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Number of species: 72

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Northern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalis

The sex of Northern Cardinals can be easily determined by overall plumage (except juveniles), and distinct molt limits allow for quick recognition of HY/SY individuals, often even on perched birds.

Since some Northern Cardinals undergo a complete preformative molt, individuals lacking molt limits should be considered age unknown (in late fall) or after-hatch-year (from January through fall), and are represented here as after-hatch-year for simplicity. More study on the frequency of complete preformative molt in different parts of the range may refine the need for application of this precautionary approach.

Quick Tips:

  • Examine the wing for molt limits - on HY/SY birds there are usually sharp contrasts between faded brown juvenile feathers and fresh reddish or red feathers among the primaries and secondaries, as well as the primary coverts
  • Check the bill - it is dusky gray to blackish on HY birds (usually through to at least September), and orange-red on AHY birds (but by late fall, HY birds may have few or no dark patches remaining)
  • Look at the overall plumage - on males it is mostly red, while on females it is mostly brown, with red on the crest, wings, and tail

Species account prepared by McGill Bird Observatory

Click on any image below to bring up the side-by-side comparison tool.
Age / Sex  Image sets 
Juvenile / Unknown
Plumage largely brown; bill dusky to blackish
Thumbnail - IS2-2701-14427-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-4703.jpg
Hatch year / Male
Mixture of brown and red plumage, with distinct molt limits on the wing between brown juvenile feathers and replaced red formative feathers; bill may have dusky patches
Thumbnail - MH3-2231-66186-Cardinalis_cardinalis-196.jpg Thumbnail - MH3-2231-66186-Cardinalis_cardinalis-197.jpg Thumbnail - MH3-2231-66186-Cardinalis_cardinalis-198.jpg

Thumbnail - MR3-2451-30534-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-1688.jpg Thumbnail - MR3-2451-30534-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-1689.jpg Thumbnail - MR3-2451-30534-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-1691.jpg Thumbnail - MR3-2451-30534-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-1690.jpg

Thumbnail - IS2-2701-44757-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-4724.jpg Thumbnail - IS2-2701-44757-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-4725.jpg
Hatch year / Female
Body plumage primarily brown, but with distinct molt limits on the wing between brown juvenile feathers and replaced reddish formative feathers; bill may have dusky patches
Thumbnail - IS2-2701-14427-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-4706.jpg Thumbnail - IS2-2701-14427-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-4705.jpg
Hatch year / Unknown
Thumbnail - MH3-2231-66103-Cardinalis_cardinalis-199.jpg Thumbnail - MH3-2231-66103-Cardinalis_cardinalis-200.jpg Thumbnail - MH3-2231-66103-Cardinalis_cardinalis-201.jpg

Thumbnail - IS2-2701-14403-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-4676.jpg
After hatch year / Male
Body plumage red; wings and tail uniformly dusky/red, lacking brown; bill red
Thumbnail - MH3-NA_483-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-990.jpg
After hatch year / Female
Body plumage primarily brown, with some red on the crest, wings, and tail; bill red
Thumbnail - IS2-2701-44769-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-4591.jpg

Thumbnail - IS2-2701-44515-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-4593.jpg Thumbnail - IS2-2701-44515-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-4595.jpg Thumbnail - IS2-2701-44515-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-4594.jpg
Second year / Female
Body plumage largely brown, but with distinct molt limits on the wing (note: some SY birds undergo complete preformative molts and are indistinguishable from ASY individuals)
Thumbnail - MH3-NA_484-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-991.jpg Thumbnail - MH3-NA_484-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-993.jpg Thumbnail - MH3-NA_484-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-992.jpg

Thumbnail - MH3-NA_516-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-1033.jpg

Thumbnail - MH3-NA_517-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-1034.jpg

Thumbnail - MH3-NA_518-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-1035.jpg Thumbnail - MH3-NA_518-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-1036.jpg
After second year / Male
Thumbnail - IS2-2701-14418-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-4578.jpg

Thumbnail - IS2-2701-14553-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-4745.jpg
After second year / Female
Thumbnail - IS2-2651-61334-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-4618.jpg Thumbnail - IS2-2651-61334-Cardinalis_cardinalis_AOU_7_52-4619.jpg

Additional age / sex class descriptions

The following additional age / sex class descriptions were found for this species:
Age / Sex   Age / Sex class description
Second year / Male Body plumage largely red, but with distinct molt limits on the wing (note: some SY birds undergo complete preformative molts and are indistinguishable from ASY individuals)
Number of species: 72

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