Are There Blue Cardinals?

Birdwatching, whether it’s being done out in the forest with only the trees to keep you company or from the comfort of your porch where you can see all the bird feeders you’ve filled, is a relaxing and rewarding hobby.

In the beginning, you’re sure to see the usual common birds for your area, maybe chickadees or starlings, but almost all bird watchers dream of the day they get to lay eyes on something more colorful and elusive.

Illustration of a blue Cardinal.

Cardinals are relatively common across North America and add a lovely splash of the color red to any yard, but some bird enthusiasts insist that there are other colored Cardinals out and about, including the mythical blue Cardinal. Are there blue Cardinals?

No, there are no blue Cardinals, only blue-colored birds that look similar to Cardinals. Cardinals are primarily red, with females being more brown or gray and the Desert Cardinal being both brown and red.

While the male Northern Cardinal, which is very red, is the most commonly seen Cardinal, there is room for color variation that can lead to rumors of the existence of blue Cardinals. Let’s take a deeper look into the possibility of there being a mysterious blue Cardinal!

Are There Blue Cardinals?

Cardinals are known for one main thing: their bright, red color. In a world of brown, gray, and black birds, the strikingly red Cardinal is impossible to miss. With males that are brighter than females, it might seem like there are multiple colors of Cardinal, but if you look closer, even female Cardinals have hints of red on their wings and heads.

Male red Cardinal on branch, just behind male Blue Jay intentional unfocused, snow on branches.
Cardinal and Blue Jay

As long as people have been admiring this brightly-colored red bird, there have been rumors about Cardinals with different colors instead of their trademark red feathers, especially blue. There are three different types of true Cardinals: the Northern Cardinal, the Vermilion Cardinal, and the Pyrrhuloxia or Desert Cardinal. So, is it possible that any of these 3 Cardinals can have blue feathers?

No, there are no blue Cardinals. None of the three types of Cardinals are blue or have blue coloring, with both the Northern Cardinal and the Vermillion Cardinals being solid red and the Desert Cardinal being brown and red. Blue is not possible as a color mutation in Cardinals, but yellow and white Cardinals have both been seen.

Some bird watchers will insist that they’ve seen a blue Cardinal before, but in reality, this color is simply impossible in any of the 3 Cardinal species. Plenty of bird species come in lovely blue hues that share similarities with Cardinals, like their black masks and famous head crest, and can be mistaken for blue Cardinals.

Red male Cardinal bird and a brown female Cardinal bird with heart shaped leaf on branch between them.
red male Cardinal and brown female Cardinal

Another reason some people that observe Cardinals might insist they’ve seen a blue specimen is because of something called sexual dichromatism, which is when the males and females of a species look different. The male Cardinal will almost always be bright red, but the female Cardinal will be brown, gray, or somewhere in between, with red extremities.

If a female Cardinal leans more towards the color gray, she can be mistaken for a dusky blue in the right light.

What Is the Blue Bird That Looks Like A Cardinal?

With how fast birds fly away when they spot us humans and how difficult it is to get pictures of them, it’s easy to see why some people would mistake some blue birds for blue Cardinals. Let’s explore the four most likely culprits of Cardinal impersonation; the Blue Grosbeak, the Blue Jay, Steller’s Jay, and the Indigo Bunting.

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak bird perched on a wooden post with a green background.
Blue Grosbeak

Considered the most likely bird to be mistaken for a blue Cardinal is the Blue Grosbeak, and for good reason! Blue Grosbeaks are not only similar in size and appearance, they are actually from the same family of birds: Cardinalidae. But even being in the same family doesn’t make the Blue Grosbeak a genuine Cardinal.

The Blue Grosbeak is a deep blue with brown on the wings. Like Cardinals, the female Blue Grosbeak are duller in color than their male counterparts.

Blue Jays

Blue Jay bird perched on a tree stump with a light brown background.
Blue Jay

Blue Jays and Cardinals share a lot of the same habitat and range, and Blue Jays also have the same regal crests on their heads as red-crested Cardinals. These factors make it easy to see why the casual bird viewer might mistake the Blue Jay for a Cardinal.

While they look similar and are common backyard birds, Blue Jays and Cardinals don’t share similar personalities. The Blue Jay is extraordinarily aggressive compared to the mild-mannered Cardinal.

Steller’s Jay

Steller's Jay bird sitting on a tree stump.
Steller’s Jay

Even though Steller’s Jay is much bigger than the average Cardinal, their body shape and the head crest are similar enough that some people may confuse them. Steller’s Jay has a beautiful dark blue coloration with a black head, and while their color is much different, Steller’s Jay and Cardinals share an almost identical silhouette.

Indigo Bunting

Blue shaded Indigo Bunting bird standing on rocks with a green background.
Indigo Bunting

The Indigo Bunting is another member of the family Cardinalidae, but like the Grosbeak, it isn’t a true Cardinal. They are a bit smaller than Cardinals, but with a similar body shape and shared range, some birdwatchers might mistake this little bunting for a blue Cardinal. Like Cardinals, they enjoy a diet including insects and seeds.

Are There Different Colors of Cardinals?

Cardinals, for the most part, are red, with females being gray or brown and the Desert Cardinal being red and brown (both male and females). In rare cases, white and yellow Cardinals have been seen by birdwatchers.

Under normal circumstances, there aren’t different colors of Cardinals, just the usual red males, gray or brown and red females, and brown and red Desert Cardinals. Occasionally, though, a genetic mutation can change a Cardinal‘s colors to yellow or white.

White Cardinals, or partially white Cardinals, occur because of albinism or leucism. Albinism is genetic and prevents the production of melanin. Leucism is thought to be caused by an abnormality in the color deposits in the bird’s feathers and is either genetic or caused by environmental factors.

Rare yellow colored male Northern Cardinal - a genetic mutation.  Up high in pine tree with blue sky background.
yellow Cardinal

Yellow Cardinals occur due to xanthochroism, which is when yellow or orange replaces red in a bird’s coloration. Xanthochroism is thought to be caused because of diet, not genetics.

Final Thoughts: Are There Blue Cardinals?

Although there are no blue Cardinals, there are blue birds that can be mistaken for Cardinals. If you see a blue bird and aren’t sure what it is, take a look at the bird’s overall size and shape, as well as its behavior. Doing this can help narrow down which bird you’re looking at.

Cardinals are fairly easy to identify, but if you see a blue-hued bird on your bird feeder and are still unsure, review the descriptions of some of the other birds in this post to see if you can find your blue bird’s match.

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