About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Sexually dimorphic Northern Cardinals: Why male and female cardinals are a different color

How do you tell the male cardinal from the female? ~ Beverly Hills, FL

Male and Female Northern Cardinal
Not all bird species have visible gender differences, but the Northern Cardinal is sexually dimorphic which means it is possible to determine which bird is male and female by plumage coloration.

Except for a black mask and throat, the male cardinals are red all over including their bill. The females are shaped like the male but are a duller brown color and have only warm red accents on the tips of their crest, wings and bill. The juvenile cardinals in the spring and summer look similar to the female except for the darker crest and bill. The duller coloring is better to camouflage nesting birds.

Cardinals as well as other red feathered birds get their red plumage from pigments called carotenoids. Birds can’t synthesize carontenoid pigments but must obtain them from wild fruit seeds, weed seeds and fresh bird seed.

A good field guide like Ted Black’s Birds of Michigan provides full-color illustrations, detailed identifications, and a description of a bird’s habitat, nesting information, favorite foods, voice, and a range map.

The book also explains that the Northern Cardinal with its vivid red plumage, is a delightful year-round resident in mid-Michigan and prefers tangled shrubby bushes and evergreens in yards with feeders. They form faithful pair bonds, and will visit feeders together commonly in the early morning and evening. Both birds sing to one another throughout the seasons with soft, bubbly whistles and when forced to incubate her eggs in the spring the female keeps in contact with the male by singing on the nest, to inform her partner whether or not she and the young need food.

So if you see the bright red male cardinal, look and listen for the "chip, chip, chip" of the less conspicuous female cardinal.

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1 comment:

Kenneth Gibbons L.L.C. said...

I liked the blog. Pictures are great. Just finished building a bird house hor our back yard.

Thanks,
Kenneth Gibbons LLC