Red-crested Cardinal is a medium sized species of bird within the genus Paroaria, and predominately colored red, gray, and white. It has a white belly and breast with a gray back, wings, and tail. Its most distinguishing feature is its red head and crest, from which it gets its name. Of its scientific name, Paroaria is Tupi for a small yellow, red, and gray bird, while coronata is Latin for crowned (Jobling 2010).
In terms of appearance, Red-crested Cardinal closely resembles both Red-cowled Cardinal (Paroaria dominicana) and Yellow-billed Cardinal (Paroaria capitata). Yellow-billed Cardinal is smaller in size with a smaller, yellow bill, a black bib, and a darker back (Ridgely and Tudor 2009). Although it shares its range with Red-crested Cardinal both in distribution and elevation, Yellow-billed Cardinal prefers wetter habitats such as swamps and marshes while the Red-crested Cardinal is not restricted to areas around the water (Ridgely and Tudor 2009). Red-cowled Cardinal is also smaller, with more contrast in the bill, and a darker back. Both Red-cowled and Yellow-billed cardinals lack the crest that makes Red-crested Cardinal so distinctive (Ridgely and Tudor 1989).
Adult: Red-crested Cardinal easily is identified by its bright red head, crest, and bib. Its entire head is a bright scarlet color, from the crest and face to the auriculars down to a pointed bib on its throat and extending down to its breast. The crest can be both erect and shaggy or laid back and sleek (Ridgely and Tudor 2009, Jaramillo 2011). The nape, breast, belly, and undertail are white, with some black lightly behind the auriculars as a line between the white and red. The scapulars, back, and rump are gray, with some white spots on the upper back, restricted to the shafts of the feathers. The wing coverts are gray, but the primaries, secondaries, and rectrices are a darker gray color with white along the leading edge of the primaries and secondaries. The axillars are white while the underside of the primaries and secondaries are a lighter gray than the dorsal side (Short 1975). Both sexes are similar to the human eye (Short 1975, Jaramillo 2011). The species is dichromatic, however, when plumage colors are quantified using a model of avian vision (Burns and Shultz 2012). Thus, cardinals can distinguish between males and females, but humans are unable to see these differences.
Juvenile: Similar to the adult, but with a dull brownish orange head and bib, a brown wash to the gray upper parts, and a darker bill (Belton 1985, Ridgely and Tudor 2009, Jaramillo 2011).
Tanagers that have been studied have either a Complex Basic Strategy or Complex Alternative Strategy (Ryder and Wolfe 2009). However, most tanagers only molt once a year (Isler and Isler 1987), and this prebasic molt likely occurs after the breeding season (Isler and Isler 1987, Ryder and Wolfe 2009). Many species have been found to breed in subadult plumage (Isler and Isler 1987). Although a juvenile in captivity has been noted to change into the adult red plumage after a year of age (Pendleton 1996, cited in Lindholm 2003), more specific information on molt and its timing in the wild is not available for Red-crested Cardinal.
The maxilla is brown to dark gray, sometimes with a white edge. The mandible is light gray to white. The tarsi are black, and the iris is a light brown to a very pale red (Belton 1985).
Total length, both sexes: 19 cm (Ridgely and Tudor 1989, Perlo 2009, Ridgely et al. 2009, Jaramillo 2011).
adult, sexes combined: 45-48 g (Segura 2011 as cited in Segura and Reboreda 2012b)
Adult male: mean: 34.5 g, range: 31.5-40.5 g (n = 4, Storer 1989, Kratter et al. 1993).
Adult female: mean: 34.5 g, range: 29.5-37.5 g (n = 5, Storer 1985, Kratter et al. 1993).
Fledglings: mean: 30-31 g (Segura and Reboreda 2011).
Nestlings: mean: 29.41 ± 0.32 g, range: 22.2-34.2 g (Segura et al. in press).
Hatchling: mean: 3-3.5 g (Segura and Reboreda 2011).