04.16.17: Female cardinal in winter

A female Northern Cardinal perches in a snowy forest in Blendon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio. 


Technical information

Dec. 30, 2009,
11:49 a.m.

40°4’24” N,
82°52'5" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 7D

Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm) 


1/250th second


Patience, the saying goes, is a virtue. And patience played a part in this photograph.

But it wasn’t patience by me, the photographer. It was patience displayed by the subject, a female Northern Cardinal.

I shot this photo as the cardinal perched on a limb near a feeder on a cold, snowy winter morning. It was waiting patiently for other birds to leave the feeder so it could have space to eat. I guess it’s a bird’s version of waiting in line.

Cardinals are extremely shy birds, flying off quickly if they detect motion. So the vast majority of my photos of cardinals are taken during the winter months when I can shoot from cover — a viewing shelter near a feeder in Blendon Woods Metro Park near Columbus, Ohio, that I used for this photo — and catch the birds as they wait in nearby trees for a spot at the feeder. The birds can’t see me and the need for food has them more willing to ignore any noise I happen to make.

Cardinals are year-round residents of Central Ohio, hanging around for the hot summers and for the cold, snowy winters when other birds head for warmer climates. Female Northern Cardinals, unlike their bright red male counterparts, can be difficult to see — especially in fall or winter. Their subtle color (yellow-brown with touches of red on the crest, back and tail) blends in with their surroundings.

In this case, the subtle yellow-brown is still distinctive against the snowy white background. But if the bird had dropped down closer to ground level, where the brownish-yellow branches and leaves on winter shrubs could provide camouflage, it would blend in.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.