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Blue Cardinal: Is This Bird Real? We Perch On The Details.

Last Updated on: June 8, 2024

Cardinals are common backyard birds that birdwatchers enjoy because of their iconic red plumage.

However…

You may have heard rumors and discussions about cardinals appearing blue. You might be wondering, “Are there blue cardinals?”

We’re sorry to disappoint you, but the elusive blue-colored cardinal doesn’t exist based on scientific research!

This myth may be referring to a similar-looking bird, so we made a helpful guide that will help you distinguish Cardinals from non-Cardinals. 

Read on!

Defining Characteristics Of A Cardinal

Scientifically speaking, the term “cardinal” refers to the Cardinalidae family, which includes various species, including tanagers, grosbeaks, and buntings. However, the cardinals that most people know are from the Cardinalis genus (under the Cardinalidae family), which includes the Northern Cardinal, Desert Cardinal, and Vermilion Cardinal. Meanwhile, there’s a species outside the Cardinalis genus that’s called a cardinal as well, which is the Red Crested Cardinal – a tanager.

Scientific terminology aside, these four cardinals have something in common – they are small songbirds with a spiky red crest. However, you may not see the red color in female species, as they tend to be duller than males. Nevertheless, the male cardinal of these four species shares that spiky red crest, even if their body shape and feathers differ. If the blue bird you saw doesn’t have that, then it’s not a cardinal.

With that out of the way, let’s check out some common species that you may mistake for a blue cardinal bird.

Non-Cardinals That Look Like A Blue-Colored Cardinal

1. Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak

Male Blue Grosbeaks have bright blue bodies with brown-tinted wings. At the same time, the females are primarily cinnamon-colored with a blue-tinted tail. They can be found in the central USA, all the way down throughout South America.

Compared to the other species below, the Blue Grosbeak is most often confused with a blue bird that looks like a cardinal. We don’t blame you though since they share a lot of qualities! 

Blue Grosbeaks are mostly the cause of the blue cardinal myth.

Similarities to cardinals:

  • Belongs to the Cardinalidae family
  • Consumes insects and seeds
  • Has a dark mask around the face
  • Has a long tail
  • Has a thick bill
  • Sexual dimorphism (males and females look different)
  • Found in thickets

2. Blue Jay

Blue Jay
Blue Jay

From the Corvidae family, Blue Jays are known for their striking blue, white, and black patterns. 

However, beneath that beauty is a loud, aggressive, and intelligent bird.

Blue Jays are common and can be found throughout the eastern half of the USA and the southeastern regions of Canada. Although mistaking jays for cardinals is quite a stretch, they still share certain qualities that may cause confusion.

Similarities to cardinals:

  • Has a spiky crest
  • Has a long tail
  • Has a dark mask around the face
  • Consumes fruits and seeds
  • Found in suburbs and farmlands

3. Stellers Jay

Stellers Jay
Stellers Jay

The final bird on this list is the Stellers Jay, another member of the Corvidae family. Its head is entirely black, while its body is blue with some hints of black. Certain morphs of this species have some gray between the blue and black plumages.

Stellers Jays are native to western North America and the mountains of the central USA. Some are even found in certain places throughout Mexico.

Like with Blue Jays, mistaking Stellers Jays for cardinals is unlikely, but it can still happen.

Similarities to cardinals:

  • Has a spiky crest
  • Has a long tail
  • Has a chunky body shape
  • Consumes fruits and seeds

Other Reasons Why The Blue Cardinal Myth Exists

Lighting And Environment

If you actually see a species of blue cardinals, your eyes are most probably fooling you.

The lighting, angle, and environment where the cardinal is spotted may affect how we see its colors – you know, color theory and stuff. For example, female cardinal species have some gray or dark brown in their bodies. It’s possible to see one with blue feathers, but it’s only because of how it’s positioned at that moment.

To give you an idea, look at this female Desert Cardinal below:

Female Desert Cardinal
Female Desert Cardinal

People Get Too Excited

As fun as birding gets, it can be confusing at times. Some bird species look so similar that you have to study the tiniest details to tell them apart. Because of this confusion, there’s still a lot of discourse from people claiming that they saw a blue-colored cardinal.

These conversations can thrill people, as a blue-colored cardinal is quite the sighting. Some people also like to imagine themselves making a scientific discovery, to an extent where they actually believe that this elusive bird is out there.

If you’re one of those people, we’re sorry to burst your bubble, but you’re not finding one anytime soon.

Considering how evolution works and the present appearance of cardinals, it would take either a very long time or a major world event for them to suddenly develop blue feathers.


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Frequently Asked Questions

Are there different colored cardinals?

If we’re talking about the Cardinalidae family, you can see various colors from each bird. They are particularly beloved by birdwatchers due to their bright yellow, red, and blue plumages, especially for the male species.

A white cardinal is a result of Leucism, which is a condition that results in a lack of pigmentation in animals; hence, the color white. Meanwhile, a yellow cardinal results from a genetic condition called Xanthrochromism, where an animal has an unusual yellow color due to a lack of red pigmentation. 

Recently, avian experts even said that there’s less than one-in-a-million chance to spot a yellow cardinal! It’s pretty exciting to see one for yourself, isn’t it?

Are Blue Jays and cardinals the same?

If we look at it scientifically, cardinals and jays are far from being related. Cardinals are in the Cardinalidae family, including tanagers, grosbeaks, and buntings. Meanwhile, jays are in the Corvidae family, which is related to crows, ravens, and magpies. Therefore, Blue Jays and cardinals are not the same at all.

In fact, Blue Grosbeaks are more closely related to cardinals.

What else could a blue-colored cardinal be referring to?

Do blue cardinals exist? They actually do, but in ways that you’re not expecting. These might be where you’re hearing blue cardinals from, hence the confusion.

In eastern and central North America, there’s an herbaceous plant called Great Blue Lobelia, also known as Blue Cardinals Flower. As the name suggests, it has a blue flower color. It was also selected as the 1993 North Carolina Wildflower of the Year. You can look at the flower down below:

Blue Cardinals Flower
Blue Cardinals Flower

Meanwhile, there’s also a real estate private equity firm called Blue Cardinal Capital, based in Buffalo, New York.


Conclusion

Many bird enthusiasts claim they saw a blue-colored cardinal, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re trying to fool you. It’s easy to confuse bird species with each other since many of them have similarities in appearance or behavior, especially at a distance. As we enjoy the presence of birds, we should also remember to avoid sharing rumors that can get people riled up over nothing.

So, when a fellow birdwatcher asks, “Are there blue cardinals?“, you already know how to bust that myth!

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