a very small Cardinal

Finally my last post from the photos I took on September 28th.  I saved my favorite for last.  The reason this was my favorite is because it’s something I have never seen before.

Perhaps someone who knows more about birds than I do, might have some insight into this one.  But I saw a Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) in color like a full grown adult male.  But it was at least 1/3 the size of an adult male cardinal.  Now I’m admittedly not an expert.  But even literature that I’ve found says that young cardinals are not this red yet.  I personally do not recall ever seeing a young one that was already full red.  I wish there was something in these photos and videos that would make it easier for someone watching to determine size.  Because these pictures and videos give the appearance of him being larger than he was.  But this bird was very very small for a cardinal.

I’m curious if he is young and became red early, or if he is adult and very small.  I am leaning toward young and red early, simply because he tolerated human presence more than adult cardinals generally seem to do.  But that is just a guess.

So here are some photos and video clips I took of the little guy, while he ate seeds and things in the brush.  First the photos:









And now for the videos:


I hope you enjoyed these.
And remember all of my nature videos can be found on the Nature Blog YouTube Channel.

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8 thoughts on “a very small Cardinal

  1. Great photos and I’m glad you got to see this welcome spot of color. Cardinals are very cheerful when they are looking their best. If you provide sunflower seed they will find it. But they are ground feeders or at least something with a good perch. I use my deck railing. I see dozens of cardinals….it is the Indiana state bird. In the winter I get a dozen pair or more hanging around. He doesn’t look young….his bill has its color and his black area is filled in. They all tend to be the same size as far as I can tell. Was this one real far away and maybe that made it look smaller for some reason? My Peterson guide says they are 7 1/2″ to 9″ so that gives a little leeway on size.


  2. Watching the video again, his tail looks short and he was sort of hopping around in that tree awkwardly. Maybe that makes him look small, if some of his tail feathers are missing. Did he seem injured…did he fly? They are usually very spooky if they see people…..that is why I wondered if he was hurt.


  3. His tail feathers were short. All of him was too short. It was very strange. What happened was my allergies were starting to get the better of me and I told my husband I thought we should head back to the house. (This was about a couple mile drive upstream from where we live.) On our way out was when we saw him. It’s a gravel road, and fairly rough, so he was driving really slow so that the bumps wouldn’t hurt my back so bad. And I saw this little guy fly into the brush beside the road ahead of us, and I didn’t think much of it. We were far enough away at first that I didn’t notice how off his size was, but something didn’t seem right. And as we went by where he had landed I saw how tiny he was and I said to my husband , “Wait, stop the car.” And he backed it up just a little until I was directly across from him. The only thing separating us was a deep ditch. I honestly couldn’t believe he didn’t fly with our car that close. I rolled my window down and I took the video on telephoto. But he wasn’t more than several feet from my camera the whole time. Finally I think I bothered him enough that he went a little deeper into the brush (as you can see at the end of the last video clip). And that is when I quit filming/photographing him, because he was too far into the brush for any decent shots.

    Cardinals are extremely common here too. I’ve just never seen one that size. Unfortunately there wasn’t really anything available in the shot that I could get his size by for you to see. The whole area just looks like the brushy weeds that he was in. There is nothing good there for size comparison.

    Honestly he behaved more like a pet bird. I mean a pet bird that didn’t know you. Like he watched me with interest, while I watched him with interest. Then he eventually decided me and my camera had creeped him out enough to back up. But it took a long time. He didn’t behave like a normal cardinal at all.


  4. Well, in all things of nature there are always mutations and oddities. Young cardinals tend to look just as big as their parents, so I’m guessing he is just a very small one for some unknown reason. Maybe you will see him again some day.


    • Yeah, another thing that occurred to me as a possibility (although I think it is a long shot) is that perhaps someone found him orphaned and hand raised him then released him. Sometimes when people try to raise wildlife they inadvertently don’t give them certain things that they need for proper growth, resulting in poor coat or feathers, and sometimes stunted growth. It’s a long shot, but it would explain why he was so tolerant of us too. I think the chances of it being that, are slim. But it’s one other possible explanation that crossed my mind.


  5. You got great shots of this guy Debbie. I have to agree with Mary that he is probably just a small adult with a short tail. His beak doesn’t look like a youngster either.
    Here is SW New York state I’ll have lots of these in the winter. During the summer there is only 1 pair that stays, and I’ve never seen any babies.
    Great pictures, and have a wonderful week-end.


    • Thanks Becky. I think so too. We have lots of cardinals year round here in WV and I’ve seen lots of young ones and he doesn’t look young to me either. I’ve also rehabbed some birds in the past that had lost their long feathers (the ones required for flight farther than a couple of feet) to predators, and he didn’t look like he was missing his either. He was just smaller all over.


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