What Do Baby Cardinals Look Like When They Leave the Nest

When baby cardinals leave the nest, they will have feathers covering their body, but they may still have some patches of downy feathers.

They will also have short tails and wings that are not fully developed, which means they cannot fly very far. Their plumage will be duller in color compared to the bright red plumage of adult male cardinals, and they may have some brown feathers mixed in with their feathers. 

Baby cardinals, also known as fledglings, are a light brown color with fluffy undersides, breasts, and neck feathers. They have short tails and beaks and their eyes are dark. They are about half the size of adult cardinals.

Overall, baby cardinals have a scruffy, fluffy appearance as they continue to grow and develop into adults.

Basic Facts About Cardinals

  • Size: Cardinals are about 8-9 inches long and weigh about 1/2 ounce.
  • Lifespan: Cardinals can live for up to 15 years in the wild.
  • Diet: Cardinals are omnivores and eat a variety of foods, including seeds, insects, fruit, and berries.
  • Habitat: Cardinals are found in North America, from southern Canada to northern Mexico.
  • Reproduction: Cardinals are monogamous and mate for life. They typically lay 3-5 eggs per clutch, and the eggs hatch after about 12 days. The young birds fledge after about 10-12 days.
  • Calls: Cardinals have a variety of calls, including a loud, clear whistle that is often used to attract mates. They also make a variety of other calls, including chirps, squeaks, and rattles.
  • Significance: Cardinals are often seen as a symbol of love and fidelity. They are also the state bird of seven states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The Life Cycle of a Cardinal

  • When baby cardinals are born, their eyes are closed, but they will open after about a week (7 to 10 days). 
  • They cannot fly or take care of themselves, so they rely on their parents for food and protection.
  • They will stay in the nest for 10-12 days and then still depend on their parents for food. 
  • Baby cardinals will become adults when they are 1 year old and can live for around 10-12 years in nature.

Unknown Facts of a Cardinal

  • Male cardinals have bright red feathers, while female cardinals are brown with some red.
  • Cardinals are social and often seen in groups.
  • Cardinals have beautiful songs that can be heard throughout the year.
  • Cardinals help control insect populations and play an important role in the ecosystem.
  • Cardinals are a favorite among birdwatchers and can be attracted to backyard feeders.
Basic Facts About Cardinals

Baby Cardinals vs Adult Cardinals

Here are some differences between baby and adult Cardinals in various aspects:


  • Baby Cardinals are born with closed eyes and pink skin without any feathers. After a few days, they develop grayish-down feathers and gradually grow their adult feathers. They have a brownish-gray beak.
  • Adult male Cardinals are bright red with a black face mask, a distinctive crest, and a bright red beak. Adult females are brownish with red accents on the crest, wings, and tail. Both male and female adults have a thick, conical beak.


  • Baby Cardinals are helpless and rely on their parents for food and protection. They remain in the nest for about 10-12 days before they fledge.
  • Adult Cardinals are more independent and can fend for themselves. They are social birds and can be seen in flocks during non-breeding seasons.


  • Baby Cardinals are fed regurgitated food by their parents, which typically consists of insects, seeds, and fruit.
  • Adult Cardinals primarily feed on seeds, nuts, fruits, and insects. They can be easily attracted to backyard bird feeders.


  • Baby Cardinals have a shorter lifespan than adult Cardinals. They are vulnerable to predation, harsh weather, and starvation during the first few weeks of their lives.
  • Adult Cardinals have a lifespan of about 10-12 years in the wild.


  • Baby cardinals weigh about 3.5g at birth and gain two to three grams per day for the first week. After a month, they weigh almost the same as adults. 
  • Adult cardinals weigh an average of 28 grams, with males being slightly heavier at 30 grams.


  • As mentioned before, male adult cardinals are bright red while female adults are brown with some red accents. 
  • Baby cardinals, on the other hand, have a fluffy appearance and are covered in grayish-brown down feathers. They do not yet have the distinctive red feathers of adult males or the brown accents of adult females.


  • Adult cardinals are known for their beautiful songs which can be heard year-round. 
  • Baby cardinals, however, do not yet have fully developed vocalizations and do not sing like adults.


Baby cardinals do not migrate. Adult cardinals do migrate, they typically migrate south for the winter and return north in the spring.

What do baby cardinals eat and how they are fed 

Baby cardinals are born with a diet that consists mainly of insects, such as caterpillars, beetles, and grasshoppers. As they grow, their diet becomes more diverse and includes fruits and seeds. 

Both parents are involved in feeding the chicks and they feed them a mixture of insects, fruits, and seeds to meet their needs as they grow and develop. 

The parents will regurgitate food for the chicks, and as the chicks grow older, they will begin to eat food that the parents bring to the nest.

baby cardinals

The vocalizations of baby cardinals

Baby cardinals have a variety of vocalizations that they use to communicate with their parents and siblings. One of the most common vocalizations is a “cheep” or “peep” sound, which the chicks use to signal hunger or to attract the attention of their parents. 

As they grow, their vocalizations will become more complex and include other calls such as contact calls and alarm calls. 

Adult cardinals also have a wide range of vocalizations, and the baby cardinals will learn them as they mature.

How their diet and vocalizations change as they grow

As baby cardinals grow and develop, their diet becomes more diverse and they start to eat more fruits and seeds. Additionally, their vocalizations become more complex and similar to those of adult cardinals. 

As they become more independent, they will start to forage on their own and their diet will change accordingly. They will also start to mimic the calls and songs of adult cardinals as they learn to communicate with others of their species.

When do baby cardinals turn red?

Baby cardinals turn red plumage through a process called molting, shedding their old feathers and growing new ones, typically at 6-7 months old. During molting, the young birds will grow new red feathers, transitioning into an adult cardinal.

Age (in days)Cardinal’s Appearance
0-3Covered in grayish-white fluff with closed eyes
3-13First brown and buff-colored feathers
13-21Mostly brown and buff-colored with some red feathers on head and chest
21-60Developing red plumage and crest
60-90Fully red plumage and ability to sing and defend territory


Witnessing baby cardinals leave the nest is a heartwarming and fascinating moment. As they transition into the world, their distinct appearance and behaviors make for an enchanting spectacle.

Take joy in observing these fledglings explore their surroundings, recognizing their fluffy feathers and vibrant hues. Embrace the beauty of nature’s cycle as baby cardinals embark on their journey, bringing a touch of wonder to your outdoor space. Happy bird watching!


How long do baby cardinals stay with their parents?

Baby cardinals stay with their parents for about 2-3 weeks after they leave the nest.

What do baby cardinals eat?

Baby cardinals are fed by their parents, who bring them a variety of insects, seeds, and fruits. As they grow, they will also learn to eat on their own and forage for food.

Do baby cardinals leave the nest before they can fly?

Yes, baby cardinals leave the nest before they can fly. They are not able to fly for the first few days after leaving the nest, but they can move around by hopping and using their wings.

How quickly do baby cardinals leave the nest?

Baby cardinals typically leave the nest about 10-12 days after hatching, but it can vary depending on the bird’s health and development.

How do baby cardinals leave the nest?

Baby cardinals leave the nest by hopping and flapping their wings, known as fledging. They may also climb trees and branches to get to a safer spot.

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