Our pet name for the male cardinal is Big Red because its striking red plumage looks especially grand against all backdrops, but the bird’s feathers look incredibly vibrant in the dead of winter.
A male cardinal’s beautiful red feathers are a welcome sight during a colorless winter’s day, and they look especially stunning against a backdrop of fresh snow against an evergreen tree.
The evergreen tree would be its runway if Big Red were a model.
Seeing a cardinal has different meanings for the people that love seeing them. Cardinals provide encouragement, and others believe seeing one is a sign of good luck. But for us, seeing these birds immediately lifts our spirits.
Cardinals Look Redder in Winter
There’s something about Big Red in winter. It’s as if our eyes are playing tricks on us because he looks redder. Maybe it’s the lack of color in the backyard, hiking trails, and woods where we roam.
But we swear Big Red looks redder in winter.
Then the Winter issue of Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Living Bird arrives in our e-mail, and an article confirms our suspicions.
Researchers find that newly molted male cardinals are not at their brightest in summer.
In fact, many of a cardinal’s newly minted feathers are tipped with gray.
You can see the gray coloring under the cardinal’s bright red feathers on windy days. It’s quite a sight when Big Red doesn’t look red at all.
The dusky feather tips slowly wear away during fall, revealing the brilliant red feathers the male cardinal is best known for.
Red is the Male Cardinal’s Superpower
Researchers say cardinals reach peak redness by midwinter ahead of spring breeding season.
Brighter males attract the ladies, mate earlier, nest in a more quality habitat, and produce more baby cardinals.
So for males, being redder is just better for them and us.
If you think male cardinals look redder in winter, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. Instead, it’s just another incredible gift from Mother Nature.