18 Gorgeous Birds Like Northern Cardinals (Pictures Included)


The Northern cardinal is a classic North American bird. Its scarlet feathers and large crest are beautiful sights and so are their songs.

Want to know if there are other birds with the same traits? Read on for our list of 17 birds similar to cardinals.

1. Phainopepla

Scientific name: Phainopepla nitens

Phainopeplas have a crest of feathers on their heads that is similar to that of a northern cardinal. These crests raise up or lie flat depending on the bird’s mood.

Phainopeplas may not have the same red feathers as a northern cardinal, but they still stand out in a crowd. They have sleek, shiny black feathers and ruby red eyes.

2. Pyrrhuloxia

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Scientific name: Cardinalis sinuatus

A pyrrhuloxia looks like a northern cardinal that has had patches of red fade away. Most of its body is gray, but it still has vibrant red feathers on its face, chest, crest, and tail. It also has red on the tips of its wings.

Both birds belong to the Cardinalidae family and have short, stout beaks and a large crest of feathers. Their territories sometimes overlap, but there’s no evidence that they fight each other for space.

3. California Towhee

Scientific name: Melozone crissalis

California towhees don’t have bright feathers, but neither do female northern cardinals. The main difference is some spots of red feathers and a red beak on a female cardinal.

Otherwise, the two could be mistaken for each other at first glance.

But that’s if they were in the same territory. Cardinals live in a large portion of the eastern United States.

The California towhee, on the other hand, only lives in a small area on the West Coast. There, they build nests among poison oak leaves and even eat its berries.

4. Blackpoll Warbler

Scientific name: Setophaga striata

Like northern cardinals, there’s a distinct difference in color between male and female blackpoll warblers. The females of both species are much duller, lacking most of the distinct colors of their male partners.

The females also build cup nests in the same way. They use their bodies to mold the cup, pushing the twigs and leaves into the shape they want.

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5. Vermilion Flycatcher

Scientific name: Pyrocephalus rubinus

This species of flycatcher has feathers as bright red as a northern cardinal. Vermilion flycatchers also have a crest of feathers that indicates their mood, albeit a smaller crest than a cardinal.

When courting, a male vermilion flycatcher brings gifts for the females they want to attract. These include butterflies or other colorful insects.

6. Summer Tanager

Scientific name: Piranga rubra

The tanager is actually a member of the Cardinalidae family, just like the northern cardinal.

Even though the northern cardinal is famous for its red feathers, the summer tanager has its beat. These tanagers are the only birds in North America that are completely red.

That applies only to males, though. The female summer tanager is actually a strong, mustard-like yellow.

7. Scarlet Tanager

Scientific name: Piranga olivacea

Another cardinal, the scarlet tanager is also red, but it has areas of black like a northern cardinal. Their wings and tail are completely black while the rest of their bodies are solid red.

Scarlet Tanagers are often prey to cowbirds, a species of brood parasite. They will chase any female cowbirds they see out of their territory. But if a female cowbird can reach a nest, it removes one of the tanager’s eggs.

Then, it lays one of its own, and the scarlet tanager can’t tell the difference. Even after the egg hatches, the tanager will raise the cowbird young as its own.

8. Hepatic Tanager

Scientific name: Piranga flava

Though the cardinal’s song is a little slower, it has the same high-pitched, cheery tone as the hepatic tanager’s song. 

9. Cedar Waxwing

Scientific name: Bombycilla cedrorum

Although their coloring is different, cedar waxwings and northern cardinals have similar body types and feather patterns. A cedar waxwing, rather than red, is buff and gray with yellow, red, and white accents.

Most importantly, they have a black mask across their face just like a cardinal. In addition, waxwings also have a slight crest on top of their heads.

10. Oak Titmouse

Scientific name: Baeolophus inornatus

The oak titmouse is almost completely gray, but it does have a crest to match a northern cardinal. It’s Latin name, inornatus, actually means “plain.”

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It may not stand out, but the oak titmouse still has impressive qualities. It can make 40 attempts at catching food, like insects, every 15 minutes. They also mate for life, which is somewhat uncommon in birds.

11. Tufted Titmouse

Scientific name: Baeolophus bicolor

More dapper than the oak titmouse, this species has a white underbelly with a hint of gold under the wings. They also have a similar crest to the oak titmouse and northern cardinal.

Tufted titmice will also sometimes forage with northern cardinal flocks.

12. Red Crossbill

Scientific name: Loxia curvirostra

Red crossbills and northern cardinals have significant differences between males and females. The males of both species have red feathers, while the females are drabber. They have yellowish-gray feathers instead of red. 

Both male and female crossbills have beaks that overlap each other to one side, hence their name. This helps open cones that other finches can’t access.

13. Pine Grosbeak

Scientific name: Pinicola enucleator

Female pine grosbeaks and northern cardinals have similar appearances. Neither are red like their male counterparts, but are dusty brown tinged with yellow instead.

They also raise their young on similar diets. Both species eat mainly fruit and seeds as adults. But they tend to feed their nestlings insects that are high in protein.

14. Purple Finch

Scientific name: Haemorhous purpureus

Two very colorful birds, the northern cardinal and purple finch live in the same geographic area. Both are year-round inhabitants of the northeastern United States. They also fly throughout the Midwest to the East Coast.

Both birds also love black oil sunflower seeds, so it’s easy to attract them to backyard feeders.

15. Steller’s Jay

Scientific name: Cyanocitta stelleri

In many songbird species in North America, only the male birds actually sing. However, northern cardinals and Steller’s jays are some of the few species in which both males and females have songs.

The two also have a large number of songs for various situations. The cardinal, for example, has at least 16 different songs.

In addition, jays can mimic other bird songs, increasing their repertoire. Sometimes, they’ll imitate predators to warn their flocks or scare away competing birds for food.

16. Red-Crested Cardinal

Scientific name: Paroaria coronata

A sort of tropical version of the northern cardinal, this bird is now common in Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Most of its body is black and white, but it still has the signature cardinal red on its large crest.

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The northern and red-crested cardinals nest in somewhat open areas that have a lot of shrubs. When it comes time to lay their eggs, it takes between 11 and 13 days to incubate.

17. Blue Jay

Scientific name: Cyanocitta cristata

Their actual colors may be different, but the blue jay and northern cardinal have the same level of color intensity. Blue jays have a striking blue, black, and white pattern, and share the same kind of crest as a cardinal.

These birds are also frequent visitors to backyard bird feeders. In fact, you can get blue jays and cardinals together with the right mix of food. Sunflowers are always a great choice, as well as peanuts.

18. American Robin

Scientific name: Turdus migratorius

The American robin is as iconic in the United States as the northern cardinal. In fact, both of them are popular symbols of different seasons.

Cardinals represent winter and appear on many Christmas cards, while robins herald the coming of spring.

Their seasonal associations actually don’t have much to do with their presence during these times. Cardinals aren’t around more in the winter; their feathers are just easier to see against the snow.

In contrast, robins don’t disappear in the winter. They just move to the treetops where it’s harder to spot them.

As the ground gets warmer, they go back down to look for worms. This makes it seem that they’ve “returned” for the spring, when they never really left.

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James Goodman

James is a native Texan with a love for birding and outdoor adventures. When he's not birdwatching, you can find him hiking, camping or playing the piano.

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