Northern Cardinal

Cardinalis cardinalis

Copyright, Jim Roetzel

Northern Cardinals are probably the most easily recognized bird in our area, with the possible exception of the American Crow.

Male and female cardinals are eight to nine inches long. Males are usually bright red with a black face. Females are tan with some red on the head, wings, and tail. Both sexes have a crest (pointy feathers on top of the head).

Immature (young) cardinals look more like females than males.

Northern Cardinals live at the edges of woods, thickets, fields, marshes, parks, and gardens.

This bird can be seen year-round, since it does not migrate.

Northern Cardinals begin their breeding season in early Spring. Males are very territiorial and defend their territories aggressively. They often attack their own reflections, mistaking them for other males.

Northern Cardinals build a cup-shaped nest in dense shrubs. They use twigs, leaves, grass, bark strips, roots, weed stems, paper, and hair to build nests. They even use threads from Poison Ivy stems!

Copyright, Jim Roetzel

Copyright, Fred Fallon

 

Copyright, Gregory Gough

Northern Cardinals lay three or four pale green eggs, with brown spots. The female does most of the incubating (sitting on the eggs), but the male helps when he isn't looking for food. Eggs hatch in about 12 days.

Once the young cardinals have hatched, the male tends to them while the female begins building a new nest. Northern Cardinals usually have two broods (sets of young) each year.

Copyright, Peter LaTourrette, http://birdphotography.com

Copyright, R. W. Scott, Birds in Flight

Very often, another bird, the Brown-headed Cowbird, will lay an egg in a cardinal nest. The cardinals, without knowing it, raise the cowbird as their own. This makes the cowbird a parasite, since it takes food and energy away from the young cardinals.

Northern Cardinals eat mostly fruits and seeds throughout the year, but will rely somewhat on insects during the summer. They also sometimes eat flowers and buds. Young cardinals are fed mostly insects by their parents.

Predators of Northern Cardinals include owls, hawks, snakes, Raccoon, and Red Fox.

Huntley Meadows Park

Copyright, Dr. Lloyd Glenn Ingles, California Academy of Sciences

Additional Media

Description
Type
Credit
Northern Cardinal Call
Sound
Greg Gough
Northern Cardinal Song
Sound
John R. Sauer
Northern Cardinal Perching
Video
Greg Gough
Northern Cardinal Coloring Page
Link to Printable Page
EnchantedLearning.com
Download Quicktime if you are unable to play video.

Relationships in Nature:

PREY/FOOD
PREDATORS
SHELTER
OTHER

American Holly

Barred Owl

Eastern Redcedar

American Holly D

Wild Grape

Black Rat Snake

Witch Hazel

Wild Grape D

Eastern Redcedar

Red-tailed Hawk

American Holly

Eastern Redcedar D

Virginia Pine Sawfly

Raccoon

Wild Grape

Evergreen Blackberry D

Differential Grasshopper

Red Fox

Poison Ivy

Black Cherry D

Field Cricket

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Common Dandelion

Highbush Blueberry D

Cabbage White

Common Crow

English Plantain

Smooth Sumac D

Lamb's Quarters

Red Clover

Pokeweed D

Smooth Crabgrass

Greenbrier

Common Elderberry D

Evergreen Blackberry

Smooth Sumac

Brown-headed Cowbird Pa

Tussock Sedge

Common Elderberry

True Katydid

Switchgrass

Highbush Blueberry

Evergreen Blackberry

Virginia Creeper

Green Hawthorn

Yellow Poplar

Buttonbush

Common Black Ground Beetle

Climbing Bittersweet

Flowering Dogwood

Kentucky Bluegrass

Smooth Sumac

Virginia Rose

Greenbrier

Virginia Rose

Relationship to Humans:

Northern Cardinals are most helpful to humans by providing beauty with their bold colors and song. They frequently build nests near homes and help control insect populations. Northern Cardinals also help spread plants by eating fruits and dropping seeds in new places. This can be helpful, or harmful, if the plants are pesky weeds.

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

KINGDOM
Animal
PHYLUM
Chordate
CLASS
Bird
ORDER
Passeriformes
FAMILY
Cardinalidae
GENUS
Cardinalis
SPECIES
Cardinalis cardinalis

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