Robin vs. Cardinal: Songs, Habitat & Identification

Both cardinals and robins are very territorial birds. They have bright colors, come in early in the day, and sing cheery songs. Due to their colors and looks, people often mix them up. But if you look closely, you can easily differentiate them. In this robin vs. cardinal comparison guide, we will teach you how to exactly tell the difference between them.

Robin vs. Cardinal

Cardinals get their name due to the plumage of males, and it reminded the European settlers of those rich red-colored vestments that Catholic cardinals had. These birds are considered to be spiritual representatives of the loved ones who have passed away.

On the other hand, robins are famous for their bright orange-colored breast and, of course, those cheery songs. Robins are also considered to be a sign that your deceased loved one is with you.

They both are very famous birds because they come early in the day and they have those songs to announce their arrival. As they have beautiful and bright colors, they look so beautiful to the eye. During the migration periods, their huge numbers can make your garden full of those joyous chirps and bird songs.

The most common thing that separates them is their songs. Robins are known for their cheery beautiful songs. However, cardinals make sounds when they are territorial against another male that has entered into their territory.

In the following sections, we will give you in-depth info on some more differences between these two species. These differences will allow you to quickly identify between cardinals vs. red robin.

 

American Robin

Northern Cardinal

Songs and voice

Robins seem to make a chirper sound but in a good sense.

Cardinal calls and songs are slow and melodious.

Size

Large, round body, long legs, and long tail. (9 to 11 inches)

Mid-sized body (8.3 to 9.1 inches)

Wing shape

Rounded

Rounded

Tail shape

Fan-shaped

Rounded

Flight

Strong, quick direct flight

Rapid wing beats and wings pulled towards the sides

Flocks

Large flocks

Join small family groups but during mating season, groups dissolve into pairs.

Color

Orange chest, black head, and gray back

Red plumage with a black mask on the face

Behavior

Industrious, stand active, flock together in winters, roost on berries

Sit low in the shrubs, common near bird feeders

Lifespan

Two years (wild)

Three years (wild)

Habitat

Parks, gardens, pastures, yards, fields,  pine forests, golf courses, tundra, woodlands, shrublands, and regenerating forests

Parks, backyards, shrubby forests and woodlots

Songs and sounds

The most common thing that robins and cardinals have is their chirps and sounds. Both make almost identical sounds and songs. But there is a slight difference between the two sounds. Many people confuse cardinals and robins and vice versa. At the end of winter, they think the first bird they are hearing is the American Robin, but in reality, they are listening to the Red Robin.

Robins make their sounds mostly when they are trying to impress a female or trying to defend their territory from other males. On the other hand, cardinals make sounds that have more of a hearing appeal. Cardinal calls and songs are slow and melodious in their sound, while robins seem to be making a bit of noise but in a good sense.

They both sound very similar apart from the fact that Cardinals are slow in their chirps. The sounds of a robin are chirpier while the songs of a cardinal are much more melodious. Though they both have similar tones, they do let them out of their beaks in different tunes.

Related12 Simple Tips to Attract Cardinals to Your Backyard (2020)

Size and shape

When it comes to size and shape, robins are bigger than the cardinals. Robins are large in size as compared to any other songbirds. They have a round body and long legs. Their tail is pretty long too. They are the largest of thrushes in North America. These birds provide a good reference point for identifying the sizes of other birds. Their length ranges between 7.9 inches to 11-inches. Their weight ranges between 2.7 to 3.0 ounces and has a wingspan ranging between 12.2-inch and 15.8 inches.

On the other hand, the size and shape of a cardinal are much smaller as compared to a robin. They have a thick bill and are large in size as well. Cardinals are larger than a sparrow and have a long tail as well. They have a hunched-over posture whenever they sit. 

Their length ranges between 8.3-inch and 9.1-inch, and weight ranges between 1.5 ounces and 1.7 ounces. Their wingspan can go from 9.8-inch to 12.2-inch. Cardinals are smaller than robins both in terms of overall length, tail length and wingspan.  

Color patterns and variations

The American Robins have a grayish-brown color, and they also have orange underparts. Robins have dark heads, and during flights, a white patch that is present on their lower belly, as well as lower tail, becomes noticeable. Females, as compared to males, come with pale heads, and it contrasts less with their gray backs.

Male cardinals, on the other hand, have a bright red color on them. They also have reddish bills with a black face that is immediately around their bill. Their females have a pale brown color, and there are warm reddish tinges on their wings as well as crest and tail. However, they have the same red-orange colored bill and black colored face.

You’ll notice a significant amount of difference if you compare red robin vs. cardinal closely. Cardinals are significantly brighter in color than robins. Robins also have a bright color on their chest and underparts, but cardinals have bright colors across the whole body. In both cases, the females have dull colors as compared to their male counterparts. The males of both birds use their bright colors and patterns to attract their females.

Behavior

When talking about behavior and comparing American robins vs. northern cardinals, the American robins are very industrious, and they bound across those lawns. They will stand erect with their beaks tilted upwards to survey the environment and surroundings. When robins are alighting, they habitually flicker their tail downwards several times. During fall as well as winter, robins form large-sized flocks, and they gather in trees for roosting berries.  

Northern cardinals, on the other hand, tend to sit very low in the shrubs and trees. They forage close to the ground, and so often in pairs. You will frequently find them close to those bird feeders, but they will be very cautious about getting near. They will not get close until you hear that loud chip metallic note from them. It means that they now trust their surroundings.

You will find cardinals in pairs and robins in groups. Both these birds frequently chirp when they enter into new territory. And they both have a habit of inspecting their surroundings thoroughly; robins are more active in doing so while cardinals passively do this.

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Habitat

The American Robins are very common across the continent. You can find them in parks, gardens, lawns, golf courses, yards, pastures fields, tundra as well as woodlands. You will also find them in shrublands, pine forests as well as wilderness that are regenerating after logging or fires.

Whereas, you can find northern cardinals in various habitats. These include parks, woodlots, shrubby forests, and backyards. These birds nest in thickly tangled vines and shrubs.

Both these birds live in almost identical habitats. But you can find robins on a much wider scale in terms of the area. It is because they live in almost any habitat as long as there is an abundance of food available. Robins will go anywhere as long as their favorite berries are available for them to roost.

Several instances have occurred where even cardinals and robins have shared their nests. It has precisely happened because they share habitat as well as food sources. They both can live near humans, and this is where they can find more food easily.

Related5 Best Cardinal Bird Feeders (+How to Attract Them)

Field identification tips

When it comes to visual difference, there is plenty of difference between these two birds, and you can easily differentiate an American Robin from a Northern Cardinal. Male cardinals have bright red color while their females have pale yellow on them. Nevertheless, a bright yellow or orange-colored underparts or chest with black colored head and gray colored back are male patterns. There is white pigment under the belly and on the tail tip than you will see when they fly.

It becomes much more confusing when you try to identify these birds without having a look at them. Their hips and songs are very similar to each other, and an inexperienced person can confuse them both. Here are a few differences in their sounds that you can identify upon hearing and ID the bird.

  • A robin makes continuous sounds and songs that carry on. A cardinal, however, is more melodious in its songs.
  • Robins have more chirps in their sound and songs, while cardinals are like singing a song.
  • Robins use their songs to mark their territory and sing them as their love songs. Cardinals only use it as their love songs.

Conclusion

An American robin is slightly larger in size as compared to a northern cardinal. Cardinals have bright red colors for males and pale yellow colored females. Robins have a bright orange-colored chest with gray back and blackhead. So the visual difference is quite clear between them.

Their songs are hard to differentiate because they both have very similar tones and sounds. But the songs that come from American Robins are free-flowing and continuous in nature.

Northern cardinals have their songs much more rhythmic, and they are slow. Robins also have more chirps and other sounds in their songs, but cardinals don’t use chirps or other sounds in their songs.  

Related: Cardinal Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)

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