Cardinal bird

50 Cardinal Bird Facts Every Birdwatcher Should Know!

Cardinals are a common sight in many gardens. They are also one of the most popular bird species in North America. But how much do you really know about them?

Cardinals are an attractive bird that is native to North America, which makes it a popular backyard resident for those who live there. 

Cardinal Bird Facts

Fun Facts

  • The Northern Cardinal is one of the most recognizable birds in North America with its distinctively large head crest on top of its head!
  • They live in tree cavities, nest boxes or birdhouses 
  • The cardinal’s song consists of four to six simple phrases, each repeated twice and followed by two or three single notes in succession. They will sometimes also produce the same song in shorter form when feeling threatened or agitated. 
  • Cardinals also form monogamous relationships with one another, staying together year-round and defending their territory against other pairs that might be interested in moving into it. 
  • Cardinals feed on seeds from a variety of plants, as well as fruits like apples and oranges.
  • Cardinals often sing to each other before they mate or fight with another cardinal for territory.
  • The colors of their feathers vary by sex; males are red, while females are brownish orange with some black spots on their wings.
  • The Cardinal was introduced to Hawaii in 1929.
  • Cardinals live in both rural and urban areas, preferring open spaces such as meadows, parks, gardens, hedges or forests.
  • They are often seen as symbols of hope, joy, peace, and love.
  • The cardinal is a popular symbol for Christianity because it’s known as a harbinger of spring and rebirth, since its red feathers represent Christ’s blood.
  • Cardinals often build their nests high up in trees so that they can avoid predators on the ground below them.
  • The red color on their feathers comes from pigments that come from eating insects such as cinnabar moth larvae. These colors are then transferred to their feathers through a process called oxidation, which occurs when they preen themselves 
  • Cardinals were first seen by Europeans in 1602 near Mexico City, when explorers brought them back to Europe for study.
  • Cardinals have a unique ability to synthesize their own red pigments, which is why their feathers are so vibrantly colored.
  • The Northern Cardinal is the state bird of seven US states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.
  • Cardinals have a varied repertoire of songs, including whistle-like sounds, trills, and chirps. They may even mimic other bird species.
  • In some Native American cultures, cardinals are believed to symbolize good luck, love, and even resurrection.
  • Cardinals are monogamous during the breeding season and may mate with the same partner for several years in a row.
  • Cardinals can live for up to 15 years in the wild, although most do not survive that long.
  • Female cardinals may lay up to four clutches of eggs per breeding season.
  • Cardinals are non-migratory birds and typically do not travel long distances, but they may make short seasonal movements in response to food availability and weather conditions.
  • Cardinals have a strong preference for black oil sunflower seeds, and may even cache or hide excess seeds for later use.
  • Cardinals have excellent vision and can see a wide range of colors, including ultraviolet light. They also have a high density of cone cells in their eyes, which help them see fine details and spot predators.
  • Cardinals have a strong preference for nesting in dense, thorny vegetation like shrubs and hedges, which can provide protection from predators.
  • Cardinals are primarily seed-eaters, but they may also eat fruit, insects, and spiders, particularly during the breeding season.
  • Female cardinals are responsible for building the nest and incubating the eggs, while males help to bring food to the female and their chicks.
  • Cardinals are often seen perching on low branches or on the ground, but they are actually capable of flying up to 20 miles per hour.
  • Cardinals have a unique digestive system that allows them to extract as much nutrition as possible from their food, including hard-to-digest seeds and nuts.
  • Cardinals are known to engage in a behavior called “anting,” where they rub ants or other insects onto their feathers to help control parasites.
  • Cardinals have a wide range of vocalizations that they use to communicate with each other, including calls to warn of danger, songs to attract mates, and softer calls to communicate with their young.
  • Cardinals are often preyed upon by hawks, owls, and domestic cats, but they can use their sharp beaks and strong claws to defend themselves.
  • Cardinals have been known to get trapped inside buildings or in large open spaces, and may become disoriented and unable to find their way out.
  • Cardinals are sometimes kept as pets, but it is important to note that it is illegal to capture, sell, or possess wild cardinals in many parts of the world.

Range

The North American cardinal is a very popular bird in its own family, the Cardinalidae. It is also referred to colloquially as simply the Northern Cardinal.

It is found in southern Canada, from southern Minnesota to northern Texas to Arkansas, westward to Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. Furthermore, it is found in nearly all major parts of the continent.

Check out the Maps: Range MapSightings Map

Male & Female

Male and female cardinals have some physical differences that can help distinguish between the two. The male cardinal has bright red plumage, a black mask around their eyes, and a distinctive crest on their head.

Females, on the other hand, are a duller shade of brown with a reddish tint on their wings, tail, and crest. Additionally, female cardinals have a more pronounced beak and lack the black mask found on males.

These differences make it relatively easy to tell the sexes apart, especially when a male and female cardinal are seen together.

Northern Cardinal male
Image by Jack Bulmer from Pixabay

Nesting

Cardinals lay eggs that are shaped like hollow spheres. They are attached to the egg case by a “crimp” that is called a “sperme.” When the female redbird emerges from her nest, she lays an eggshell on the egg case.

This eggshell protects the egg and the inside from harmful elements, as well as protecting the baby. Once the baby bird emerges from its eggshell, it takes a few days for it to be born and for its feet claws to emerge from its skin.

Its body is soft, and fleshy when it emerges, but hardens as it matures. The male cardinals are usually large and powerful. Males feed the female redbird, which feeds them.

The male and female redbirds breed for several years before they separate. Then the male goes off to mate with another female. Eventually, the female will return to the nest, lay the eggs, which will hatch into the next generation.

19 Subspecies of Cardinals

Cardinals are members of the Cardinalidae family, and there are 19 different subspecies of cardinals in North America alone. It is important to know what kind you’re looking for before setting out on your birding adventure so that you can be sure to find it! 

Northern Cardinal female
Image by Jack Bulmer from Pixabay

Size & Weight

Many people believe that the only difference between a male and female northern cardinal is their color. However, they are actually very different creatures with a number of notable differences.

The average length of a male northern cardinal is 8 to 9.0 inches with an average weight of 1.5 to 2 ounces, and have a wide wingspan which measures 10 to 12 inches.

Females on the other hand are typically 7-8 inches long with an average weight of 0.8 ounces.

Flight Speed

The cardinal’s flight is long, swift, and steady, making it one of the fastest birds on the earth. It is known to fly at up to 30 miles per hour, and it can be observed flying at night and during the daytime.

Furthermore, it has a very acute hearing sense, and it can hear the clicking of its beaks on the branches, its wings beating against the wind, and the passing of insects.

Characteristics

The Northern Cardinal is a well-known bird that sings loudly and often. The cardinal’s song typically lasts for 2 to 3 seconds, with many repeated phrases.

Cardinals can sing during the day or night, but it is more common at dawn and dusk. The male and female will sometimes sing together in courtship rituals.

Male cardinals are very territorial when it comes to protecting their nests and young. While the female incubates the eggs, it is the male’s duty to protect.

Male cardinals have been observed on many occasions attacking other birds such as hawks or even humans that approach their nest too closely.

They will use vocalizations and physical contact in order to scare off these intruders from a distance before they get too close to his precious offspring’s nest site. 

Northern Cardinal birdhouse
Image by Craig Reynolds from Pixabay

Sounds and Calls

Northern Cardinals are known for their varied vocalizations, which they use to communicate with each other. Their calls can range from loud, clear whistles to softer chirps and chips, and they also have a distinctive song that is often described as a series of clear, whistled notes.

Male cardinals are particularly vocal, using their songs to defend their territories and to attract mates during the breeding season. Female cardinals are also capable of vocalizing, and may use softer calls to communicate with their mates and young.

Overall, the sounds and calls of the Northern Cardinal are an important part of their social behavior and can be a delight for birdwatchers to observe and listen to.

Listen to Sounds: Sounds and Calls

Life Expectancy

The cardinal has a lifespan of around 3–4 years in the wild, though it is possible to get them to live for twenty years in captivity.

If you are going to breed a pair of cardinal birds, be sure to have them bred under the strictest conditions so that the females will only have the best conditions to produce the strongest offspring.

The male cardinal has a tendency to roam from one place to another and mate with many females. This is where the male can have trouble making a decision regarding which female it prefers to mate with and therefore be less likely to produce the strongest offspring.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Cardinal’s favorite food?

The Northern Cardinal’s favorite food is sunflower seeds, but they also eat other seeds, fruits, and insects. Cardinals have strong, thick beaks that allow them to crack open seeds and nuts. They will visit bird feeders for a steady supply of sunflower seeds, and can often be seen foraging on the ground for fallen seeds. Providing a mix of seeds and fruits can attract cardinals to your yard, but they may also eat insects during the breeding season to provide protein for their young.

Do Blue Jays scare away Cardinals?

Blue Jays and Cardinals are both common backyard birds that often feed on the same types of seeds and nuts. While Blue Jays can be aggressive towards other birds when defending their territory or food, there is no evidence to suggest that they specifically target or scare away Cardinals. These two species can often be observed feeding in the same areas without issue, and both are known to be adaptable and resourceful birds.

What trees attract Cardinals?

Cardinals are attracted to trees that provide good cover, nesting sites, and a source of food. They are known to prefer trees such as dogwood, mulberry, blue spruce, Eastern red cedar, and pine. These trees provide a variety of seeds, berries, and insects that make up the cardinal’s diet. Additionally, these trees often have dense foliage, which provides good shelter for cardinals. By planting these trees in your yard or garden, you may be able to attract cardinals to your area.

Do Cardinal mate for life?

Some species of cardinals mate for life, while others do not. Northern Cardinals in North America usually form new pairs each breeding season, while the red-capped cardinal found in South America has long-term pair bonds and may stay together for multiple breeding seasons. However, there may be exceptions where a pair separates, or a bird finds a new mate, even among species known to mate for life.

Are Cardinals friendly birds?

The truth is that cardinals tend to be shy and not very aggressive. Cardinals do defend their territory by singing loudly and chasing other birds away from the nest or feeder, but these behaviors typically happen only if the cardinal feels threatened. They will sometimes hide in the trees when humans approach them, which makes them hard to see if you’re trying to spot one in your backyard.

Author

  • Vince S

    Meet Vince, the passionate founder and author of Learn Bird Watching, boasting 30 years of birding experience. With an unwavering mission to empower fellow bird enthusiasts, Vince shares invaluable wisdom and guidance. As a dedicated moderator and contributor to Quora's Bird Watchers' Club, he actively engages with the birding community, where his insightful answers have garnered over 440,000 views and over 2,670 upvotes. Whether you're a budding birder or a seasoned avian aficionado, his wealth of knowledge is at your service.