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Manu Minute: The Cardinal Cousins

We've got not one, but two cardinals for you today.

And guess what, they're not even real cardinals.

Despite their names, the red-crested cardinal and the yellow-billed cardinal are actually tanagers, just like our old friend, the saffron finch.

The descriptors in their name are quite accurate, however, and they hold the key to distinguishing these two birds from one another.

Here's another helpful hint for identification. The red-crested cardinal is found on all of the main Hawaiian islands except the Big Island, whereas the yellow-billed cardinal is found only on the Big Island.

Both birds are native to South America. In Hawaiʻi, they prefer lower elevation areas, which they can inhabit without worry due to their resistance to avian malaria.

Here's the call of a red-crested cardinal.

Spectrogram video of the song of a red-crested cardinal

And here's the call of a yellow-billed cardinal.

Spectrogram video of the song of a yellow-billed cardinal

Can you tell the difference?

Audio credit: Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (216460 and 5004)

Patrick Hart interests in the ecology and conservation of Hawaiian forests and forest birds stem from years of living in a primitive field camp as a graduate student in the 1990’s at Hakalau Forest National wildlife refuge.
Ann Tanimoto-Johnson is the Lab Manager & Research Technician in the Hart Lab/Listening Observatory for Hawaiian Ecosystems (LOHE) Bioacoustics Lab. She researches the ecology, bioacoustics, and conservation of our native Hawaiian forests, birds, and bats.
Savannah Harriman-Pote rejoined The Conversation in 2021 after interning for Hawaiʻi Public Radio in the summers of 2018 and 2019. She completed her undergraduate degree in International Relations at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, during which time she worked for WMHC and Mount Holyoke News. She has also worked with the audio documentary series Outer Voices and National Geographic.
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