Photo: Why Are Cardinals So Conspicuous?

Bright red cardinal perched among branches

Richard Liebert / Flickr

You'd think a bird might want to blend in a bit to avoid predators; but for the male cardinal, the brighter the better. Our photo of the day comes from Richard Liebert – it is perfection, but begs the question: Why is that vibrant red cardinal so vibrantly red?? It's like, "HEY PREDATORS, HERE I AM." The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has kindly shed some light on the question: Essentially, hungry hawks be damned, it's all about catching the eye of the females. The Lab writes: "Brighter males have higher reproductive success, hold better territories, and offer more parental care. The intensity of a cardinal’s redness is related to what he’s been eating. So when females see a bright male, it’s a signal that he’s healthy and holds a good territory .... By responding to redness as a sign of a promising mate, females have encouraged the evolution of bright coloring in males." Meanwhile, the female’s muted tones give her the protective camouflage that males are missing. Well played, ladies, well played. Would you like to see your nature photo featured as the TreeHugger photo of the day? Join TreeHugger’s Reader Photo Pool on Flickr and add your pictures to the group.