Description of the Northern Cardinal

BREEDING MALE

The Northern Cardinal is slightly smaller than the American Robin, and has a very thick, red bill and a prominent crest.

Male cardinals are bright red with a black face.

Northern Cardinal

Female

Female cardinals are mostly brownish with some red in the wings, crest, and tail.

Northern Cardinal

Seasonal change in appearance

None.

Juvenile

The juvenile cardinal resembles the adult female but has less red, and has a black bill.

Northern Cardinal

Habitat

Woodlands, parks, gardens, and thickets, including those near human habitation.

Diet

Seeds, insects and berries.  Cardinals will come to bird feeders for sunflower seeds.

Behavior

Usually forages on the ground or in low bushes.  Sometimes occurs in small groups in the winter.

Range

Breeds throughout the eastern and southwestern portions of the U.S., and south to Central America.. Its population is stable in the U.S.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Northern Cardinal.

Fun Facts

The colorful and popular Northern Cardinal has been voted the state bird in seven states.

The cardinal’s red color is due to carotenoid pigments in its diet, and research has shown that brighter red males are more successful when it comes to finding a mate and reproducing.

The range of the Northern Cardinal has been expanding north in recent decades, due in part to its willingness to utilize bird feeders.

Vocalizations

A series of high, clear whistles sometimes described as "what, what, what-cheer cheer cheer."

Attracting

Will visit feeders for sunflower and safflower.

Nesting

The Northern Cardinal builds a loose structure of twigs, leaves, bark, and grasses, usually lower than 10 feet up in a tree or shrub.

Number: Usually 2-4 eggs.
Color: Gray, blue, or greenish and heavily marked with brown, gray, and purple.

Incubation and fledging:
Young hatch at about 11-13 days and leave the nest at about 9-10 days, but continue to associate with adults for several weeks.