Blue Cardinals: Are They Real or a Myth?

Close up of a Stellar's Jay in Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on 31 May 2023
© Nigel Jarvis/Shutterstock.com

Written by Sandy Porter

Updated: September 21, 2023

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Some folks could swear they’ve seen beautiful blue cardinals in their backyards or along hiking trails in certain regions of the United States. But you’ve likely never heard of such a thing. So, how could this be? It seems possible. Why not? Other blue-colored birds exist. And with all the many bird families and species out there, might not there be one you’re unfamiliar with?

Let’s take a look at this nearing legendary creature to learn the truth. Do blue cardinals exist?

Quick Answer

Male Northern Cardinal (cardinalis cardinalis) on a Spruce branch covered with snow

The bold, beautiful cardinal comes in a bright red, sadly, never blue.

©Steve Byland/Shutterstock.com

Sad to say, but blue cardinals are a myth, at least as far as science has so far discovered. People mistake blue-colored birds for cardinals because light plays tricks on their eyes or something else is going on. No known species of blue cardinal exists anywhere in the world.

Reasons You Might Think You’ve Seen a Blue Cardinal

Several reasons exist for thinking you’ve seen a blue cardinal.

  1. Other birds have a similar crown as red cardinals and come in blue.
  2. Other species have similarly shaped beaks.
  3. Some species of bird are about the same size and shape and could be mistakenly identified as cardinals.
  4. Sometimes, natural or artificial lights may play tricks on our eyes, convincing us a red cardinal is actually blue.
  5. Other birds may also have similar face markings.

What You Likely Have Seen Instead

Lots of birds look a bit alike, so folks easily mistake one blue bird for another. Or, in this case, one blue bird for a non-existent one. The following are the birds commonly mistaken for the mythical blue cardinal in the United States.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta)

interior blue jay subspecies

Some people mistake the blue jay for a blue cardinal. Their similar body shapes and face markings make sense. But they’re not related.

©David Menke, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons – Original / License

Blue jays are perhaps the most commonly mistaken for cardinals. They have a slightly larger body but similar shape. These gorgeous birds also have a large head crown. Both species also love backyard feeders, but they are not related to each other.

Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea)

Birds that are blue - Blue Grosbeak

Not surprisingly, some folks have mistaken the gorgeous

blue grosbeak

, a fellow songbird, for a weirdly colored cardinal. When you look at the birds sitting still, you can certainly understand why.

©Michael G. Mill/Shutterstock.com

Medium-sized songbirds that are sometimes mistaken as blue cardinals, blue grosbeaks are actually related to cardinals. Alas, they are a different species, though. They have smaller crests on their heads but do have large, seed-cracking beaks like cardinals and small black eye masks. Their wing bars sometimes appear reddish out of the corner of the eye.

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)

A male indigo bunting perched up on bare branch against a green background. As it's name suggests, the bird is vivid blue.

Not everyone sees cardinals in person, so they might easily mistake an indigo bunting for a blue cardinal.

©John L. Absher/Shutterstock.com

Another fun species you might spot and mistake for a blue cardinal, the indigo bunting shows off shimmery blue wings and body along hiking trails. The beautiful bird also has a triangular crown on its head, and a round, plump body. Their beaks are shorter, thinner, and pointer than a cardinal’s though. They rarely make it to backyards for a snack, though, and are a few inches smaller.

Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)

tufted titmouse

With blue-ish gray coloration and the beautiful head crest, it’s no wonder some people mistake the tufted titmouse for a blue cardinal.

©Rich Waite/Shutterstock.com

Small songbirds, the tufted titmouse have a gray color that sometimes is mistaken for blue. The head crest and black forehead also help this accidental identification. They also visit birdfeeders and reside in the eastern half of the United States.

Desert Cardinal (Pyrrhuloxia)

Birds that look like cardinals: Pyyrhuloxia

The desert cardinal is mostly gray with red markings, while the

northern cardinal

is mostly red with dark markings. In the right light, either bird could be mistaken for a blue cardinal.

©iStock.com/Dee Carpenter Photography

Known as the desert cardinal, the Pyrrhuloxia is a medium-sized crested bird. They come in shades of gray that could be mistaken for blue. Their red accents may also allude to the female northern cardinal. These birds live in the southwestern United States and Mexico where deserts fulfill their habitat needs.

These birds are part of the same family but they are not the same species. Desert cardinals bear several similarities to northern cardinals, though. Differences, apart from the terrain and gray coloring, also include a slightly turned downward beak and leaner bodies.

Stellar’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)

Close up of a Stellar's Jay in Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on 31 May 2023

The stellar’s jay could easily be mistaken for a cardinal with unusual coloring. Many other species come in wild variations, so why not?

©Nigel Jarvis/Shutterstock.com

A likely candidate for mistaken identity might be the Stellar’s Jay, a beautiful bird with a thick, tall crown on its head. The Stellar Jay lives in the western part of the United States while cardinals make their home in the eastern half of the country. Still, folks might catch a glimpse of these beauties and think it’s possible they’re blue cardinals.

Stellar’s jays have long, thin beaks and slender bodies, while cardinals are plumper and rounder. Both birds do like backyard feeders, though.

Florida Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens)

Florida Scrub-Jay foraging in the grass. Canaveral National Seashore Titusville, FL 11/11/2019

Florida scrub jay may occasionally find themselves mistaken for blue cardinals. The birds have little in common, though.

©Archaeopteryx Tours/Shutterstock.com

The final American bird that might be mistaken for a blue cardinal is the Florida scrub jay. These beautiful birds don’t have crowns but they bear a resemblance to cardinals nonetheless. Their bodies are similar in shape and the way both species hold themselves align. But Florida scrub jays are much smaller than cardinals and have long, thin beaks. Scrub jays aren’t all that common at backyard feeders, either, though they make the occasional appearance.

Are There Any Non-Red Cardinals?

Beautiful Yellow Cardinal with black crest stands between the grass with a soft background in Iberá Wetlands Corrientes, Argentina

Yellow and white cardinals exist in very rare circumstances. But, sadly, no blue cardinals exist.

©Rob Jansen/Shutterstock.com

While there aren’t any blue cardinals, there are a couple of rare colors you might spot. Most commonly, you’ll see male cardinals with bold red plumage that stands out anywhere they go. Females have muted brown to gray coloration, often with orange to red tinges.

Rarely, a yellow northern cardinal may emerge, due to a genetic variation. Even rarer, you might spot a cardinal with the condition leucism, which means the bird comes in white.

Where Do Northern Cardinals Come From?

Male cardinal looking over its shoulder while perched on tree branch. State bird of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia

The northern cardinal lives in most of the eastern half of the United States.

©David Spates/Shutterstock.com

The northern cardinal, or standard red cardinal, has been named the official state bird in seven United States:

  • Ohio
  • Indiana
  • Illinois
  • North Carolina
  • Kentucky
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

You’ll also spot these beautiful birds in practically any state in the eastern half of the United States.


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About the Author

Sandy Porter is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering house garden plants, mammals, reptiles, and birds. Sandy has been writing professionally since 2017, has a Bachelor’s degree and is currently seeking her Masters. She has had lifelong experience with home gardens, cats, dogs, horses, lizards, frogs, and turtles and has written about these plants and animals professionally since 2017. She spent many years volunteering with horses and looks forward to extending that volunteer work into equine therapy in the near future. Sandy lives in Chicago, where she enjoys spotting wildlife such as foxes, rabbits, owls, hawks, and skunks on her patio and micro-garden.

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