07.31.16: Female Cardinal

Female Northern Cardinal, Blendon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.


Technical information

Feb. 28, 2010,
10:01 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


Northern Cardinals are one of a number of dimorphic species of birds, where the color of the male differs from that of the female.

Male Northern Cardinals are attention-getting birds, with brilliant red feathers, red-orange beak, black face and sharp crest. You can spot the red in green trees and bushes during the summer or against snowy backgrounds during the winter since cardinals don’t migrate.

That’s not the case for the female Northern Cardinal. They are primarily a yellowish-brown with warm reddish tinges on the tail, crest and wings. The subdued colors blend with their surroundings, making them harder to spot.

I see cardinals in the summer but have very few photos of them with green leaves. That’s because cardinals are extremely shy birds. They fly off quickly if they detect motion, so they duck into the underbrush or fly to another area when I approach with my camera.

That's why the vast majority of my photos of cardinals are taken during the winter months in Blendon Woods Metro Park. The park has two viewing sheds that provide bird watchers with a chance to watch a variety of waterfowl on a nearby pond during winter months (the pond has an aeration system so it doesn’t freeze solid in the winter).

The park also has a well-stocked bird feeder to the side of one shed. That’s where I go. 

I use the shed as a photographer’s blind, keeping me out the birds’ sight while protecting me from wind and snow (the shed isn’t heated, so I have to deal with the cold). Cardinals, nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, a variety of sparrows, woodpeckers, blue jays and a number of other species queue up on surrounding limbs, bushes or fallen logs while they wait for a spot at the feeder. That’s when I get my shots.

Winter in Ohio tends to be extremely gray — dreary, overcast skies result in dreary, dim lighting and poor photos — so I often set up several flash units on wireless remotes when I’m shooting at Blendon Woods. I aim the flashes at areas where I anticipate seeing birds and set the exposure so the flash supplements the available light instead of serving as the primary light source. 

In this photo the female cardinal was perched on a tree limb about 10 feet behind the feeder. A recent heavy snowfall blanketed the surrounding forest, providing an uncluttered background. I exposed for the snowy background, allowing the flash units to balance the lighting on the bird in the foreground with the light background.

I like how the photo captures the bird’s feather details, including the extra tinges of red around the eye.

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.