Cardinal bird

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. 

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!
  • These birds have been known to migrate for up to 2000 miles, but typically stay within 500 miles of their nesting grounds.
  • 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.


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.

Male & Female

Male birds are usually larger than female ones, and male birds can grow to be anywhere from 8-9″ inches in length. In their early months of life, male cardinals are not too noticeable, because they are mostly nocturnal. During the day, they spend time feeding on berries, seeds, nuts, nectar, carrion, worms, and other insects.

Northern Cardinal male
Image by Jack Bulmer from Pixabay


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 cardinals 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.


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

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 Cardinals favorite food?

The Northern Cardinals love all sorts of seeds like sunflower or safflower seeds and will eat just about any kind of fruits, berries and nuts as well during summer months but switch to insects, spiders, worms, during the winter.

Do Blue Jays scare away Cardinals?

Blue Jays will definitely scare away cardinals and many other birds. They can be very intimidating to cardinals.

What trees attract Cardinals?

Cardinals are attracted to Mulberry trees, dogwood, blueberry, sumac, grape vines, and even some shrubs.

Do Cardinal mate for life?

Yes, Cardinals do mate for life. Cardinals are monogamous.

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.