Northern Cardinal

11 Birds That Look Like Cardinals (A Complete Guide!)

Cardinals are among the most widespread backyard birds in North America. They are easily recognized by their bright red plumage, but did you know that there are other birds that look like cardinals?

In this complete guide, we will show you 11 birds that look like cardinals, with photos and identification tips. You will also learn about their habitat, diet, songs and calls.

Birds That Look Like Cardinals

Female Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal Female
Image by Jack Bulmer from Pixabay

Identifying the female cardinal is a simple task that can be done by looking at her coloring. Female cardinals are light brown with an orange beak and reddish hue in the crest, wings, and tail.

They also have lighter underbellies than males do. The female’s coloring helps it blend into the tree branches better than the males’ do. The females are not as conspicuous as their male counterparts, which make them difficult to identify at first glance.


Vermilion Cardinal

The Vermilion Cardinal is a bird that is found exclusively in Venezuela and Columbia. Vermilion Cardinals are similar to male cardinals, but the difference between the two is the black mask around its eyes and the beak color.

This bird species was discovered by Pierre Sonnerat in 1783 during his journey to Manila. They can be found near wetlands, marshes and even lakes, usually seen foraging together with other birds.

  • Length: 4.7-9.8 in. (11.9-24.9 cm)
  • Weight: 0.8-1.5 oz.
  • Wingspan: 9-11 in. (22.9-27.9 cm)
  • Maps: Range Map
  • Sounds: Calls and Songs

Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager
Image by Ronald Plett from Pixabay

The Summer Tanager is a bright red bird that resembles the Northern Cardinal. They have long tails and long, pointed beaks with black tips. The adult male is strikingly bright and can easily be mistaken for a cardinal, except it has a darker red plumage. They are insectivores who live on the edges of open forests, deciduous trees, or woodlands where they feed on insects during summer months. ​​​​​​​ 

It is no surprise that many people confuse the two birds, as they look very much alike; however, there are differences between them that can be easily spotted with some careful observation.​​​​​​​

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager
Image by TheBirdBird from Pixabay

If you’re a bird watcher, you might find it difficult to distinguish between the Scarlet Tanager and the Northern Cardinal. The Scarlet Tanagers are an orange-red color with black wings, in contrast to Cardinals who are just bright red birds. 

Scarlet Tanagers are the national bird of Trinidad and Tobago. They also reside in parts of North America, South America, and Central America. Scarlet Tanagers live mostly on forest edges, where they feed on insects and berries. 

Related: How to Attract Scarlet Tanagers to your Yard?

Flame-colored Tanager

Flame-colored Tanager
Photo by Danilo Alvesd on Unsplash

The Flame-colored Tanager is a species of bird in the Cardinalidae family. It is found only in Texas and Arizona, though its range may be expanding. The Flame-colored Tanager has an orange color on its head that ranges from deep red to pale yellow.

They have brownish cheeks, black bill, eat fruit and insects, live in coniferous, oak and pine-oak forests in mountains seen mainly in Mexico (occasionally), Texas and Arizona (mostly).

  • Length: 6.7-7.3 in (17-18 cm)
  • Weight: 33 g (1.2 oz)
  • Wingspan: 12-12.5″ in. (30.5-31.8 cm)
  • Maps: Range Map
  • Sounds: Calls and Songs

Hepatic Tanager

Hepatic Tanager
Image by TheBirdBird from Pixabay

The Hepatic Tanager is another bird that looks like the Cardinal males are red overall, with a grayish red back and a small gray patch on the cheek. These birds are mainly found in the Southwestern United States, but can also be seen as far north as central Arizona.

Their habitat includes scrub oak forests, cactus-covered deserts, oak savannas, juniper woodlands and dry pine forests from sea level to about 5500 feet elevation. They eat insects, fruits and berries for food​​​​​​​. The male usually sings from an exposed perch, such as a tree branch or wires in tall grasses near water sources​​​​​​​.


Image by TheBirdBird from Pixabay

The Pyrrhuloxia is a beautiful songbird with striking red plumage that closely resembles the cardinal. The North American bird can be found in the southwest and northern Mexico, but is also widespread across other parts of North America including Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida.

The Pyrrhuloxia lives in various habitats such as scrub land or grasslands with scattered trees to wooded forests with tall trees. They are mainly seen alone or in pairs during migration season. The Pyrrhuloxia typically eats insects, seeds, fruit and berries; however, it also occasionally feeds on lizards or small rodents to supplement its diet.

Red Crossbill

The Red Crossbill is a bird with similarities to the cardinal, Adult males are red overall with darker brownish-red wings, eats seeds from weeds and grasses, and insects,. This small bird is often mistaken for the Northern Cardinal because of its colors. They are usually found in Northeastern United States during summer months.

Crossbills have similar features as cardinals such as a short tail, short, very thick bill that curves downward, medium length wings which appear slender in flight. This bird can be found in coniferous forests or mixed forest areas throughout North America. It lives at higher elevations than most other birds in this area of the world.​​​​​​​

Common Rosefinch

Rose Finch
Image by GeorgeB2 from Pixabay

The Rose Finch is a stunning bird of early spring, often mistaken for the Cardinal. Males have a rosy red face and upper breast, with brown streaks on the back, belly, and tail. It has widespread habitat in Europe and Asia; its natural habitats are thickets or woodlands, as well as edges of forests near rivers.

They eat mainly seeds. The Rose Finch is a striking bird that frequents woodland areas in Europe and Asia during the months of March to May every year.​​​​​​​

  • Length: 5.4-5.9 in. (13.7–15 cm)
  • Weight: 0.74-0.92 oz. (21–26 g)
  • Wingspan: 8.5-9.0″ in. (21.6-22.9 cm)
  • Maps: Range Map
  • Sounds: Calls and Songs

Red-billed Firefinch

Image by Del Green from Pixabay

The Red-Billed Firefinch is a small passerine bird in the finch family, that can be found in sub-Saharan Africa. The Red-Billed Firefinch is an attractive looking species which resembles the Northern Cardinal. They are primarily identified by their brilliant red color with a tinge of orange plumage, apart from brown wings.

The bill is pink, and it has a yellow eye-ring. They are most commonly found in brushwood and in woodland areas. They feed mainly on seeds and insects, which they find by probing in grasses or low vegetation. Red-Billed Firefinches usually live together in small groups, or even solitary during breeding season.

  • Length: 3.5-4.0″ in. (9-10 cm)
  • Weight: 0.25-0.42 oz. (7-12 g)
  • Wingspan: 4.9-5.5″ in. (12.5-14 cm)
  • Maps: Range Map
  • Sounds: Calls and Songs

Vermilion Flycatcher

Image by Ely Penner from Pixabay

The Vermilion Flycatcher is a small bird seen throughout South America and Southern North America. Males have red crowns, chests, and underparts with brownish wings and tails. They are often confused with the cardinal from far away because of their similar coloring.

However, they can be distinguished by their call (the vermilion flycatcher’s call sounds like “wheet wheet”). Their habitat is Riparian habitats and semi-open environments, which offer them plenty of insects to feed​​​​​​​.