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Cardinal vs Blue Jay: A Comparison of Two Iconic Birds

Written by Garrett Hayes

Last updated on Apr 11th, 2024
cardinal and bluejay - featured image

Almost similar in size and shape, Blue Jays and Cardinals are almost alike. Despite such, however, there are more differences than similarities. 

From their colors to habitats, these two bird species vary in more ways than one. This Cardinal vs Blue Jay comparison looks at such differences to help you understand their features and characteristics. 

Main Differences Between Cardinals vs Blue Jays

The main differences between Cardinal vs Blue Jay are: 

  • Cardinals are from the Cardinalidae family, whereas Blue Jays are from the Corvidae family. 
  • Cardinals are primarily red, whereas Blue Jays display a combination of blue, white, and black feathers.
  • Cardinals are often seen in woodlands and forests, whereas Blue Jays have a wider range of habitats. 
  • Cardinals are granivorous, whereas Blue Jays are omnivorous. 

Cardinals and Blue Jays — A Closer Look

cardinal perched on a tree branch

Now, let’s dig deeper and discuss the key differences between these two birds. You don’t need to be an experienced birdwatcher to see how they vary. We’ll also look at some ways the two bird species are similar.


Cardinals and Blue Jays belong to different families of birds. As such, this may also be responsible for some of their key differences. 

Cardinals are part of the Cardinalidae family, while Blue Jays belong to the Corvidae family. 

The Cardinalidae family, to which Cardinals belong, is primarily found in the Americas. It includes various species celebrated for their vibrant plumage and melodious songs. 

Northern Cardinals, Grosbeaks, Buntings, Tanagers, and other members of the Cardinalidae family showcase an impressive array of colors, from brilliant reds and oranges to striking blues and yellows. 

With their distinctively strong beaks, these birds have adapted to various diets, including seeds, fruits, and insects. Not only are they visually stunning, but they also fill their habitats with enchanting melodies. 

On the other hand, the Corvidae family, commonly referred to as the crow family, encompasses a remarkable group of birds known for their intelligence, adaptability, and sociability. 

Within this family, species such as crows, ravens, and Blue Jays exhibit remarkable problem-solving skills, complex vocal communication, and tool usage. 

The Corvidae family's members are characterized by their dark feathers, stout beaks, and keen eyesight. 


Blue jays and cardinals are celebrated for their stunning colors, making them easy to identify. 

Cardinals are renowned for their fiery red plumage, which symbolizes passion, strength, and vitality. 

The males steal the show with their striking crimson feathers that adorn their bodies, crests, and beaks.

In contrast, female Cardinals possess a more subdued yet elegant appearance. Their feathers display a combination of grayish-brown tones, with subtle hints of red on their wings, tails, and crests. 

Cardinals use their vibrant red plumage to attract mates, with the males proudly displaying their bright colors during courtship rituals. The red coloration also plays a role in territorial defense and signaling dominance among males. 

Blue Jays, on the other hand, captivate with their bold and vibrant blue plumage. Juvenile Blue Jays resemble their adult counterparts, although often not as vibrant. 

Their wings, back, and tail feathers boast a brilliant blue hue that is both captivating and mesmerizing. 

This intense blue coloring symbolizes tranquility, freedom, and self-expression. Blue Jays are often associated with clear blue skies and serve as a vivid reminder of the beauty found in nature. 

Complementing their blue feathers, they flaunt white underparts, black markings on their faces and necks, and a distinct crest on their heads, further accentuating their striking appearance.

The blue coloration of Blue Jays serves as both camouflage and a means of communication within their social groups. Their blue feathers blend harmoniously with the surrounding foliage, allowing them to move discreetly through forests and woodlands. 

Size and Weight 

male northern cardinal

Cardinals are typically smaller than Blue Jays, both in terms of body length and overall weight. 

Adult Cardinals measure around 8 to 9 inches (20 to 23 centimeters) in length and weigh approximately 1.5 to 1.8 ounces (42 to 51 grams). 

In comparison, Blue Jays are larger birds, with an average length of 9 to 12 inches (23 to 30 centimeters) and a weight ranging from 2.5 to 3.5 ounces (71 to 99 grams).

The variation in size between these species is evident not only in their physical dimensions but also in their overall proportions. 

Cardinals have a compact and rounded body shape, while Blue Jays exhibit a more elongated and robust build. 

The larger size of Blue Jays is particularly noticeable when observing their wingspan, which spans around 13 to 17 inches (33 to 43 centimeters), surpassing that of Cardinals.

These disparities in size can influence various aspects of their behavior and ecological adaptations. 

Smaller Cardinals may navigate more agilely through dense vegetation, enabling them to forage for food in narrower spaces. Their petite stature also makes them less conspicuous and more adept at finding shelter in thick foliage. 

On the other hand, the larger size of Blue Jays may provide them with an advantage when it comes to territorial defense and competing for resources.


When comparing the physical appearance of the Blue Jay and Cardinal, it’s also crucial to look at their crests. Like many bird species, they use their crests to communicate

The Blue Jay has a more prominent crest. This crest consists of a set of feathers that can be raised or lowered depending on the bird's mood or behavior. When the Blue Jay is excited or alarmed, the crest stands erect, giving it a more pronounced appearance.

On the other hand, a Cardinal features a smaller and more subtle crest compared to the Blue Jay. The crest of a Cardinal is typically more rounded and less pronounced. 

The crests of these two birds serve as visual cues, allowing these birds to communicate with each other and potentially signal their emotional state.


Both the Blue Jay and Cardinal thrive in a variety of habitats across North America, each species adapting to specific ecological niches. While these two birds share some similarities in their habitat preferences, there are notable distinctions that define their respective ranges.

Cardinals are commonly found in woodlands, forests, and brushy areas, particularly in regions with dense vegetation and shrubs. 

They have a preference for habitats with a mix of open spaces and cover, allowing Cardinals to seek refuge while still having access to food sources. 

Cardinals are known to inhabit both rural and urban areas, making their homes in gardens, parks, and residential neighborhoods. Their adaptable nature enables them to coexist with humans, providing bird watching enthusiasts ample opportunities. 

Blue Jays, on the other hand, display a wider distribution range, spanning from eastern and central North America to parts of western North America. 

You will find Blue Jays in various forested habitats, including deciduous and coniferous forests. Blue Jays tend to favor mixed woodlands, where they can find a balance between trees for nesting and open areas for foraging. 

More so, the Blue Jay is skilled at adapting to both rural and suburban environments, making its presence known in backyard bird feeders and city parks.

Both Blue Jays and Cardinals are social birds and are often spotted alongside other bird species. They share habitats with a diverse array of avian counterparts, creating opportunities for bird watching enthusiasts to witness their interactions. 


Cardinals and Blue Jays have distinct dietary preferences, reflecting their diverse ecological roles and foraging strategies. While they share some similarities in their food choices, there are notable differences that set them apart.

Cardinals prefer a granivorous diet, meaning they predominantly feed on seeds. 

The seed sources of these birds include various grasses, weeds, and grains. They have a particular fondness for sunflower seeds, which are often provided in bird feeders by enthusiastic bird enthusiasts. 

Although cardinals cannot be kept as a pet because they are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, you can still attract them to your backyard by providing them their favorite seeds which you can easily find in the market. 

Cardinals also supplement their diet with fruits and berries, especially during the breeding season when they require additional nutrients. They readily consume fruits such as mulberries, blackberries, and raspberries. 

Insects and insect larvae are another component of their diet, providing them with essential protein. Cardinals can be observed foraging on the ground or in low vegetation, using their strong beaks to crack open seeds and extract their nutritious contents.

bluejay with a peanut

Blue Jays, on the other hand, exhibit a more omnivorous diet, consuming a diverse range of food items. 

They share the granivorous inclination of Cardinals and consume various seeds, including acorns, beech nuts, and grains. However, Blue Jays are opportunistic feeders and incorporate a significant portion of their diet with insects, spiders, and other arthropods. 

The Blue Jay is adept at catching flying insects and foraging for invertebrates in trees and shrubs. It also has a penchant for fruits, particularly those high in fat content, such as wild berries and cherries. 

Interestingly, Blue Jays are known for their food-storing behavior. It catches food for later consumption. Blue Jays have a remarkable memory and can remember the location of their hidden food stores. This behavior serves them well during periods of scarcity. 

Mating Behavior 

The Blue Jay, known for its striking appearance and vibrant personality, exhibits fascinating mating behavior during the breeding season. It has an elaborate courtship ritual as it seeks to attract a mate and establish a strong bond for successful reproduction.

The courtship displays of the Blue Jay are marked by vocalizations and visually captivating performances. 

The male Blue Jay takes on an active role in the courtship process, initiating interactions with potential mates. He utilizes a combination of calls, including soft whistling notes and a variety of calls resembling "jeer" or "jay," to capture the attention of female Blue Jays.

Once the male Blue Jay has successfully attracted a female, he proceeds to display an impressive visual show. With crest raised and wings slightly drooped, he bows and spreads his tail feathers, showcasing his vibrant blue plumage.

During courtship, the male Blue Jay may offer food to the female as a form of a courtship gift, a behavior known as "nuptial feeding." This act not only serves as a gesture of generosity but also demonstrates the male's ability to provide for the female and potential offspring.

Meanwhile, male Cardinals take the lead in courtship, employing a combination of visually striking displays and enchanting vocalizations to capture the attention of females. 

Their melodious songs, characterized by a series of clear whistles and rich notes, serve as both a territorial declaration and a means of attracting potential mates. The male perches prominently on a branch or within a shrub, singing fervently to establish his presence and prowess.

To complement their beautiful songs, male Cardinals engage in visually captivating displays. They puff out their chests, raise their crests, and tilt their heads backward while facing the female of interest. 

In response to the male's courtship efforts, the female Cardinal evaluates the male's quality as a potential mate. She assesses his vocal performance, observing the consistency and complexity of his song. 


The Cardinal and Blue Jay showcase contrasting behavioral characteristics that make them intriguing subjects for bird enthusiasts. 

The Blue Jay assertive and bold nature. It can exhibit aggressive behaviors, especially when it comes to defending its territory. 

It is known to vigorously chase away intruders, including other birds, in their quest to protect their nesting sites and valuable resources. 

In contrast, the Cardinal displays a more serene and composed demeanor. While it is a territorial bird and will defend its space when necessary, it generally exhibits a peaceful disposition. 

Another notable difference in behavior is the foraging style. The Blue Jay is a highly opportunistic forager, often searching the ground and trees for a wide range of food sources. 

While both Cardinals and Blue Jays exhibit captivating behaviors, Blue Jays' assertiveness and adaptability may make them appear more dominant and aggressive compared to the gentle and melodious Cardinals. 


Like other birds, the Blue Jay and Cardinal have distinctive styles that reflect their unique personalities and behaviors. 

The Blue Jay has a diverse and impressive vocal repertoire. It possesses a wide range of calls and vocalizations that they use to communicate with other members of their group, defend its territory, and convey various messages. 

It has a loud and distinct voice, often emitting sharp, piercing calls that can be heard over long distances. The vocalizations include various alarm calls, territorial calls, and even mimicry of other bird species' songs. 

In contrast, the Cardinal has melodious and enchanting songs. The male bird is particularly famous for its beautiful and complex melodies, which it uses to attract mates and establish territories. 


Blue Jays are known to be partially migratory. While some Blue Jays migrate, not all individuals within the population undertake long-distance journeys. 

Their migration behavior is influenced by factors such as food availability and weather conditions. 

In regions with harsh winters and limited food resources, Blue Jays may migrate southward to find more favorable conditions. However, in areas where food remains abundant throughout the year, some Blue Jays may choose to remain residents and forego migration.

female cardinal on a winter day

On the other hand, Cardinals are generally non-migratory birds. They tend to be year-round residents in their breeding territories. 

Cardinals have a strong affinity for their established habitats, often maintaining their territories even during the winter months. 

They are well-adapted to withstand cold temperatures and can find food sources in their local environments. 


bluejay feeding its babies

The Blue Jay constructs nests using twigs, grass, and other plant materials. Its nests are typically located on tree branches or in shrubs, providing a well-hidden and secure location for their eggs and young.

The Cardinal has a similar nesting habit but tends to choose different locations. It often builds its nests in dense shrubs, thick vegetation, or low tree branches, favoring concealed spots that offer protection and privacy. 

Blue Jays and Cardinals are known for their monogamous mating behavior, with males actively assisting in the nest-building process. They share the responsibilities of incubating the eggs and raising the young.


Like other birds, the lifespan of Cardinals and Blue Jays depends on many external factors. For instance, habitat threats and the presence of food sources have crucial roles. 

The Cardinal typically has a longer lifespan compared to a Blue Jay. 

On average, a Cardinal can live up to 15 years in the wild, although some individuals have been known to live even longer with proper conditions and care.

In contrast, the Blue Jay has a relatively shorter lifespan. It generally lives around 7 to 10 years in the wild, although some individuals have been documented to live up to 15 years or more under favorable circumstances.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What is the difference between Blue Jays and Cardinals? 

Blue Jays are known for their vibrant blue plumage, while Cardinals are recognized for their stunning red coloration. Their behaviors also differ, with Blue Jays being more vocal and aggressive, whereas Cardinals have a melodious song and tend to be less confrontational. 

Are Blue Jays aggressive toward Cardinals? 

Blue Jays can exhibit aggressive behaviors towards Cardinals if they perceive them as intruders or competitors in their territory, leading to confrontations between the two species. However, the level of aggression may vary depending on individual personalities and circumstances.

Which is bigger - Blue Jay or Cardinal? 

The Blue Jay is generally larger than the Cardinal in terms of size. However, it's important to note that size variations can exist within each species due to factors such as age, sex, and geographic location.


Overall, the Blue Jay and Cardinal are two birds that captivate attention. Their vibrant colors, distinct behaviors, and melodious songs will be a treat to any bird-watcher. 

Many bird species display fascinating variations in size, habitat, diet, and behavior, and Blue Jays and Cardinals are no exception. 

Armed with the right knowledge, it will now be easier to spot a Blue Jay and Cardinal next time you are out bird-watching! 

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