Photo: Tara Tanaka/Audubon Photography Awards

Northern Cardinal

Cardinalis cardinalis

One of our most popular birds, the Cardinal is the official state bird of no fewer than seven eastern states. Abundant in the Southeast, it has been extending its range northward for decades, and it now brightens winter days with its color and its whistled song as far north as southeastern Canada. Feeders stocked with sunflower seeds may have aided its northward spread. West of the Great Plains, the Cardinal is mostly absent, but it is locally common in the desert Southwest.
Conservation status Widespread and abundant, having expanded its range over the last century or more. Current numbers probably stable.
Family Cardinals
Habitat Woodland edges, thickets, suburban gardens, towns, desert washes. Found in a wide variety of brushy or semi-open habitats in the East, from forest clearings and swamps to city parks, almost wherever there are some dense bushes for nesting. In the Southwest, more local; occurs in tall brush, streamside thickets, groves of mesquites in desert.
One of our most popular birds, the Cardinal is the official state bird of no fewer than seven eastern states. Abundant in the Southeast, it has been extending its range northward for decades, and it now brightens winter days with its color and its whistled song as far north as southeastern Canada. Feeders stocked with sunflower seeds may have aided its northward spread. West of the Great Plains, the Cardinal is mostly absent, but it is locally common in the desert Southwest.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly while hopping on ground or in low bushes, sometimes higher in trees. Readily comes to bird feeders, where it favors sunflower seeds.


Eggs

3-4, sometimes 2-5. Whitish to pale bluish or greenish white, marked with brown, purple, and gray. Incubation is almost always by female alone, 12-13 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest about 9-11 days after hatching. Male may feed fledglings while female begins next nesting attempt. 2-3 broods per year, rarely 4.


Young

Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest about 9-11 days after hatching. Male may feed fledglings while female begins next nesting attempt. 2-3 broods per year, rarely 4.

Diet

Mostly seeds, insects, berries. Diet is quite varied. Feeds on many insects, including beetles, true bugs, grasshoppers, caterpillars, ants, flies, and many others, also spiders, centipedes, and snails. Most of diet is vegetable matter, including seeds of weeds and grasses, waste grain, leaf buds, flowers, and many berries and wild fruits. Young are fed mostly insects.


Nesting

Male sings to defend nesting territory, actively attacking intruding males (and attacking his own reflection in windows and mirrors). In courtship, male and female raise heads high, sway back and forth while singing softly; male often feeds female early in breeding season. Female sings mainly in spring before start of nesting. Nest: Usually well hidden in dense shrubs, vines, or low trees, placed 3-10' above ground, sometimes higher. Nest (built by female) is open cup made of twigs, weeds, grass, bark strips, leaves, rootlets, lined with fine grass or hair.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

Permanent resident throughout its range.

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Migration

Permanent resident throughout its range.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Rich what-cheer, cheer, cheer; purty-purty-purty-purty or sweet-sweet-sweet-sweet. Also a metallic chip.