The little bird in the Featured Photo is a female Northern cardinal (cardinalis cardinalis). These friendly, decorative little birds are also known as common cardinals, cardinal grosbeaks, redbirds, Virginia nightingales, cardinal birds, Virginia redbirds, crested redbirds and top-knot redbirds.
Male Northern Cardinals’ bright red color comes from eating various seeds and berries. This may explain the coloration you saw since the colors we see in bird feathering are actually the reflection of pigmentation strongly affected by diet. I've noticed color variations in birds who would normally have a reflection closer to true red, but who look very much more orange with differing light angles and dietary habits.
With the drought conditions we've had, most birds are somewhat challenged out there. Cardinals, like many other birds, depend heavily on berries from cedar trees in this area. The extended drought has adversely affected all our plants, including the hardy Ashe Juniper, a favorite winter food source. It's not entirely surprising that coloration is altered. It's probable that your little guy was a redbird under some degree of dietary stress.
More interesting facts... cardinals are usually monogamous and are a protected species. They were once captured for sale as caged birds which is fortunately now punishable by a fine of $15,000 and imprisonment of up to six months.
I'm sure you feel lucky as I do whenever a little cardinal family decides to move into the yard. They're great songbirds.
Please keep us posted about your sightings. Our birds are one of the nicest things about living out here, although habitat is diminishing.
If you eventually determine your little bird is definitely not a cardinal (I've seen them scrunch up to look shorter and fatter, and believe it might be one) and discover its identity, I'd love to hear about it. I'm only beginning to learn about some species around here and am not an expert.
[This message has been edited by M Griffin (edited February 04, 2009).]