Male vs Female Cardinals (5 Major Differences)

Male vs Female Cardinals are not hard to spot if you know what to look for. I have researched these beautiful birds and learned how to tell them apart by their appearance, behavior, and sounds. In this article, I will share with you some of the most striking and surprising differences between the two sexes of cardinals.

Differences Between Male vs Female Cardinals

1. Males are bright red

Male cardinals flaunt vibrant red plumage overall, making them easily distinguishable. Their bright red color extends from their breasts to their backs. In contrast, female cardinals are pale brown all over, with warm reddish tinges in their crests, wings, and tails. Both genders have reddish bills and a black face around the bills.

2. Males sing louder and chirp more frequently

Male cardinals are the vocalists of the pair. They sing more aggressively and frequently than females. Their melodious tunes fill the air during the breeding season, serving as territorial declarations and courtship calls.

3. Females’ crests are smaller than males’

The crest atop a cardinal’s head is a distinguishing feature. Male cardinals sport bright red crests, while females have gentler red crests with grey undertones. The difference in crest size helps identify the gender.

4. Male Cardinals are more territorial than females

Male cardinals fiercely defend their territories. They engage in aggressive behavior to protect their nesting sites and food sources. Females, although territorial to some extent, focus more on nesting and incubating eggs.

5. Females are the only nest-builders

When it comes to nest-building, female cardinals take charge. They meticulously collect nesting materials, construct the nest, and incubate the eggs. Males assist by providing some of the materials and bringing food to the females during incubation.

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Male Cardinals

male cardinals 1


  • Male northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) are instantly recognizable due to their striking scarlet plumage.
  • They boast prominent crests atop their heads.
  • Their contrasting black “face mask” markings surround their orange-red beaks.


  • Male cardinals are known for their territorial behavior.
  • They actively defend their nesting and breeding territories.
  • When intruders approach, male cardinals attack with fury and aggression.


  • Cardinals are songbirds, and both males and females can sing.
  • Male cardinals sing more aggressively to protect their territories.
  • Their melodious tunes serve as territorial declarations and courtship calls.
  • Interestingly, female cardinals have more elaborate songs than males.
  • A single cardinal may have over 24 different song variations.


  • Male cardinals primarily feed on seeds, nuts, fruits, and insects.
  • Their diet provides the energy needed for their active lifestyles.

Courtship Behaviors:

  • During courtship, male cardinals perform displays to attract females.
  • They showcase their vibrant plumage and sing to woo potential mates.

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Female Cardinals

Female Cardinals 1


  • Female cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) exhibit a more subtle beauty compared to their male counterparts.
  • Their plumage features warm, buffy tan tones on their back, breast, and sides.
  • Red-orange highlights adorn their wings, tails, and crowns.
  • Like males, they also have a blackish “mask” around their eyes.
  • The crest atop their heads is chunky and red-orange, similar to males.


  • Female cardinals are essential partners in nesting and raising their young.
  • They work alongside males to select and defend nesting territories.
  • During courtship, they engage in twisting, swaying, and chest-puffing displays.
  • Females handle nest construction and incubate the eggs.
  • When courting, males feed females and continue to provide food during incubation.


  • While less vocal than males, female cardinals do communicate through softer calls.
  • Their songs are not as elaborate as those of males but serve essential purposes.


  • Like males, female cardinals primarily feed on seeds, nuts, fruits, and insects.
  • Their diet sustains them during nesting and breeding.

Courtship Behaviors:

      • Females evaluate male courtship displays before choosing a mate.

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FAQs About Male vs Female Cardinals

Q1: Which cardinal sings, male or female?

Male cardinals are the vocalists. They sing more aggressively and frequently than females.

Q2: What does seeing a cardinal mean?

Seeing a cardinal is often considered a positive sign. Some believe it symbolizes a visit from a loved one or a spiritual message.

Q3: What is the relationship between male and female cardinals?

Male and female cardinals are partners in breeding. They work together to raise chicks and maintain their territory.

Q4: Has there been a female cardinal?

Yes, female cardinals exist! They play essential roles in the cardinal population.

Q5: Do cardinals mate for life?

Cardinals are monogamous during the breeding season. Pairs stay together to raise their young.

Q6: Why are the Cardinals so special?

Cardinals’ vibrant plumage, melodious songs, and symbolism make them remarkable birds.

Q7: When God sends a cardinal?

Some believe that when you see a cardinal, it’s a spiritual message or a visit from a loved one.

Q8: Are the Cardinals good or bad luck?

Generally, cardinals are considered positive symbols, bringing hope and joy.

Final Thoughts:

Male and female cardinals complement each other in their roles, ensuring successful breeding and survival. Their distinct characteristics make them fascinating subjects for birdwatchers and backyard enthusiasts alike.

John William

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