The cardinal, full grown, is 8 to 9 inches in length with a wing
spread of 10 to 12 inches. The shades of red that cover the male are softly
blended and he is duly proud of his fine feathers. The plumage on the back
and wings is of a rosy red, tipped with grey. On the head and crest the
feathers deepen to a dark vermillion and about the face and base of the bill,
(which is a bright scarlet), a coral shade appears. As a frame for these gay
colors a black mask outlines the face and extends about the bill. The
underparts and belly are a soft brown of an olive shade which tones into a
natural brown on the feet.
Most female birds are drably dressed but the cardinal's mate has
been given similar adornments as to the pointed crest and the black cutline
around the red bill. Her dress is olive brown, tipped on crest, wings and tail
with a brick red which makes her primly decorative.
In cold climates molting is scarcely noticeable in the female but the
male's feathers darken in the winter and the grayish tips grow longer. When
the shedding season is over he flashes forth in all his brilliance to display his
charms to his lady love.
Being a real autocrat he selects the spot for his home and around the
first of April may be seen perched on a bough, feathers gleaming, singing his
most enticing notes. The lady cardinal has decided notions of her own and
if the location for the nest does not suit her, on she goes to look for another