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Help - bird identification

walkinghomewalkinghome Registered User Posts: 7,712 Senior Member
edited August 2009 in Parent Cafe
I have a bird at my feeder and I don't know what it is. It looks like a cardinal but it has a black head (no pointy crown either) and a yellow beak. My husband thinks it's tail feathers are longer then a cardinals as well. It doesn't appear to have a mate. Could it be a juvenile cardinal? It's size is full grown. I saw it at my feeder three times today but it could have been coming often because at first glance it looks like a cardinal.
Post edited by walkinghome on

Replies to: Help - bird identification

  • minimini Registered User Posts: 26,431 Senior Member
    Blackheaded or Rose-breasted Grosbeak (it's in the Cardinal family.) Lots of these have been hybridized, so sometimes it is impossible to know precisely which kind, either by coloration or range.

    Pretty good for cityslicker, ay?


    Another possibility, though unlikely, is deeply colored northern Oriole.
  • coureurcoureur Registered User Posts: 11,386 Senior Member
    I'd say a male Northern Cardinal. Some of them lose their crest feathers.

  • walkinghomewalkinghome Registered User Posts: 7,712 Senior Member
    Nope, not a grosbeak - not a bit of white on it or black on the wings and I don't really think it's a cardinal. It had a blackish head. Not an oriole either - this guy is RED.

    Picture a male cardinal with a yellow beak and blackish head. The wings we're somehow strange too. We just watched the Parrots of Telegraph hill the other night so that got me to thinking that maybe it's an escaped tropical bird.

    mini - the site you linked is one of the aps for my iphone and the place I first looked for an id. pretty cool ap - I thought for sure it would have my bird on it.
  • owliceowlice Registered User Posts: 3,225 Senior Member
    kathiep, does it definitely have feathers on its head? Cardinals sometimes lose ALL their head feathers, which gives them a very strange appearance! Their heads will look dark in that case. (They are really ugly with no head feathers!)

    That doesn't account for the color of the beak, however.

    Any chance you can get a picture of this bird?
  • walkinghomewalkinghome Registered User Posts: 7,712 Senior Member
    I had my iphone out but couldn't get close enough. Our regular camera was stolen a few weeks ago. Hmm, maybe the head feathers were missing but the color looked that greenish-black, not really ugly. Both of us noticed the yellow beak. I just refilled two of my feeders and am waiting hopefully for a re-visit.
  • midmomidmo Registered User Posts: 3,720 Senior Member
    I have many (many, many) cardinals at all of my feeders, year round. Recently the young ones have been showing up. As always, the youngsters look very ratty in a variety of ways. Coincidentally, two days ago is the first time I noticed one with a completely black head. I was curious about it myself, but since it was hanging out with young cardinals, I assumed it was just another immature male.
  • roshkeroshke Registered User Posts: 3,111 Senior Member
    Another guess that it is a male cardinal molting his head feathers - especially considering your location and the time of year.

    Cardinal Birdchick
  • milkandsugarmilkandsugar Registered User Posts: 2,869 Senior Member
    I have to agree that it sounds like a bald cardinal.

  • minimini Registered User Posts: 26,431 Senior Member
    The yellow beak still screams hybridized grosbeak to me.

    (American robins can have yellow beaks. But shaped like a cardinal, I doubt.)
  • walkinghomewalkinghome Registered User Posts: 7,712 Senior Member
    Wow! I had no idea that cardinals molted like that - that's one ugly bird! Still doesn't explain the yellow beak, but maybe we were wrong about that. Mini, It couldn't be a grosbeak, it was cardinal red all over except for the head. I'll be keeping a look out for another sighting! Lots of birds at the feeders this morning.
  • minimini Registered User Posts: 26,431 Senior Member
    Oh, okay. I hadn't understood that. Maybe some bird that took a shower from a hummingbird feeder?
  • MontegutMontegut Registered User Posts: 6,123 Senior Member
    Okay. This is my passion. Have to know more about the bird.

    Can you give me as detailed a description as possible, belly color, wing color, tail color, head and chest color?

    First thought is one of the tanangers.

    There is an excellent bird book, while I used for ornithology class at UMiami, still use it 30 years later.

    A Field Guide to the Birds, East of the Rockies, Roger Tory Peterson.

    I'll quote from it:

    Summer Tananger
    Male: rose-red all over, yellowish bill, no crest. Female: olive above, deep yellow below
    Young males acquiring adult plumage may be patched with red and green.

    Similar species:

    Male cardinal has a crest, black face
    Male scarlet tananger has black wings and tail; female has darker wings
    Female orioles have wing bars

    Scarlet Tananger
    Male: Flaming scarlet, with jet black wings and tail, Female, immature and winter male: dull greenish above, yellowish below, with dark brownish or blackish wings.

    Similar species:

    Male summer tananger
    Male cardinal (crested) are all-red, lack black in wings and tail
    Female summer tananger is deeper yellow, wings are not as dusky
  • MontegutMontegut Registered User Posts: 6,123 Senior Member
    There is also an orange variant to the scarlet tananger.

    I am dying to hear more about this bird!

    Also check on the size of the bird.

    Tanangers are 7 to 7 1/2 inches long. Cardinals are 7 1/2 to 9 inches long.

    This probably includes tail length.

    Got to go to Harry Potter.

    Keep us posted!

    Have fun birding!
  • SequoiaSequoia Registered User Posts: 1,651 Senior Member
    I agree it sounds like a bald cardinal but then I also agree with mini that if the beak is yellow and not orangey, it's weird.
    Pics of a bald cardinal.
    Lizard-Head (Northern Cardinal With Head Mites)

    But look at this, a relative of the cardinal which has a yellow beak, though the body is not red:
    Pyrrhuloxia, Identification, All About Birds - Cornell Lab of Ornithology

    Could it be a hybrid? Are you in the southwest?
    Oh just noticed you are in Pennsylvannia...the mystery deepens
  • owliceowlice Registered User Posts: 3,225 Senior Member
    kathiep, sometimes cardinals will have lighter beaks, more orange than red. Perhaps in contrast to the other colors on the bird (the black head and red feathers) and in good light, the beak looked yellowish.

    Montegut, what are the chances of a tanager coming several times to a feeder that attracts cardinals? I think it's unlikely that this bird is a tanager (darn it! They're such cool birds!); I've never had a tanager at a seed feeder.
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