Like most birders, I spend a lot of time looking for unusual birds: that is, birds that are comparatively scarce in our area or that we see only at certain times of the year. However, every now and then I try to remind myself to focus on the common species, the birds we see so often that we refer to them rather dismissively as "yardbirds".
One of our most common yardbirds is the Northern Cardinal, which many Texans refer to simply as the "Red Bird". This photo of a male Cardinal that visits our yards daily leaves no doubt about how the species gets its nickname.
As you can see, the only part of the bird that isn't red is a black patch around the bill.
Of course, only male Cardinals are red. Females are mainly brown, with just touches of red on their wings, tails and crests.
Their bills are orange rather than red.
Young Northern Cardinals have even less colorful plumage and their bills are black rather than red or orange.
As the young males grow, their plumage gradually turns red, sometimes making the birds look rather comical in the process.
There are actually two different species in the Cardinal family. One is the our Northern Cardinal. The other is the Pyrrhuloxia, a common resident of Mexico and the extreme southwestern USA.
This photo shows a female Pyrrhuloxia. The males are similar except that they have pure yellow bills and have a line of red blotches around their faces and down their fronts.
If you want to see a Pyrrhuloxia in Texas, you usually have to travel to the Rio Grande Valley or Big Bend areas. However, individual birds occasionally stray into our part of the state. In fact, the photo above is of a female that recently spent several winters on Longenbaugh Road, just west of Houston.