Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Not all cardinals are bright red

with 27 comments

Female Cardinal on Tree Branch 8927

Click for more clarity.

Not all cardinals are bright red: the females aren’t. This picture of a Cardinalis cardinalis on a tree branch is from April 16th in Purgatory Creek Park in San Marcos, about 30 miles southwest of Austin.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 9, 2013 at 6:16 AM

27 Responses

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  1. Probably a female cardinal.

    Victor Rakmil

    May 9, 2013 at 6:39 AM

  2. I did not know that :). You are always teaching me new things!

  3. Cardinals are among my favorite birds – how nice that you’ve shown the harder-to-spot female. I especially like that the branch isn’t just gray, but is touched with a bit of her color.

    A rarity that I’d love to see is the yellow cardinal, a genetic mututation that I don’t believe was spotted (or at least recorded) until sometime in the 1990s. It’s been reported from Ontario to Ohio and North Carolina, but I haven’t found any sightings in Texas. Maybe you’ll be first!


    May 9, 2013 at 7:28 AM

    • I don’t know much about birds, so for me it’s usually photograph first and try to identify later. In this case, though, I had a hunch that I might have seen a female cardinal, and sources seemed to confirm it. I’d be happy to feature a xanthochroic cardinal as good company for unusually colored and fasciated flowers (both of which will be putting in appearances here in the weeks ahead).

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 9, 2013 at 7:44 AM

      • If you see a male, there is usually a female close by. We have several families at our weekend place. Great birds to watch. Plus, if you sound a call, I found they react more that other birds. Happy watching~

        Margie Jaquette

        May 9, 2013 at 9:58 AM

        • At times I’ve seen and heard a male cardinal outside our house, but I’ve never managed to get a picture of him. Maybe one of these days. I have a lot better luck with flowers, which don’t fly away.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 9, 2013 at 10:14 AM

  4. Juveniles are also dull colored regardless of sex.

    Margie Jaquette

    May 9, 2013 at 9:59 AM

    • Ah, now that’s a useful piece of information. Thanks for letting us know. Is there an easy way to tell whether a juvenile is a male or a female?

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 9, 2013 at 10:11 AM

      • Great question! I’m a bit of an amateur birder and while I know it’s true that juveniles tend to look the same as females (I’m thinking of many different australian species) I’ve never studied whether there was a way to tell gender in a juvie. I know for budgies there is but I’m stumped for another example.

        Lisa Vankula-Donovan

        May 23, 2013 at 8:03 AM

        • I know so little about birds that I was happy just to figure out that this was a cardinal. From what you say, telling the sex of a juvenile is often a problem—at least for people. The birds don’t seem to have any trouble with it.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 23, 2013 at 8:14 AM

  5. We have both cardinals and waxwings that hang around our patio feeder and backyard, and I’m still nonplussed when it comes to telling the difference between the lady cardinals and the waxwings, since I can’t get close to these skittish friends. So I just have to enjoy them in my own ignorant way and be glad they’ll come to visit–whoever they are!


    May 9, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    • I suspect you know more about birds than I do. A telephoto lens lets me see some details I couldn’t resolve with my eyes alone,. and I imagine binoculars could do the same for you—or perhaps even with them the differences are still too subtle to distinguish. But what’s in a name, right?

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 9, 2013 at 2:49 PM

  6. I LOVE these birds. If you are lucky you will see them together and the male often offers the female food. Wonderful to watch this occur !


    May 9, 2013 at 3:56 PM

  7. I like this shot a lot. Very different. I also like your comment about offering food to your wife. Very funny.


    May 9, 2013 at 10:21 PM

  8. I have learned so much this spring about birds; I really appreciate your pictures and information. Thank you.

  9. I love the subtlety of the female’s coloring.

    Susan Scheid

    May 14, 2013 at 8:48 PM

  10. […] As is often the case with birds, the male is much more colorful than the female, as you can confirm in a photograph from 2013. […]

  11. Love gentle colours.


    February 24, 2015 at 7:03 AM

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