Top 15 Types Of Cardinal Birds (with Photos)

Cardinal birds, with their vibrant plumage and distinctive songs, have long captivated the attention of bird enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. In this article, we will embark on a journey to explore the top 15 best types of cardinal birds, each showcasing its own unique set of characteristics and charm.

From the iconic Northern Cardinal to the striking Vermilion Cardinal, we will unravel the secrets behind their bill coloration, wing and tail coloration, crest and bill shape, as well as delve into their habitat, diet, symbolism, and cultural significance.

So, get ready to be amazed as we uncover the fascinating world of these beautiful creatures.

Northern Cardinal

bright red bird species

The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is a non-migratory bird known for its vibrant red plumage, with males distinguished by a black mask on their faces. These birds are commonly found in North America, particularly in woodland areas with dense vegetation. However, they have also adapted well to urban environments, such as gardens and parks.

Both male and female Northern Cardinals have a similar body structure and size, measuring around 8 to 9 inches in length. However, the males are more visually striking with their bright red feathers, while the females have a more subdued coloration, with a combination of gray, brown, and red tones.

One of the distinguishing features of the male Northern Cardinal is its black mask, which extends from its bill to its eyes. This mask contrasts sharply with the vibrant red plumage, adding to its overall visual appeal. The purpose of the black mask is not entirely understood, but it is believed to play a role in attracting mates and establishing dominance within their territory.

The female Northern Cardinals also contribute to the bird's charm with their soft and gentle appearance. They lack the black mask and have a more subtle red coloration, which helps them blend in better with their surroundings during nesting season. This camouflaging strategy is beneficial for protecting the nest and eggs from potential predators.

Vermilion Cardinal

bright red south american bird

Having explored the distinctive features of the Northern Cardinal, we now turn our attention to the Vermilion Cardinal (Cardinalis phoeniceus), a species known for its vibrant red plumage and striking crest on its head. The Vermilion Cardinal is slightly smaller than its Northern counterpart and possesses a slimmer bill. However, it is the brilliant red feathers that truly make this species stand out.

The plumage of the Vermilion Cardinal is a deep, rich red, with warm reddish tinges that add depth and intensity to its appearance. Both male and female Vermilion Cardinals possess red feathers, but the males are particularly striking with their bright red bills. In contrast, females have dull orange bills. This coloration is thought to play a role in attracting mates and establishing territorial boundaries.

Vermilion Cardinals are primarily found in dense shrubby areas and woodland habitats across North America. They are non-migratory birds, preferring to stay in their chosen territories year-round. In these territories, they are known for their melodious songs, which they use to communicate with other members of their species. Their territorial behavior is also evident in their displays of aggression towards intruders.


bird with red crest

Pyrrhuloxia, known scientifically as Cardinalis sinuatus, is a species of bird distinguished by its unique yellow bill, which sets it apart from the red-billed Northern Cardinals. These birds are native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. The overall plumage of adult Pyrrhuloxias differs from female Northern Cardinals, with grayer tones in males and females. Unlike Northern Cardinals, Pyrrhuloxias lack any red plumage in their appearance, making them easily distinguishable.

Pyrrhuloxias have different wing and tail coloration compared to Northern Cardinals, with no black wings or tail seen in breeding male Scarlet Tanagers. Adult male Pyrrhuloxias lack the crest and black face patch seen in male Northern Cardinals and have a longer, straighter bill.

The name Pyrrhuloxia is derived from the Greek words 'pyrrhos,' meaning 'red,' and 'loxia,' meaning 'crossbill.' This name is fitting as Pyrrhuloxias possess a beak that is crossed at the tips, enabling them to easily extract seeds from various types of vegetation. They primarily feed on seeds, fruits, and insects.

Despite their similar appearance to the Northern Cardinals, Pyrrhuloxias have their own unique charm. Their yellow bills add a vibrant touch to their overall appearance, making them an intriguing species to observe in their natural habitats.

Summer Tanager

bright red songbird species

Summer Tanagers, scientifically known as Piranga rubra, are a species of bird that can be distinguished from Northern Cardinals by their longer, straighter bills and distinct overall plumage. While they have a similar appearance to Northern Cardinals, Summer Tanagers have some unique characteristics.

Adult male Summer Tanagers lack the male Northern Cardinals' crest and black face patch. Instead, they have a bright red plumage, which extends to their wings and tail. In contrast, female Summer Tanagers are grayer overall than female Northern Cardinals and lack any redness in their plumage. They have black wings and a black tail, setting them apart from their cardinal counterparts.

Summer Tanagers are known to visit bird feeders, especially during the summer and early fall seasons. Their diet primarily consists of insects, which they catch by hawking or flying out from perches to snatch prey in mid-air. They are also known to eat fruits, particularly during migration.

These vibrant birds are commonly found in open woodlands, forest edges, and shade-grown coffee plantations across their range, which includes parts of North and Central America. Overall, Summer Tanagers are a fascinating species with unique characteristics that differentiate them from their cardinal relatives.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

colorful songbird with rosy chest

The Rose-breasted Grosbeak, scientifically known as Pheucticus ludovicianus, is a migratory bird species with striking black and white plumage, featuring a distinctive rosy-red patch on the male's breast. The adult male rose-breasted grosbeak is a stunning bird, with its bright red bib that stands out against its black and white body. This bold coloration is thought to play a role in attracting mates and establishing territories.

The rose-breasted grosbeak is known for its large, conical bill, which it uses to crack open seeds and nuts. This adaptation allows it to take advantage of a wide range of food sources, making it a successful forager. The female rose-breasted grosbeak, on the other hand, has a more subdued coloring, with brown and white feathers that provide excellent camouflage in their natural habitat.

In addition to their striking appearance, rose-breasted grosbeaks are also known for their beautiful and melodious songs. The male uses its song to attract mates and defend its territory. These birds are migratory, spending their summers in North America and wintering in Central and South America.

Indigo Bunting

vibrant blue bird species

Indigo Buntings, scientifically known as Passerina cyanea, are small and vibrant blue birds with a cone-shaped beak. They are a species of cardinal bird and are known for their stunning appearance. Indigo Buntings possess bright blue plumage that appears iridescent in the sunlight. These birds are often found in open woodlands, brushy areas, and along roadsides.

During the breeding season, male Indigo Buntings showcase their vibrant colors and sing a melodious, high-pitched song to attract mates. Their captivating songs can be heard throughout their habitats. Female Indigo Buntings, on the other hand, have a more subtle appearance, with their plumage consisting of a mix of blue and brown tones.

Indigo Buntings are migratory birds. They spend their winters in Central America and return to North America for the breeding season. Their migration routes cover vast distances, with some individuals traveling over 2,000 miles.

These cardinal birds are a delight to observe, with their striking blue plumage and enchanting songs. Their presence adds a vibrant touch to the natural landscapes they inhabit. Indigo Buntings are truly a remarkable species among the cardinal birds.

Painted Bunting

vibrant bird with colorful plumage

The Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris) is a species of cardinal bird known for its vibrant and multi-colored plumage. Males exhibit a dazzling mix of blue, green, and red feathers, creating a truly stunning sight. In contrast, females have more subdued green and yellow tones, but they are still beautiful birds in their own right.

Painted Buntings can be found in dense shrubby areas and brushy habitats, particularly near the edges of forests and along streams and wetlands. They are primarily seed eaters, but they also include insects and berries in their diet, making them omnivorous creatures.

During the breeding season, male Painted Buntings showcase spectacular courtship displays. They often sing from exposed perches to attract mates, using their colorful plumage as a visual display of their fitness and genetic quality. The combination of their vibrant colors and melodious songs make them irresistibly charming to potential partners.

Despite their striking appearance, Painted Buntings are known for their secretive nature. They tend to stay hidden within dense vegetation, adding to the excitement and challenge of spotting them in the wild. When they do emerge, their overall warm reddish hues stand out against the green backdrop, making them a true marvel to behold.

Blue Grosbeak

rare blue grosbeak sighting

Featuring vibrant blue plumage and a distinctive song, the Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea) is a species of cardinal bird found in open habitats across the southern United States and parts of Mexico. These North American birds are known for their striking appearance, with the male Blue Grosbeak displaying a rich blue color and the female sporting a more subdued blue-gray plumage.

Blue Grosbeaks have large, conical beaks that are specially adapted for cracking open seeds. They primarily consume a diet of seeds and insects, making them omnivorous birds. In their preferred habitats of brushy fields, scrublands, and woodland edges, Blue Grosbeaks can often be found foraging for food.

During the breeding season, male Blue Grosbeaks sing a series of varied and melodious songs to attract females. Both males and females participate in nest-building and caring for their young. Their nests are typically constructed in low shrubs or trees.

Blue Grosbeaks are cherished for their distinct and beautiful song, which adds to the avian chorus of their habitats. To attract Blue Grosbeaks to bird feeders, safflower seeds can be offered as a food source. With their vibrant colors and enchanting songs, Blue Grosbeaks are a captivating sight for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike.

Scarlet Tanager

vibrant red bird species

The Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea) can be distinguished from Northern Cardinals by its unique black wings and tail. Unlike the vibrant red plumage of the Northern Cardinals, the Scarlet Tanager exhibits a striking contrast with its black feathers. The overall appearance of this bird is quite different from the Northern Cardinal, making it easily recognizable in the avian world.

Adult male Scarlet Tanagers lack the male Northern Cardinals' crest and black face patch. Additionally, they possess a longer and straighter bill in comparison to the thick conical bill of the cardinal. This distinction further sets them apart from their cardinal counterparts.

In terms of reproduction, female Scarlet Tanagers lay eggs two to three times a year, similar to Northern Cardinals. Both parents actively participate in caring for the chicks, just as Northern Cardinals do.

When it comes to communication, Scarlet Tanagers also use their songs to establish territory and communicate with other individuals, much like Northern Cardinals. Their vocalizations are a delightful addition to the natural chorus of the forest.

Red-crested Cardinal

vibrant red bird species

What distinguishes the Red-crested Cardinal (Paroaria coronata) from other cardinal species is its unique plumage and distinct physical features. This bird, native to South America, stands out with its vibrant red crest on its head and a black face mask. The overall plumage of the Red-crested Cardinal is predominantly gray with striking red accents.

The red crest of the Red-crested Cardinal is one of its most notable features. This crest, composed of specialized feathers, adds to the bird's visual appeal and helps it stand out in its natural habitat. The feathers of the Red-crested Cardinal are well-adapted to its environment, providing both insulation and protection.

These birds inhabit various habitats, including open woodlands, gardens, and areas near water sources. Their versatile nature allows them to thrive in different ecosystems, making them a common sight in South America.

Black-headed Grosbeak

colorful bird with distinctive head

The Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) boasts a visually distinctive appearance, characterized by its striking black head and vibrant orange chest. This species is primarily found in the western United States and parts of Mexico. The Black-headed Grosbeak is known for its beautiful and melodious songs, which can often be heard in its woodland habitats.

One of the notable features of the Black-headed Grosbeak is its strong, conical beak. This beak allows the bird to easily crack open seeds and nuts, which are an essential part of its omnivorous diet. During the breeding season, the male Black-headed Grosbeak's plumage becomes even more vibrant, with the black head contrasting against its bright orange chest. This striking appearance, coupled with its melodious songs, is used to attract mates and establish territory.

The breeding season for the Black-headed Grosbeak typically occurs in late summer and early fall. During this time, the male will sing and display its colorful plumage to attract a mate. Once a pair is formed, the female will build a nest and lay her eggs. The eggs hatch after a couple of weeks, and the young birds will grow their first set of feathers.

Hepatic Tanager

bright red bird species

Continuing our exploration of cardinal bird species, we now turn our attention to the Hepatic Tanager, a visually striking avian specimen that exhibits a unique combination of vibrant red underparts and a yellowish-green upper body. The male Hepatic Tanager is particularly captivating, with its mix of pink and red plumage, while the female boasts an olive-yellow coloration. These tanagers can primarily be found in oak and pine forests, especially in the western United States and Mexico.

Hepatic Tanagers are known for their melodic, fluty songs, which can be heard throughout their forested habitats. They primarily feed on insects, fruit, and seeds, making them an essential component of their ecosystem.

During the breeding season, male Hepatic Tanagers engage in a fascinating process called molt, where they shed their old feathers and grow new ones. This molt is crucial for maintaining their vibrant plumage and attracting mates.

When it comes to nesting, Hepatic Tanagers build their nests in the upper branches of trees. They construct their nests using a combination of twigs, grass, and leaves, intricately woven together to create a sturdy and secure structure for their eggs. The female takes the lead in incubating the eggs, while the male assists by providing food for the female. Once the eggs hatch, both parents share the responsibility of feeding and caring for the chicks until they are ready to fledge.

Western Tanager

colorful bird with red head

With its distinct yellow and black plumage, the Western Tanager stands out among other cardinal birds. This species, Piranga ludoviciana, is known for its vibrant colors, especially the bright red head of males. The breeding male Western Tanager also sports a striking black wing with white patches, setting it apart from other cardinals.

The Western Tanager's song is a unique mix of warbling and chattering, making it easily distinguishable from other cardinal bird songs. It prefers coniferous and mixed woodlands for nesting, where it constructs its cup-shaped nests using fine twigs, grasses, and rootlets. These nests are usually located high up in evergreen trees, providing protection for the newly hatched chicks.

Unlike many other cardinal birds, the Western Tanager has a predominantly insectivorous diet. It feeds on a variety of insects, including beetles, ants, wasps, and bees. It is also known to consume fruits and berries, especially during the winter months when insects are scarce.

During the breeding season, the Western Tanager can be found in western North America, from Alaska down to Mexico. However, during the winter, it migrates to Central America, seeking warmer climates and abundant food sources.

Red-capped Cardinal

vibrant red bird species

Next, we will explore the captivating characteristics of the Red-capped Cardinal, a distinct species that differentiates itself from other types of cardinals with its unique red cap and striking combination of gray and red plumage. Unlike other cardinal birds, the Red-capped Cardinal does not possess the typical bright red plumage that is commonly associated with cardinals. Instead, its plumage consists of a beautiful blend of gray and red, creating a visually stunning appearance.

The Red-capped Cardinal stands out even further with its unique wing and tail coloration. The wings and tail feathers of this species showcase a pattern of contrasting shades of gray and red, further adding to its overall distinctive appearance.

In the wild, Red-capped Cardinals can be found in various habitats throughout their range, which includes parts of South America. They are typically found in open woodlands, shrublands, and savannahs. These birds are known for their territorial singing, which is a common behavior among cardinal birds. They use their vocalizations to defend their nesting areas and establish their presence.

The Red-capped Cardinal is truly a fascinating species among the different types of cardinals. Its distinct red cap, striking plumage, and unique coloration make it a sought-after bird to observe in the wild.

Yellow Grosbeak

bright yellow bird species

Yellow Grosbeaks, known for their striking yellow plumage and distinctive heavy, seed-cracking bill, are non-migratory birds found in various habitats across North and Central America. These birds are one of the many species of grosbeaks, belonging to the Cardinalidae family.

The male Yellow Grosbeak displays a vibrant yellow color, while the female has a more muted tone. Both genders have black feathers on their wings and tail, which create a beautiful contrast against the yellow plumage.

Yellow Grosbeaks are known for their melodious and complex songs, which they use to communicate and establish territory. Their vocalizations are a distinguishing feature of their species. These birds can be found in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, forests, and urban areas with dense vegetation. They are adaptable and have successfully adapted to human-altered environments.

Yellow Grosbeaks are monogamous and form pair bonds. Both parents participate in caring for the chicks and engage in courtship feeding. They build nests in trees or shrubs, using twigs, grass, and leaves. The female typically lays 3-4 eggs, which are incubated by both parents for about 12-14 days.

About the author

I'm Gulshan, a passionate pet enthusiast. Dive into my world where I share tips, stories, and snapshots of my animal adventures. Here, pets are more than just animals; they're heartbeats that enrich our lives. Join our journey!