Meet the 3 Types of Cardinals in North America

Did you know—North American birders can see multiple types of cardinals! But you'll have to travel to check these birds off your list.

Northern Cardinal

252444880 1 Katie Buchanan Bnb Bypc2020Courtesy Katie Buchanan
A bright red male northern cardinal eating safflower seed

Northern cardinals are commonly spotted across the eastern half of the United States, and also show up as far west as Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, and in Mexico. They are the most well-known of the types of cardinals for most U.S. birders. Males have vibrant red feathers, which gives the species the nickname, “red birds.” Female cardinals are more muted in color, mostly brownish with red accents. Some lucky birders have even spotted rare yellow cardinals and leucistic or albino white cardinals.

You can attract cardinals by offering their favorite types of bird seed in cardinal feeders. These birds do not migrate, so you can see them in your yard year-round. Pairs form close bonds and often mate for life.

“I took this picture of a hungry northern cardinal (above) in my backyard. I love this picture because I got to watch him and his lady all year long. They even have a baby cardinal. I feed them every day,” says Birds & Blooms reader Katie Buchanan of Salina, Kansas.

Don’t miss magical bird photos of cardinals in snow.

Pyrrhuloxia

Pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus) male perched, South Texas, USAWMarissen/Getty Images
A perching male pyrrhuloxia in south Texas

This cardinal-look alike is commonly known as the desert cardinal. To spot one of these types of cardinals in North America, you’ll have to visit the southwestern United States or Mexico. Pyrrhuloxias eat seeds, insects, berries and cactus fruits. Like northern cardinals, these birds do not typically migrate. They are primarily gray with red accents; males have a red mask and belly.

What does a cardinal song sound like?

Red-Crested Cardinal

Red-crested cardinalManuel ROMARIS/Getty Images
A red-crested cardinal at the Hanalei national wildlife reserve in Hawaii

If you want to see these stunning types of cardinals, you’ll need to book an island vacation. Red-crested cardinals are typically only found in Hawaii and Puerto Rico, as well as in South America. While it’s clear that these gorgeous crested birds do resemble northern cardinals, with their dark gray and white feathers and solid red heads they also somewhat resemble red-headed woodpeckers! Their diet consists of seeds, fruits and insects.

Next, find out if cardinal sightings have special meaning.

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Lori Vanover
Lori Vanover is the senior digital editor for Birds & Blooms. She has a bachelor's degree in agricultural and environmental communications from the University of Illinois. Lori enjoys growing vegetables and flowers for pollinators in her gardens. She is also a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology.