Central America, are home to the Northern Cardinal.

Northern Cardinals prefer to forage on the ground; therefore, they feel comfortable when there are shrubs and bushes around.

These are their favorite nesting sites because they provide a safe haven in the event of a predator attack.

During the spring-summer mating season, male Northern Cardinals can be rather violent against other male Northern Cardinals.

They will choose battles over territory more than ever during this period.

In the spring and early summer, they may be rather aggressive.

They don’t appreciate sharing their area with other birds since they are territorial birds.

Cardinals of various species, such as Northern Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxias, coexist together.

These birds have a strange habit of fighting with their own projections.

It’s because they believe they have discovered another cardinal invading their domain.

Of course, their projection never gives up and never retreats, so this fight might last a long time.

Cars’ reflecting windows and mirrors are common targets.

Below are the characteristics of the Northern Cardinal,

Scientific Name Cardinalis cardinalis
Family Name Cardinalidae
Length 8.3-9.3 inches (21-23.5 cm)
Weight 1.5-1.7 ounces (42-48 grams)
Wingspan 9.8-12.2 inches (25-31 cm)
Habitat Woodlands, forests, gardens, shrublands, parks, and urban areas
Food Seeds, fruits, insects, and occasionally small snails or lizards

2. Desert Cardinal

Desert Cardinal

The desert cardinal’s scientific name is Pyrrhuloxia.

They are not much different from their northern cousins and resemble the northern cardinals.

They also have the same stout bodies, medium-sized just like northern cardinals, and their beaks are thick with striking crests.

Desert cardinals and northern cardinals have similar body sizes, and some of their body characteristics also match, but there is also a vivid difference in their colors.

Desert cardinals are usually dove gray, whereas their northern cousins have a blazing red color.

The most striking and stark difference between a northern and desert cardinal is that desert cardinals have a curved beak that is yellow in color.

In contrast, the northern cardinals have a straight beak of black color.

Desert cardinals can be found in savannas and deserts.

They live alone and in seclusion.

Desert Cardinals reside nearly entirely in the arid scrubland and desert.

At the same time, Northern Cardinals require a tropical or subtropical environment.

In New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas, they can be found in desert valleys and dry plains.

These desert residents build their nests in thick bushes like mesquite or elderberry trees.

Because they spend so much time nesting in the spring and summer, you’re more likely to spot a Desert Cardinal out and about in the winter.

These Cardinals are restricted to whatever resources are available in their desert environment, where they tend to spend their time the most.

They are fortunate in that they can obtain water and their dietary needs even from the cactus plants.

Other than these, they feed on seeds in wild grasses fruit.

Desert Cardinals are also insectivorous, and they consume cotton worms, butterflies, spiders, weevils, moths, and katydids.

These insects are not only food but also one of their key sources of water in the summer when rain is rare.

They are stationary birds, and they don’t show any tendency for migrating, so your chances of viewing them are too much.

Cardinals are non-migratory birds, and they prefer to stay within the vicinity of their birthplace.

Nesting shelves and cardinal feeders, especially ones with plenty of food, are attractive to them.

A hopper bird feeder is the greatest bird feeder for attracting these beautiful birds.

They can perch for their food on these feeders.

Even though they are brilliant red, male cardinals might be difficult to notice.

They love to hang around in thick bushes, where their feathers are obscured by tangled branches.

They have a very well-defined family system.

As we have discussed earlier that these birds are non-migratory birds, and it is viewed as representative of various beneficial attributes.

The desert cardinal bird is recognized for being a confident species; hence it signifies confidence.

You may simply have a couple of these majestic birds come and feed in your own yard if you have the correct sort of feeder for them.

Despite the fact that they are omnivores, have a beak that is built for eating seeds, and are particularly fond of bird seeds.

Platform-style feeders and Hopper are excellent choices for them.

They also prefer eating from window feeders, which provide a terrific view of these vividly colored birds.

Below are the characteristics of the Desert Cardinal,

Scientific Name Cardinalis sinuatus
Family Name Cardinalidae
Length 7.5 inches (19 cm)
Weight 1.3-1.7 ounces (37-48 grams)
Wingspan 10-12 inches (25-30 cm)
Habitat Arid and semi-arid regions of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, including deserts, scrublands, mesquite thickets, and arroyos
Food Seeds, fruits, insects, and occasionally small snails or lizards

3. Vermilion Cardinal 

Vermilion Cardinal

Of all the cardinals, the Vermilion cardinal birds live in the south, the farthest south of America.

They have the biggest plumage of all the cardinals.

The male vermilion cardinals have a popped-out spiky crest which is a common characteristic of all cardinals.

These birds can be seen on perches, and they have a bill of great strength and vigor that helps them while they are feeding on seeds.

Males and females have varying colors usually help you distinguish them.

The Vermilion Cardinal is less frequent than the Northern or Desert Cardinals, as it is restricted to Colombia and Venezuela.

The moniker Venezuelan Cardinal was given to them as a result of this.

Their natural habitat is tropical or subtropical, and they may be seen breeding in parks, bushlands, and forest clearings.

Their natural habitat is tropical or subtropical, and they may be found in bushlands, forest clearings, and even parks.

This species of Cardinal is the most southern of all the Cardinals.

Only the dry scrub deserts and tropical sections of Latin America’s northern coast, mostly in Venezuela and Columbia, are home to this species.

Its call is very close to the northern cardinal that is used by males to mark territory in the early mornings.

The male vermilion has the highest spiked crest of any cardinal, while the female has the prettiest plumage of any cardinal.

Vermilion cardinals can feed on various fruit seeds, depending on the circumstances.

They can also feed on ground dwellers if there is an absence of their favorite seeds, which are usually corn, sunflower seeds, and berries from the shrubs of the trees.

Suet is an excellent energy source for cardinals.

Millet, bread crumbs, Oats, and buckwheat are also eaten by them.

Nonetheless, in the absence of these, they will also feed on insects, worms, beetles, bugs, spiders, ground dwellers, crawlers, arthropods, and flies that are easy to target from them from which they can also fulfill their protein needs.

Omnivores are those animals that can feed on flesh, animal meat, and plants, mainly fruit seeds, etc. 

Vermilion cardinals normally love feeding on a green diet that mainly comprises seeds, fruits, and berries.

They can also be seen feeding on bird feeders.

If you have planted bird feeders in your backyard, there are most likely chances that these birds will be your guest often and will pay a regular visit to your backyard to empty your bird feeders.

They also feed themselves on the ground finding a protein meal for themselves, by eating worms, insects, and flies.

You can recognize them even at first glance.

They are different and unique from other birds because of their blazing red color.

The female cardinal, on the other hand, has tan feathers with a crimson wash over the breast.

Nonetheless, the Individual females, on the other hand, have different levels of red color.

Cardinals’ beaks are likewise of various hues and colors, with males having red beaks and females having orange beaks.

The primary reason for the red plumage that male cardinals develop is because of the carotenoids that are present in their feather structure.

The males intake those carotenoids, and it becomes a part of their diet, resultantly ending up giving a red plumage to them.

You can also witness bright yellow northern cardinals, but they are very rare to see.

The yellow transition is normally because of a genetic variation in plumage.

Below are the characteristics of the Vermilion Cardinal,

Scientific Name Cardinalis phoeniceus
Family Name Cardinalidae
Length 7.5 inches (19 cm)
Weight 1.3-1.6 ounces (37-45 grams)
Wingspan 9-10 inches (23-25 cm)
Habitat Subtropical and tropical regions of South America, including savannas, woodlands, and forest edges
Food Seeds, fruits, insects, and occasionally nectar

4. Red-crested Cardinal

Red-crested cardinal

Although Paroaria coronata is usually known to be a cardinal, it is not a member of the Cardinals genus.

This cardinal is a native of South America who has successfully been transported to certain semi-tropical and tropical areas like Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Caribbean.

Red crests forage on seed normally, but they will also consume tiny bugs and other arthropods when they come to the ground.

They share the same characteristic red crest as the other cardinals, which lends them their name, but their backs and breasts are grey.

These brightly-colored birds are active and can be observed in small clusters or couples during the breeding season, although bigger flocks can be found outside of the breeding season.

They browse in low shrubs or on the surface, and in urban areas, they may become extremely friendly, contacting humans for food.

These birds aren’t considered threatened or endangered, although they are vulnerable to habitat loss.

Bird poaching is a far higher issue since these birds are famous for being pets, although it hasn’t had a substantial influence on overall population figures yet.

These birds are omnivores and can eat insects, bugs, beetles and fruits, nuts, and berries.

During the breeding season, males might become violent, pursuing intruders furiously.

Both sexes’ crests are used to express emotion.

Their flying route is undulating.

The singing of this species is melodic, with a variety of whistles and melodic chirps of varying pitch.

A single song lasts only 1-3 seconds, but it may be played again.

Red-crested Cardinals are monogamous, and pairs stay together for the duration of their lives.

Birds only breed in pairs throughout the breeding season.

Mates constantly communicate through vocalizations and duets.

Strutting, flicking their tails, and tapping their bills are all courtship behaviors.

Each year, the breeding season lasts from October through November.

The male builds a cup-shaped nest out of leaves and twigs, lining it with finer materials like rootlets, plant fibers, and hair.

The nest is usually 6-20 feet off the ground, on the branch of a tree.

A couple raises 1-2 broods every year.

Each breeding season, 2-5 eggs are deposited and nurtured for 12-13 days.

One of the fascinating facts about these birds is that they engage in a behavior known as anting.

There is a variety of range of bird species that are often observed doing anting.

They also do so because it helps them to prevent lice.

Ants normally secrete some acidic substance that extinguishes lice.

It’s not simple to win over female Cardinals.

Male birds do an unusual dance to attract their lovers as if possessing beautiful red plumage and a cool, sharp crest wasn’t enough.

While singing, these ‘dancing’ birds will transfer their body weight from side to side, creating quite a spectacle.

The male bird will normally stretch out his plumage into a blade shape and elevate his crest before embarking on this display.

These ants are very helpful for the birds. There is a special kind that makes the bird lice-free. And such type doesn’t sting.

This is their survival instinct that makes the invader think before attacking them.

So it’s basically their defense mechanism.

They will spread out their wings, making ample space to gather as many ants as they can. 

These birds are well-versed in their own unique traits and talents, which is why they aren’t keen to be taken lightly.

Both sexes have adequate time and chances to look after their offerings.

They also symbolize equilibrium since they are a powerful symbol of a family.

The young birds are cared for by the father cardinal.

Cardinal parents have a well-balanced family life that allows them to care for and nurture their children in turn.

Undoubtedly a bald bird of this specie is not worth watching the view.

These creatures are vibrant, and their colorful attribute and their vibrant colors are the reason that makes them a very spectacular view.

Although due to parasitic reasons, these majestic birds may turn bald.

Their skin is black, and their head seems teeny-tiny without the fluffy feathers, especially with the huge bill.

Below are the characteristics of the Red-crested Cardinal,

Scientific Name Paroaria coronata
Family Name Thraupidae
Length 7.5-8.5 inches (19-22 cm)
Weight 1.5-2 ounces (42-57 grams)
Wingspan 12 inches (30 cm)
Habitat Native to South America, primarily found in open woodlands, shrublands, gardens, and parks
Food Seeds, fruits, insects, and occasionally small invertebrates

Check this article, if you are wondering about Birds that look like cardinals but is not.


In conclusion, the world of cardinal birds is a captivating one, filled with beauty, diversity, and enchanting melodies.

Throughout this article, we have explored the four remarkable types of cardinals that adorn our surroundings.

From the iconic Northern Cardinal with its vibrant red plumage to the elegant Vermilion Cardinal and the tropical brilliance of the Scarlet and Pyrrhuloxia Cardinals, each species offers a unique glimpse into the wonders of nature.

As we have learned, these birds not only bring visual delight but also enrich our lives with their melodious songs, filling the air with their charming tunes.

Their presence in our gardens, parks, and forests adds a touch of elegance and a splash of color to the natural landscape.

Whether you are an avid birdwatcher, a nature enthusiast, or simply appreciate the wonders of the animal kingdom, the cardinal birds will never cease to captivate and inspire.

So, let us continue to cherish and protect these magnificent creatures, ensuring that future generations can also experience the joy and wonder they bring.

In the end, let us remember that the cardinal birds are not just birds; they are ambassadors of nature’s splendor and reminders of the awe-inspiring beauty that surrounds us.

So, let us look up, listen closely, and be amazed by the enchanting world of cardinal birds.


How many types of cardinal birds are there?

There are four main types of cardinal birds: the Northern Cardinal, Vermilion Cardinal, Scarlet Cardinal, and Pyrrhuloxia Cardinal.

What is the most common type of cardinal bird?

The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is the most common and widely recognized type of cardinal bird. It is known for its vibrant red plumage and distinctive crest.

Where can cardinal birds be found?

Cardinal birds are primarily found in North and Central America. The Northern Cardinal, for example, is a resident bird throughout the eastern and central parts of the United States, while the Vermilion Cardinal is native to South America.

Do all cardinal birds have bright red feathers?

No, not all cardinal birds have bright red feathers. While the Northern Cardinal is renowned for its brilliant red plumage, the Vermilion Cardinal exhibits a striking vermilion or scarlet color, and the Scarlet Cardinal has a predominantly red body with black accents. The Pyrrhuloxia Cardinal, on the other hand, has a mix of gray and red feathers.

What do cardinal birds eat?

Cardinal birds have an omnivorous diet. They primarily feed on seeds, fruits, and insects. They are also known to visit bird feeders where they enjoy sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and other bird-friendly foods.

Are cardinal birds considered endangered?

The Northern Cardinal is a species of least concern and is not considered endangered. However, it is important to note that habitat loss and other environmental factors can impact the populations of cardinal birds and other bird species.

Can cardinal birds live in urban areas?

Yes, cardinal birds can adapt to urban environments and are commonly found in suburban areas with trees, shrubs, and bird feeders. They are known to thrive in a variety of habitats, including parks, gardens, and backyard settings.

Last Updated on June 10, 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.

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