Northern Cardinals in the Foothills

By Dan Weisz

Northern Cardinals Are a common bird in the Foothills. The photos below show several different Cardinals that came to the feeders at The Pond at Elephant Head. Several of the birds are clearly in the middle of their molting. Molting is a natural and regular process where some or all of the bird’s feathers are replaced. A bird’s feathers are much like hair on people- they grow but aren’t “alive”. Feathers become damaged through wear and tear and need to be replaced every so often.

A dashing male Northern Cardinal on Saguaro ribs. His tail feathers look a bit stringy and he’s missing a bit of feathering behind his eye.

An aspiring Cardinal (a young male beginning to get his adult feathers in) is perched here on a Cholla skeleton. Young birds go through several molts before all of their adult feathers and colors come in. This one is well on his way.

That black bill lets us know this bird is a juvenile. The amount of red on its breast makes me believe this is a male.

Portrait of a male Cardinal. You can see how the red feathers have come in behind his eye, compared to the male in the photograph above.

Portrait of a juvenile Cardinal molting. Molting takes place gradually and over a period of several weeks. This fellow is missing his neck feathers now and his beak is beginning to turn orange so he is on his way to adulthood.

Another male Cardinal

And another female

One of my favorite shots of a female Cardinal. While the male Cardinal is bright red, the female does have red in her crest, wings and tail but not like the male. Females are more tan or what I call “orange creamsicle” colored in their breast.

A male Cardinal below is still completing his molt and getting in the rest of his feathers. Often molting happens at this time of year. The demands of creating territories in the spring and raising young in the summer are great as are the demands that cold weather places on birds, making this time of year a good one to work on replacing feathers.

Perhaps the same bird looking at us inquisitively.

And finally, a juvenile Cardinal. With that black beak, it still has a ways to go.

Still to come, Pyrrhuloxia at The Pond, and Raccoons at Sweetwater and Burrowing Owls in Marana.

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