It’s a Cardinal Thing

OK, it’s official.  I need three more hands, five more hours in a day and a couple of more days in the week.  But I’m not complaining – just making an observation.  Oh, and winning the lottery jackpot would be nice too!

Banding is underway again for the fall season, though migrants haven’t really begun to show up in numbers yet.  A swainson’s thrush is probably the first real migrant we’ve seen this week, but there’s no shortage of local babies – especially gray catbirds and cardinals.

Young cardinals are real cuties, though it can be a little difficult sometimes to determine whether they are males or females.  At other times, the difficulties are minimal.  Males, of course, sport the brighter colors.  On hatching year birds both male and female, the reddish orange beak of the adults is dark or pale.  The bill is turning color, with only the top part of the upper bill retaining some of the dark, dusky coloration.  Notice the difference in plumage in the first photo, and the one below. 

Given the amount of red plumage on this bird, it’s a young male.  In this photo, you can get a better look at the gradual color change in the very formidable bill.

Usually, the cardinals we capture have either the very dusky brown bills of the juveniles, or the bills are in various stages of turning from dusky to orange.  The bird in the last photo has an unusually (for us) pale bill.  The dusky juvenile coloring is fading, but the orange coloring of the adults isn’t really visible yet.  Instead, she looks a little odd with a very lightly colored bill.  It’s just a cardinal thing.


















4 Responses to “It’s a Cardinal Thing”

  1. KGMom Says:

    Oh they are so cute–all punk looking with their juvenile feathers. They probably fluff them that way just to annoy the crap out of the seniors.
    Great up close and personal photos.

  2. Lynne at Hasty Brook Says:

    The idea of one of those bills pinching down on my finger makes my eyes water! I’m so glad you’re posting here. Your site is probably one of the best learning tools I know of. Is there still yellow baby gape in the corners of the top bird or is that color to be expected? How do you tell molting feathers from just maturing young birds with adult feathers growing in?

  3. obi4240 Says:

    Yeah, the little guys are always fluffier. Hahaha, punk is a good word to describe juvie cardinals, too!

    Lynne, cardinals and grosbeaks are the worst biters. They leave cute little V marks in your skin. Many eyes have watered handling cardinals! And yes, there is still yellow baby gape there.

    Distinguishing molting/juvenile/adult feathers takes practice and can get complicated. One needs to know the molt sequences of different birds. Tme of year, wing feather shading, species, and other factors are all considered. Banders have a reference book to help with all of that. New feathers coming in are fairly easy, as they are sheathed in what looks like a miniature straw until the feather growth is almost complete. In young birds, there is usually contrasting shading on their wing coverts that helps determine age.

  4. Larry Says:

    Maybe they should come out ith a new sci-fi movie “The attack of the giant cardinals!” -I’m always envious of banders when I see what great photos you get.-I imagine you must be so used to seeing birds up close that it doesn’t phase you much.

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