Like a drop of blood in the bright white snow, seeing a cardinal with its bright scarlet shade going about its day in winter is certainly a sight to see.
You might have wondered Are Cardinals Redder In Winter?
But to understand that we first have to know about molting!
Molting is a process by which birds shed their old feathers to make way for the new ones to come into their full glory.
To ensure that the bird’s plumage is kept in perfect condition, birds molt at least once a year, though the number need not be limited.
Just like many other birds, cardinals undergo the molting process as well.
The time period of this process is during late summer or early when the breeding season has been completed and food is available in abundance.
Many people note the bald and patchy appearance of the otherwise fresh and fit-looking birds, but this is also just a result of molting.
They use huge patches of feathers for the coming renewal; thus, the underlying skin shows up.
Sometimes they might even lose all of their feathers all at once, which makes them look quite different from their usual chipper selves!
Are They At Their Peak Once The Molting Is Done?
You would think so, right? After all, it is a complete renovation of all of its outer feathers, which are replaced for a healthier and fuller plumage.
But no, the best is yet to come! When you observe the cardinal after the molting process is done, you will see that their feathers, though brightly colored, still have a few streaks of gray and brown near the tip.
But this only means that there’s room for prettier and fuller shades to shine through!
The true glory of a cardinal, its brightest, most brilliant moments come through during the middle of winter, as earlier preparation for the spring.
As the winter progresses from its start, and the cold slowly but surely settles in, the duller, grayer feathers slowly drop and drift away to reveal the blood-red beauty of cardinals.
And that contrasted white and red is a true visual treat, a sight you must see.
And we are not the only beings that say so, the ladies agree!
This brighter plumage has been observed to allow the male to attract more female mates – not only at a higher rate but also from healthier habitats.
How Do Cardinals Get Their Red Color?
A fun fact, not only does the passage of time during winter determine the vibrancy of the end color, but so does the diet of the bird!
Cardinals get their wonderful red shade from carotenoids present naturally in a variety of the foods they eat, from berries to insects.
The more food they have available to them that is rich in these pigments, the brighter and lovelier they will be.
So if you’re seeing some bareheaded cardinals making their way around, make sure to leave some berries out for them, you will get your thanks in the form of their brilliant color.
Do Cardinals Change Their Color?
Northern Cardinals are renowned for their change in coloration throughout their life, to a point where you could probably determine the age of a cardinal simply by looking at their most predominant colorings.
Cardinal hatchlings look pretty much like any average baby bird who has just cracked into the world, with pink skin and grayish scaling.
Baby and juvenile cardinals sport a tan color for most of their life, molting gradually. Their beaks begin as black but slowly morph and change into the most vibrant coral red shade.
Eventually, the juvenile’s tan and gray tones leave, to be replaced by soft browns and light red splotches scattered throughout their exterior.
The signature red feathers of adult male cardinals start showing slowly the more they go, with brighter feathers growing into their head and torso regions.
Eventually, they grew into their final form, with the characteristic red feathers, and a bright orange beak surrounded by a black mask.
The females, on the other hand, stay a soft brown color mainly, with light red twinges and streaks throughout their bodies.
They have a bright orange beak as well, with a similar black mask surrounding it.
Both male and female adult cardinals molt annually like many other birds, and during this, they look like their old growing sleeves – less regal and vibrant – before they grow back their plumage!
Are Male Cardinals Red All Year Long?
Yes, but with the exception of the period when they go through the molting process.
Otherwise though, once they have passed over the juvenile phase of gray and brown feathers slowly developing, the males get their signature red feathers, with a bright orange beak that is surrounded by a black mask.
When they molt, they look less regal, with their patchy skin and grayer tones, though this phase is essential for what makes them such beauties in the first place!
We hope you had a fun and engaging time understanding and going through the world of cardinals, and looking at the behind-the-scenes of their physical brilliance. Moreover, we hope you learned something new today!
Thank you for reading!
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