The Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

(Cardinalis cardinalis)

The male is recognizable by his vivid red plumage, crest like crown on the top of it's head and black mask on his face & throat. The female, although shaped like the male and the same size, is a tan to olive color on most of her body with a grayish mask and red crest, wings and tail. The beak of both male and female are red. they are both between 7-9 inches in length with a 12 inch wingspan.

Cardinals prefer the tangled shrubbery and thickets on the edges of woodlands. The male is very territorial. So much so that he is known to attack his own reflection in a window or shiny piece of metal.

What Do They Eat?

They eat mostly seeds, insects and berries and are easily attracted to backyard feeders. They are partial to black-oil sunflower seed and safflower seed.

Nesting and Mating

The male and female mate in early spring. Their monogamous faithful bond with each other is so strong that they remain in close contact with one another throughout the year and can be often heard singing to each other.

The female cardinal is the nest builder. She builds a nest in dense shrubs or small trees of twigs, bark, and roots. The inside is often lined with vines, grass and small rootlets. The nest typically takes 3 to 9 days to build; and about 2-3 inches tall, 4 inches wide, with an inner cup of 3 inches.

The female lays a clutch of three to four eggs, buff-white with dark marks and incubates them herself for 12-13 days. During this time the male will feed her at the nest and stand guard against intruders. Cicks are born blind, but fledge in 7-13 days and will hide in bushes for a few days still being fed by the male. During this time the female will start a second nest for the next clutch.

Cardinal Facts

  • The cardinal gets its name from it's red plumage that resembles the robe of a Roman Catholic cardinal.
  • They are permanent residents throughout their range and do not migrate south.
  • The Northern Cardinal is the state bird of seven different states.
  • Most cardinals live only one year or less; a two or three year old bird is a rarity.

Northern Cardinal

by Gary Ritchison

"Packed with information, the writing is clear and direct and accessible to bird watchers at every level." - -Eirik Blom, Birdwatcher's Digest

click here to view and buy the book

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