Are Blue Cardinals Real? A Deep Dive Into This Mystery Bird

Author: Tammy Poppie
Updated:
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Are Blue Cardinals Real? A Deep Dive Into This Mystery Bird

Author: Tammy Poppie
Updated:
blue cardinals article hero image

This post contains affiliate links, and we will be compensated if you buy after clicking on our links.

Have you ever seen a bright blue cardinal perched in your backyard? You may be shocked to know it wasn’t actually a cardinal at all. Instead, you stumbled across a species of bird similar to the cardinal, with an almost uncanny resemblance. But don’t worry – you’re not the only one! People commonly mistake other species of birds for the elusive blue cardinal.

You’ve likely heard stories of birdwatchers across America sighting a beautiful blue cardinal, but sadly these stories are nothing more than legends. The truth is that while there is no such bird as an actual blue cardinal, people often misidentify other species of birds due to their crest, size, and close appearance to the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). 

I’ve been birdwatching in my backyard for more than 25 years and never saw one of these mystery birds. Why? Because I’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of northern cardinals in my backyard and can easily tell them apart from blue-colored birds that look like them. And soon, you will too. 

In this article, I’ll explain why there are no true blue cardinals and how some other species of birds can be mistakenly identified as the infamous northern cardinal.

The Blue Cardinal Rumor – Do They Really Exist?

Let’s be clear.

No, blue cardinals do not exist. There is no scientific evidence to support the existence of a blue cardinal. The truth about this bird is not as exciting as you might think. It’s actually a case of mistaken identity. People who spotted this mystery bird were actually looking at a different species of bird that has similarities with the northern cardinal. 

Reasons for the Mistaken Identity

There are 4 primary reasons why another bird species is mistaken for this mythical azure bird.  They include any of the following or a combination of them:  

  1. The other species have a crown similar to the northern cardinal.
  2. The other species have a beak shape & size similar to the northern cardinal.
  3. The other species have a body shape & size similar to the northern cardinal.
  4. The other species are common backyard visitors like the northern cardinal

The Crown is Similar to the Cardinal

Cardinals have an unmistakable triangle-shaped crown that often stands tall on its head. The mistaken bird also has this distinct crown.

The beak is similar to the Cardinal

Northern cardinals have a thick, stubby, triangle-shaped beak which sets them apart from many other backyard visitors. The mistaken bird also has a similar beak shape and size, making it easy to confuse them with the northern cardinal.

The body shape & size is similar to the Cardinal

Northern cardinals have round, plump bodies with long tails. They also have short wings and thick necks. The other species of bird have a similar body shape and size, causing confusion.  

Common Backyard Visitors like the cardinal

Northern cardinals are common backyard visitors, and they are frequently seen perched on bird feeders or flying around in search of food. The other species of bird have similar habits, making it easy to confuse them with the northern cardinal.

When the bird in question has more than one similarity with the northern cardinal, the belief that it’s a blue cardinal becomes even stronger. 

4 Birds Most Commonly Mistaken For A Blue Cardinal

There are four species that are most commonly mistaken for the mythical blue bird. These include the blue jay, indigo bunting, blue grosbeak, and tufted titmouse. 

Blue Jays

Blue jay on snowy branch
Blue jay. Photo by Cathy Cardone.
normal red male cardinal
Northern cardinal (male)

The Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) is one of the most commonly mistaken birds for a blue version of the cardinal. The table below details their similarities and differences.

Blue Jay & Northern Cardinal Similarities & Differences

FeatureSimilaritiesDifferences
CrownBlue jays and cardinals both have a triangle-shaped crown that often stands tall on their heads.
Beak• Blue jays have a narrow, mid-length, pointy beak.
• Cardinals have a thick, stubby, triangle-shaped beak.
BodyBlue jays and cardinals both have round, plump, bodies, long tails, and short wings. Blue jays are bigger than cardinals, by about 1-3″. (Blue jays are 9-12″ long while cardinals are about 8 1/2″ ).
Also, blue jays have stockier bodies than cardinals.
Backyard VisitorBoth birds are common backyard visitors.
Blue Jay vs Cardinal Similarities & Differences

Blue Grosbeaks

Blue Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak. Photo by Donna Cooper.
normal red male cardinal
Northern cardinal (male)

The Blue grosbeak (Passerina caerulea), is another bird species that is often mistaken for a blue version of the cardinal. The table below details their similarities and differences.

Blue Grosbeak & Northern Cardinal Similarities & Differences

FeatureSimilaritiesDifferences
CrownBlue grosbeaks and cardinals both have a triangle-shaped crown that often stands tall on their heads.The blue grosbeak does not have a crown but the cardinal does.
BeakBlue grosbeaks and cardinals both have thick, stubby, triangle-shaped beaks. The blue grosbeak’s bill curves down slightly while the cardinal’s does not.
BodyBoth birds are about 8″ long.Cardinals have rounder, plumper bodies.
Backyard VisitorCardinals are common backyard visitors while blue grosbeaks are not very common.
Blue Grosbeak vs Cardinal Similarities & Differences

Indigo Buntings

attract indigo buntings article
Male indigo bunting. Photo by Tamarah Poppie.
normal red male cardinal
Northern cardinal (male)

The Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)is another bird that is often mistaken for a blue-look-a-like cardinal. The table below details their similarities and differences.

Indigo Bunting & Northern Cardinal Similarities & Differences

FeatureSimilaritiesDifferences
CrownIndigo buntings and cardinals both have a triangle-shaped crown that often stands tall on their heads.
BeakIndigo buntings have short, thin, pointy beaks while cardinals have thick, stubby, triangle-shaped beaks
BodyIndigo buntings and cardinals both have round and plump bodies. Also, the stance of both birds leans slightly forward.Indigo buntings are smaller than cardinals. Indigo buntings are about 5″ long and cardinals are about 8.5″ long.
Backyard VisitorCardinals are common backyard visitors while indigo buntings are not very common.
Indigo Bunting vs Cardinal Similarities & Differences

Tufted Titmice

A tufted titmouse seeks shelter from a dead tree cavity
A tufted titmouse seeks shelter from the cavity of a dead tree. Photo by Wayne Morgan.
normal red male cardinal
Northern cardinal (male)

The Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) is another bird species that is often mistaken for a blue northern cardinal.

The table below details their similarities and differences.

Tufted Titmouse & Northern Cardinal Similarities & Differences

FeatureSimilaritiesDifferences
CrownTufted titmice and cardinals both have a crown that often stands tall on their heads.Tufted titmice have smaller, thinner crowns. Cardinals have larger, thicker crowns.
BeakTufted titmice have thin, pointy beaks. Cardinals have thick, stubby, triangle-shaped beaks
BodyTufted titmice and cardinals both have round and plump bodies. Tufted titmice are smaller than cardinals – by about 2.5″. Tufted titmice are about 6″ long and cardinals are about 8.5″ long.
Tufted titmice have a straighter stance than the forward-leaning cardinal.
Backyard VisitorCardinals are common backyard visitors while tufted titmice are not very common.
Tufted Titmouse vs Cardinal Similarities & Differences

4 Birds Mistaken for a Blue Cardinal – But Less Often

Four birds that are less commonly mistaken for the cardinal’s blue twin include the pyrrhuloxia (or desert cardinal), Florida scrub jay, stellar’s jay, and red-crested cardinal.

Pyrrhuloxia (Desert Cardinal)

Pyrrhuloxias (Cardinalis sinuatus), also known as desert cardinals, are sometimes mistaken for the mysterious blue cardinal. I stress sometimes because frankly, the pyrrhuloxia isn’t even blue. It’s primarily a gray bird.

Male pyrrhuloxia
Male pyrrhuloxia. Photo by Kitsie Johnson.
normal red male cardinal
Northern cardinal (male)

My guess is some people see their gray plumage and think it’s blue. You might call this a case of double mistaken identity. Not only are pyrrhuloxia not northern cardinals, but they’re also not blue. Go figure.

Being members of the same cardinal bird family, pyrrhuloxias and cardinals are strikingly similar. The table below details their similarities and differences.

Pyrrhuloxia & Northern Cardinal Similarities & Differences

FeatureSimilaritiesDifferences
CrownPyrrhuloxia and cardinals both have a crown that often stands tall on their heads.Pyrrhuloxias have smaller, thinner crowns while cardinals have larger, thicker crowns.
BeakPyrrhuloxia and cardinals both have thick, stubby, triangle-shaped beaks.Pyrrhuloxias’ beak is slightly downturned.
BodyPyrrhuloxia and cardinals are both about 8″ long.
Both birds’ wings and tails are nearly identical.
Pyrrhuloxias have straighter stances than the forward-leaning cardinal.
Cardinals have rounder, plumper bodies while Pyrrhuloxias are a bit slimmer.
Backyard VisitorCardinals are common backyard visitors while pyrrhuloxias are not very common – especially since they inhabit a smaller range (Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mexico).
Pyrrhuloxia vs Cardinal Similarities & Differences

Florida Scrub Jay

florida scrub jay perched on a plant
Florida Scrub Jay. Photo by Save Our Florida Scrub Jays.
normal red male cardinal
Northern cardinal (male)

The Florida Scrub Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) is a blue bird sometimes mistaken for an azure cardinal. The Florida Scrub Jay’s body shape and stance are similar to the northern cardinal. However, that’s where the similarities end.

The table below details their similarities and differences.

Florida Scrub Jay & Northern Cardinal Similarities & Differences

FeatureSimilaritiesDifferences
CrownThe Cardinal has a crown but Florida scrub jays do not.
BeakCardinals have short, stubby, triangle-shaped beaks while Florida scrub jays have longer, and thinner beaks.
BodyFlorida scrub jays and cardinals both have plump, round bodies and a forward-leaning stance.
Florida scrub jays are about 2″ smaller than cardinals and have longer wings and a much longer tail.
Backyard VisitorCardinals are common backyard visitors while Florida scrub jays are not very common – likely because they prefer a scrub habitat.
Florida Scrub Jay vs Cardinal Similarities & Differences

Stellar’s Jay

Stellar's Jay
Stellar’s Jay. Photo by Barbara Ferraro.
normal red male cardinal
Northern cardinal (male)

Stellar’s Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) is another bird species that is periodically mistaken for a sapphire-colored cardinal. 

Also, northern cardinals and stellar’s jays live on opposite sides of the content (west vs east). 

The table below details their similarities and differences.

Stellar’s Jay & Northern Cardinal Similarities & Differences

FeatureSimilaritiesDifferences
CrownBoth the Stellar’s jay and cardinal have thick, tall crowns.
BeakCardinals have short, stubby, triangle-shaped beaks while Stellar’s jays have longer, and thinner beaks.
Body
Stellar’s jays’ have slender bodies and upright stances while cardinals have plump, round bodies with forward-leaning stances.
Stellar’s jays are larger than cardinals – by about 3.5″.
Backyard VisitorBoth the Stellar’s jay and cardinal are common backyard birds in their respective ranges (Stellar’s jay on the west coast and cardinals in the eastern part of the U.S.).Cardinals are common backyard visitors while Florida scrub jays are not very common – likely because they prefer a scrub habitat.
Stellar’s Jay vs Cardinal Similarities & Differences

Red-Crested Cardinal

red crested cardinal
Red-crested cardinal. Image by Vinson Tan ( 楊 祖 武 ) from Pixabay
normal red male cardinal
Northern cardinal (male)

Found in South America, the red-crested cardinal (Paroaria coronata) only has blue on its wings and upper back. Yet, it’s another bird species that is occasionally mistaken for a blue-colored cardinal. 

It may seem the red-crested cardinal is a type of cardinal based on its striking resemblance, but it’s not. Red-crested cardinals are in a completely different genus (bird family).

The red-crested cardinal is found in South America (along the northern coast and slightly inland), Hawaii and Puerto Rico while the northern cardinal lives in North America. 

The table below details their similarities and differences.

Red-Crested Cardinal & Northern Cardinal Similarities & Differences

FeatureSimilaritiesDifferences
CrownBoth the red-crested cardinal and the cardinal have thick, tall crowns.
BeakBoth the red-crested cardinal and the cardinal have short, stubby, triangle-shaped beaks but the red-crested cardinal’s beak is more like an obtuse triangle.
BodyRed-crested cardinals and northern cardinals both have plump, round bodies with forward-leaning stances – although the northern cardinal’s body is a bit plumper.

Red-crested cardinals are smaller than northern cardinals – by about 1″.
Backyard VisitorBoth the red-crested cardinal and northern cardinal are common backyard birds in their respective ranges (red-crested cardinals in South America, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. Northern cardinals in the eastern part of the U.S.).
Red-crested cardinal vs Cardinal Similarities & Differences

Blue Birds are not really blue at all

Did you know blue-colored birds are not actually blue at all?

They give the appearance of a blue color due to the lighting. This is because some birds have feathers that reflect light differently than others, giving them a blue hue.  c

Crazy, right? 

FAQ

Are there different colors of cardinals?

Yes, there are other colors of northern cardinals including yellow cardinals and white cardinals (or partially white cardinals). However, the white and yellow colors are not normal and very rare. 

Check out my in-depth articles about yellow cardinals or white cardinals.

Are blue jays and blue cardinals the same?

No. blue jays and blue cardinals are not the same. In fact, blue cardinals do not exist. Many people mistake the blue jay for a blue-colored cardinal because they both have a crest, and similar body shape and both birds are frequent backyard visitors.

Are female cardinals blue?

No. Female northern cardinals have buffy-brown feathers with tinges of red on the crest, wings, and tail. She has a charcoal mask around her face and her beak is bright orange,

Conclusion

Ultimately, there is no such thing as a true blue cardinal but rather a blue-colored bird with similarities to the northern cardinal. Many of these mysterious sightings can be traced back to other bird species. The most common of these blue-colored birds are the blue jay, indigo bunting, blue grosbeak, and tufted titmouse.

The myth of the blue cardinal has been debunked and it turns out they are simply a case of mistaken identity!  

Happy Birding!

More than 25 years ago, Tammy put her first bird feeder outside her kitchen window. Since then she learned how to attract wild birds to her backyard. Studying the meaning & symbolism of wild birds is also a passion of hers. Read more about Tammy

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