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16 Birds That Look Like Cardinals (With Pictures)

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male northern cardinal perched

Cardinals are one of the most easily recognizable birds. Male Cardinals especially are loved because of their red bodies and prominent crown. Although female Cardinals aren’t quite as noticeable, they are still relatively easy to identify because of their red wings, tail, beak, and prominent crown.

Despite how easily identifiable these birds are, it can be easy to misidentify them. There are plenty of other bird species that look like Cardinals. Scroll down to learn about the 16 most common birds that look like male and female Cardinals.

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Male Vs Female Cardinals

Before we dive into the 16 birds that look like Cardinals, it’s important to understand the differences between males and females. Males have a brilliant red color that spans their entire bodies. Females, in contrast, are primarily pale brown, but they do have reddish tinges on their wings, tail, and crown.

Because fewer birds have outright red bodies than brown bodies with red tints, many of the birds on this list look most like female Cardinals, not male Cardinals. Even so, there are a couple of species that look like male Cardinals too.

The 16 Birds That Look Like Cardinals

1. Pyrrhuloxia

pyrrhuloxia perched

Image Credit: TheBirdBird, Pixabay

Most Similar To: Female
Distinguishing Feature: Grayer; red around the face

First up on our list is Pyrrhuloxia. It is incredibly easy to misidentify this bird, especially from a distance. Much like a female Cardinal, it has a lighter body with colors of red on its face, tail, wings, and chest—it even has a crown with a red tip.

If you study the Pyrrhuloxia, you will see that its coloration is not identical to the female Cardinal. Most notably, the Pyrrhuloxia has a gray coloration, whereas the female Cardinal has tan colors. More so, the female Cardinal has gray around the beak, whereas the Pyrrhuloxia has red.


2. Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermillion Flycatcher perched

Image Credit: Nelson Sirlin, Shutterstock

Most Similar To: Male
Distinguishing Feature: No crown; mainly black back; black beak

The Vermilion Flycatcher has a bright red plumage and face. This red color makes it similar to the male Cardinal. While the Cardinal has a mainly red body, the entire back and wing area of the Flycatcher is black, as is the beak. The Flycatcher lacks a crown as well.


3. California Towhee

California Towhee on the ground

Image Credit: PublicDomainImages, Pixabay

Most Similar To: Female
Distinguishing Feature: Grayer; no crown

The California Towhee is often mistaken for a female Cardinal. It has a similar body structure and has purplish tints on its wing and tail that can look like a Cardinal from a distance.

Upon closer inspection, there are some notable differences between these two birds. Most notably, the California Towhee is grayer and does not include orange or red tints. Its beak is gray, not orange like the female Cardinal. The California Towhee does not have a crown either.


4. Scarlet Tanager

male Scarlet Tanager

Image Credit: Agami Photo Agency, Shutterstock

Most Similar To: Male
Distinguishing Feature: Black wings; brown beak; no crown

The Scarlet Tanager has a mainly red chest and back. The shade of red is nearly identical to that on the male Cardinal. Because of this red color, many individuals think that it is a Cardinal.

There are some primary traits of the Scarlet Tanager that you can look for to distinguish it from the male Cardinal. Most notably, it lacks a crown, and it has a brown or gray beak instead of an orange one. The wings on the Tanager are mainly black, and its face lacks any black patterns.


5. Summer Tanager

summer tanager perched on a branch

Image Credit: engalapag, Pixabay

Most Similar To: Male
Distinguishing Feature: No black colorations; no crown

The Summer Tanager is almost entirely bright red. This bright red coloration makes it super easy to misidentify it as a male Cardinal. Even so, it is easily distinguishable from the Cardinal because it does not include any black colorations, and it does not have a crown.


6. Flame-Colored Tanager

Flame-colored Tanager in Costa Rica

Image Credit: punkbirdr, Shutterstock

Most Similar To: Male
Distinguishing Feature: No crown; different colored beak; no black around the face

If you only know that Cardinals have red bodies, it’s easy to understand the confusion between a male Cardinal and a Flame-Colored Tanager. As its name suggests, the Flame-Colored Tanager has a primarily red body that is reminiscent of the Cardinal.

There are some notable differences between the Cardinal and the Flame-Colored Tanager. For starters, the Tanager does not have a crown, nor does it have the black colorations around the face area.


7. Hepatic Tanager

Beautiful Hepatic Tanager (Piranga flava), on the branch of a tree

Image Credit: Rodrigo S Coehlo, Shutterstock

Most Similar To: Male
Distinguishing Feature: No crown; different colored beak; no black around the face

The Hepatic Tanager looks similar to the Flame-Colored Tanager. As a result, the Hepatic Tanager looks like a Cardinal because it has an almost red coloration. That being said, the body of the Hepatic Tanager has a slightly more orange color than a deep red color. The Hepatic Tanager also lacks an orange bill and black around the beak. It does not have a crown either.


8. Purple Finch

purple finch perched on a branch

Image Credit: muskrat55, Pixabay

Most Similar To: Male
Distinguishing Feature: White and tan tail; lighter shades of red

The Purple Finch is just as breathtaking as the male Cardinal. It has a bright red face, which makes it easy to confuse with a male Cardinal to beginning birdwatchers.

Even so, the shades of red on the Purple Finch are different from that of the male Cardinal. The Purple Finch has more shades of orange and pink. Additionally, its tail has colors of white and gray. Overall, the Purple Finch is much lighter in coloration than the male Cardinal.


9. House Finch

House finch perching

Image Credit: Jeff Caverly, Shutterstock

Most Similar To: Female
Distinguishing Feature: No crown; brown beak; more black/brown patterning

The House Finch is one of the most commonly misidentified birds. It is frequently misidentified as the female Cardinal because it has a red head with red on its chest. However, there are some notable differences between the House Finch and a female Cardinal.

The House Finch does not have a crown, and its beak is brown instead of orange. On the body, the House Finch has more black and darker brown patterns that almost look like stripes.


10. Red-Billed Firefinch

Male Red-billed Firefinch

Image Credit: Dave Montreuil, Shutterstock

Most Similar To: Male
Distinguishing Feature: Purplish-tint; no crown; brown wings

The Red-Billed Firefinch is named because of its distinctive red color. If you’re looking for red color and assume that the red bird is a Cardinal, it makes sense to mistake the Red-Billed Firefinch as a male Cardinal.

The coloration of the Red-Billed Firefinch is different from the male Cardinal, though. Whereas the male Cardinal has a bright red color, the Red-Billed Firefinch has a more purple hue. Its wings are also brown, and it lacks a crown.


11. Tufted Titmouse

tufted titmouse during winter

Image Credit: MikeGoad, Pixabay

Most Similar To: Female
Distinguishing Feature: Mainly gray; black beak

The Tufted Titmouse is sometimes confused for the female Cardinal because it has a similar body, crown, and some light orange colors underneath the wing.

You can distinguish the Tufted Titmouse from a female Cardinal by looking at the coloration. The Titmouse is primarily gray, whereas the female Cardinal has striking shades of red and orange on its crown, beat, wings, and tail. The Tufted Titmouse’s beak is black.


12. Rose Finch

rose finch perched

Image Credit: tahirsphotography, Shutterstock

Most Similar To: Male
Distinguishing Feature: Brown beak; lighter

The Rose Finch is one of the most unique-looking birds. It has a bright coloration and a red face, which explains why it is frequently misidentified as a male Cardinal. The color of the Rose Finch is very different from the male Cardinal, though.

While Cardinals have a strikingly red appearance, the Rose Finch has shades of red, pink, orange, and purple, as well as tan. These colors create an appearance of subdued pink. If you still aren’t sure what bird you are looking at, take a look at the beak—male Cardinals have an orange beak, whereas the Rose Finch has a brown one.


13. Cedar Waxwing

cedar waxwing perched

Image Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

Most Similar To: Male
Distinguishing Feature: Different colorations

The Cedar Waxwing has a similar body type to the male Cardinal. It has a notable crown and a black face. Aside from the similar body type, there is very little in common between the Cedar Waxwing and a male Cardinal. 

The coloration of the Cedar Waxwing is completely different from that of the Cardinal. It has different shades of black, gray, yellow, and orange. Its crown has some orange tints, which is similar to the Cardinal, but Cedar Waxwings do not have the distinctive red color of the Cardinal.


14. Red Crossbill

red crossbill on the ground

Image Credit: barbabs, Pixabay

Most Similar To: Male
Distinguishing Feature: Orange color; no crown

Despite its name, the Red Crossbill has a primarily orange color. Although there certainly are shades of red on this bird, it is mainly orange with some shades of red, brown, and black. Even so, some people misidentify this bird because of its bright color.

Of course, you can distinguish the Red Crossbill from the Cardinal because of its orange coloration. You can also look for a crown—Red Crossbills do not have a crown.


15. Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

Image Credit: simardfrancois, Pixabay

Most Similar To: Male
Distinguishing Feature: No crown; muted red; dark wings and tail

The Pine Grosbeak has a primarily red body and a similarly shaped body to the male Cardinal. Its distinctive red body makes it easy to confuse as the male Cardinal.

You can distinguish the Pine Grosbeak from the male Cardinal by noting that the Grosbeak has no crown. Additionally, the wings and tail of the Grosbeak have more of a gray or black coloration, whereas the male Cardinal still has red on the extremities.


16. Phainopepla

Phainopepla in Nevada

Image Credit: Abe Curland, Shutterstock

Most Similar To: Male
Distinguishing Feature: Black coloration

Finally, the last bird on our list is the Phainopepla. Up close, it is easy to know that this bird is not a male Cardinal. However, bad lighting may cause individuals to misidentify this bird as a male. The reason for this is that the Phainopepla’s body shape is almost identical to the male Cardinal, crown and all.

If the bird is seen in good lighting, it’s easy to see that the Phainopepla is not a male Cardinal. Its body is entirely black and only the eyes are red.

Related Read: 14 Birds That Look Like Robins (With Pictures)

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are a lot of birds that look similar to Cardinals. However, you should be able to distinguish the bird from a Cardinal if you carefully consider its colors, features, and body.


Featured Image Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.

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