Q We've got cardinal youngsters coming to our feeders, but they don't look much like their parents. When do young cardinals get their color?

A It's amazing what ugly ducklings young cardinals are.

But only until late summer or early fall. Then, the young birds switch from their nestling diet of insects to eating the berries and seeds of the adults. That's when their dark beaks morph to a brilliant orange-red and their dull brown plumage molts to the bright red of the male or red-taupe of the female. By winter, the young cardinals will be as attractive as their adult counterparts.

Val Cunningham, a St. Paul nature writer, bird surveyor and field trip leader, can be reached at valwrites@comcast.net.