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Pictures of Birds - Cardinals Nesting

Updated on June 14, 2015
naturegirl7 profile image

Yvonne has been photographing and studying birds for 40+ years. She maintains bird and butterfly gardens in her Louisiana backyard habitat.

Male Cardinals Help Raise the Babies

Baby Cardinal begs for more from father Cardinal.
Baby Cardinal begs for more from father Cardinal. | Source

The Northern Cardinal is one of my most favorite song birds. The male is a beautiful crimson red color and the females are lovely shades of fawn brown and red.

Besides being attractive looking, Cardinals have many endearing qualities, such as the males' song, the fact that they will readily come to a bird feeder and how both parents care for the young.

I have been privileged to observe and photograph Northern Cardinals during the breeding process. On this page I will share my photographs of the adults, their nests and babies. You'll also find some facts about and observations of the habits of this lovely bird.

Bright Red Male Cardinal

Male Cardinals are very attractive.
Male Cardinals are very attractive. | Source

Cardinal Courtship

Many Cardinals begin pairing off in late winter here in south Louisiana. By late February (which is considered early spring here), courtship has begun. Pairs will share the feeders and the female will sometimes ask to be fed by the male.

Actually some pairs breed with the same partner for a few consecutive years. Sadly, the life expectancy of most song birds is short, only 2-4 years.

In March, males stake off their territory in a shrubby tangle and proclaim this property to be their own by singing loudly from the highest point. This discourages other males from trespassing.

In our habitat, they like to nest in the area around the pond and along the creek. That way a water supply is not far away.

Male Cardinals have a lovely song. To hear it, watch the video below.

Male Courting Female

The male and female pair up in late winter or early spring.
The male and female pair up in late winter or early spring. | Source
The male feeds the female as part of the courtship.
The male feeds the female as part of the courtship. | Source

Cardinal Singing Video

Female Cardinal

Mother Cardinal on the nest.
Mother Cardinal on the nest. | Source

Nest and Eggs

The female Cardinal is responsible for building the nest of twigs, vines, some leaves, bark strips, grasses, weed stalks, rootlets and lining it with fine grasses.

She usually chooses a thorny or dense shrub somewhere in her mate's territory.

Normally, within a week of completing the nest, she lays from 3 to 4 bluish, speckled eggs. Incubation begins when the third or fourth egg is laid and lasts from 11 to 13 days.

Cardinal Eggs

Mother Cardinal lays an egg each day.
Mother Cardinal lays an egg each day. | Source
Usually 3-4 eggs are laid.
Usually 3-4 eggs are laid. | Source

Baby Cardinals

When the baby Cardinals first hatch out, they are tiny, have no feathers and their eyes are closed. With their large beaks and body, they look like baby dinosaurs.

Soon their eyes open and feather shafts begin to form on their wings and they eat and poop... a lot.

When they are from 7 to 13 days old, they leave the nest. They have feathers, but can barely fly and don't really look mature enough to fledge.

The male feeds the young from the first brood, while the female builds a second nest.

Cardinal Babies Hatch and Grow

Baby Cardinals, a few days old.
Baby Cardinals, a few days old. | Source
Starting to show pin feathers on their wings.
Starting to show pin feathers on their wings. | Source
Just out of the nest, perched on a blueberry branch, trying to look like part of the bush.
Just out of the nest, perched on a blueberry branch, trying to look like part of the bush. | Source

Male Cares for Young

The male Cardinal feeds the first brood by himself.
The male Cardinal feeds the first brood by himself. | Source

Dad Raises the First 2 Broods

Male Cardinals are excellent parents. They raise the first two sets of fledglings all by themselves, while the females build a second and sometimes third nest and incubate the eggs.

The female feeds the young babies while they are in the nest, but once they fledge, the Dad takes over.

As the fledglings grow, the young males begin to molt their baby feathers and begin to show red coloration in spots. The young females become more tan than gray. The dark beak on both sexes of chicks also gradually turns orange. You can tell the age of a young Cardinal by the amount of adult plumage they have.

When the pair is on their last brood of the season, the female also cares for the young fledglings.

The sunflower seed feeders are one of the first places the parents bring the older fledglings when they are trying to wean them.

It can be quite comical when fledglings, almost as big as their parents, just refuse to be weaned and stand amid a pile of sunflower seeds begging to be fed.

Cardinals like seed feeders with roomy perches and shelf type feeders like the ones below. We use upturned "Hurricane Katrina logs" to make a quick and easy shelf feeder.

Feeding the Fledglings

Baby waits for Male Cardinal to return with food.
Baby waits for Male Cardinal to return with food. | Source
Mother helps to feed the final brood.
Mother helps to feed the final brood. | Source
Cardinals in Louisiana usually have 3 broods.
Cardinals in Louisiana usually have 3 broods. | Source

Male Cardinal in My Yard

The Cardinals, Goldfinches and other birds use the Brome Squirrel Buster, but the Squirrels can't.
The Cardinals, Goldfinches and other birds use the Brome Squirrel Buster, but the Squirrels can't. | Source

Baby Male Fledgling

Someday this bird will be a bright, red male Cardinal.
Someday this bird will be a bright, red male Cardinal. | Source

Cardinal Poll

Do you have Cardinals nesting in your yard?

See results

Immature Female Cardinal

Note the beak on this young female Cardinal.
Note the beak on this young female Cardinal. | Source

Red Cardinal in Holly Tree

Male Cardinal in a native American Holly tree.
Male Cardinal in a native American Holly tree. | Source

© 2011 Yvonne L. B.

Tell us about your Cardinals.

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    • profile image

      Toni 13 months ago

      My cardinals are just building their nest now. I am excited this is the first time they have built a nest in my yard. Amazing to watch the female with the grass and the male flying with her. He follows her everywhere.

    • profile image

      Ann B 2 years ago

      This is my first family. They showed up May 15,2016. He loves having his pictured taken. I'm sure they had been around for a few days. The babies hatched May 19,2016. This must be their first or maybe second batch. The Dad is awesome. The mom goes too, but the dad is not only a picture ham but a wonderful, protective, beautiful male.

      I hope they stay around. I love having them. They say they are a sign from heaven. My husband died a little over 3 years ago and he loved birds. The difference is my husband did not like to take pictures. But this one does. I love them.

    • naturegirl7 profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 2 years ago from South Louisiana

      During the winter, yes. We often see as many as 15 male and female cardinals eating together at the feeders when food is scarce.

    • profile image

      Kristine Hemauer 2 years ago

      I had 2 male cardinals by my bird feeder and one male cardinal eating from it this morning and close by was a female. Is that normal for them to be so close to each other? I live in Ellsworth, WI

    • naturegirl7 profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 2 years ago from South Louisiana

      Thanks for commenting. I'm glad my pictures helped you.

    • bearnmom profile image

      Laura L Scotty 2 years ago from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

      Thank you for such wonderful pictures for me to use as research. I was trying to determine if what appeared to be cardinal fledglings near my bird feeder were in fact just that. Your pictures have identified them as such for me.

    • profile image

      rose 2 years ago

      a cardinal made her nest right next to my deck railing in a bush resting against the deck. i had a hummingbird feeder just above it and changing the feeder never bothered the cardinal. she did have babies and she would let me peek at them, they just left the nest yesterday. what a joy to watch them .

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hello naturegirl,

      This is an excellent piece of writing. Amazing in every aspect of writing.

      I loved every word--and the lay-out was superb.

      Voted up and all the choices because you deserve it. I love birds of all types. I used to feed them in my front yard since I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and Neurothopy in 2003. I do not feel like it nowadays, and I did, at one time, teach my grandchildren how to feed birds. Your hub has somehow reignited that desire I had to feed my birds. So what if I hurt some?

      Thank you for sharing such a wonderful subject as birds.

      You have such a gift for writing. Just keep writing and good things are bound to happen to you.

      I cordially invite you to read one or two of my hubs, and be one of my followers.

      That would make my day.

      I am so honored to meet you.


      Kenneth Avery, Hamilton, Alabama

    • profile image

      Ann 4 years ago

      I ended up finding her some different worms in the ground and june bugs which she loved besides mealworms. All I had to do was lay them on the blanket in carrier and she would eat them. Was getting worried about her since she wasn't eating much sunflower seeds, so I was working on getting her filled on worms and insects. I also moistened and crumbled some kitten chow as suggested by other sites, but she didn't care about it. I let her by the open window every day to hear and see the birds. She was happy. I did notice her right wing was not flapping right, so I did find a rehabber and took her to her, so she in better hands now.

    • profile image

      Ann 4 years ago

      Great post! I have many cats around and keeping them in as much as possible now since they are always looking for babies in low areas. I do keep bird feeders up to see all the birds in the area. My young cat got a baby cardinal that left it's nest who was in a bush cuz of feathers there. I saved "her" which I believe it's a female because most feathers are showing female colors with bright orange beak. I have her in large cat carrier for few days now. Put some sunflower seeds in bowl and water in another. She eats and drinks from them. She not doing too good on breaking seeds open, so I have some already un-shelled I put in with the shelled and she eats those even though she still tries to break shelled ones. I also feed her "live" meal worms, but not sure how many to feed her. I give her five in morning and five in evening. That ok? I can't find any info on it. She doesn't have her tail feathers yet, and she flops around. She bit the heck out of my finger when I first picked her up in a little soft blanket. She still wants to bit me. She's like an ornery little kid! LOL cute little thing. She gets excited, not panicked, when she sees me now probably cuz of the meal worms. I don't want to put her back outside with my cats around until she can fly. How long do you think that will take? She looks completely like a female except no tail, very few gray feathers on her chest. I put her outside in her carrier this morning with cats inside to see if mommy and daddy would come around. They came and seemed very excited to see her. Daddy kept coming by to check on her. Took her back in later. Afraid to let her out.

    • profile image

      Help 4 years ago

      Well, they are alive today and the father is still around, but I don't believe he is sitting on the nest. They are very young. I am hoping rain does not come again tonight, but the weather doesn't look good this week.

    • profile image

      Help! 4 years ago

      Btw, I should add that a rain storm came thru this afternoon and they had no protection from the elements, other than the tree itself. I was really hoping the male would take over caring for them.

    • profile image

      Help 4 years ago

      Thanks... Unfortunately we do not have any centers that would take them. It is very sad to see these babies without the mother. I laid the female out in the grass so he could see she wasn't alive, because he has been singing all day and didn't see her get killed. I will be surprised if they make it thru the night. It is so upsetting. The mother bird worked so hard and was such a delight to watch. He has been feeding them today, but I'm concerned because I don't think he will stick around as he sees the female not returning. :(. Makes me sick.

    • naturegirl7 profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 4 years ago from South Louisiana

      Babies that young needs to be kept warm. The father may feed them, if he is not taking care of the previous brood, but without the mother or feathers, they will be exposed to the elements. Are there any wildlife rehabilitators in your area? Caring for birds that young needs to be done by someone with experience.

    • naturegirl7 profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 4 years ago from South Louisiana

      A predator probably disturbed the nest and knocked the egg out.

    • profile image

      Help! 4 years ago

      So sad our mother cardinal was killed today. Will the father take care of the babies? They are 3 days old.

    • profile image

      bebesmom ohio 5 years ago

      love love love cardinals they are certainly a delight to watching them feed the babies. they built their nest under the spouting on the side of our front day we saw a baby in our rhododendrum bush sitting quietlty for daddy to come and feed him.. and of course he did as we watched, a truly awesome scene!!!!!!

    • profile image

      Grandmaofmany 5 years ago

      We live in Louisiana. On the back wall of our brick house right beside the back sliding patio door we have a 2-bulb outside motion detector light. One day my son noticed a bunch of weedy looking branches hanging over the lights. He took it down. This happened two more times. Finally we saw a female cardinal again hanging those long weedy looking pieces over the light. This time we did not take it down. She continued to build her nest until now she is sitting on it. She and her nest are within arms reach of our back door. Sometimes she stays in the nest if we go out that door. Sometimes she flies away but always comes back. The mate is always close by. This happened after my husband changed the bird feed in the back yard to sunflower seeds mixed with some other kind of seed. We have a feeder in the front yard also with the same kind of seeds. We have seen Goldfinches, Indigo Buntings and today saw a Rose-breasted Grosbeak feeding out there. We are thrilled about the different types of birds we see now since we changed the seed to a Sunflower mix. We also have pesky comical squirrels raiding the feeders.

    • profile image

      donna Miller 5 years ago

      We had a cardinal build a nest in an artifical tree on our deck - there were two eggs - she sit on them for days - then when I looked (from a distance) one egg was in the nest and later we found the other one on the ground. I have not seen her since on the nest. I know it did not blow out of the nest. Can you tell me what may have happened. Thanks.

    • profile image

      Traci 5 years ago

      Too late. He passed last night. So sad.

    • profile image

      Traci 5 years ago

      A fledgling ended up in my egress window well a few days ago. I've watched the father diligently guarding him and feeding him suet and sunflower seeds from my feeders so I decided to leave him down there(there are many cats and dogs in the area) for his own protection. However, I haven't seen the father today...will he abandon the baby if he thinks it's a lost cause? Should I move the baby out of the well (which is like 4 ft deep)???

    • naturegirl7 profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 5 years ago from South Louisiana

      Good question. Cardinals lay an egg each day and usually lay 3-4 eggs total. The egg on the ground could have been knocked out, but going from an empty nest to 3 eggs in one day is unheard of, unless a cowbird visited the nest. Some birds cover up their eggs when they leave the nest so the nest looks empty.

    • profile image

      Debbie 5 years ago

      Found small egg in my grass and then tracked down an empty nest in my nearby privet. Next day I went to check and there were three eggs .have been seeing the parents flying in and out. Hope they all hatch. Why do you think the first egg was on the ground?

    • profile image

      Bubbywatcher 5 years ago

      The cardinals on our deck are so very beautiful we all are amazed. A city gal from birth these magnificent creatures are a wonder to observe. Thank you for all the illuminating information and awesome photos. Makes me want to becomev a birdwatcher.

      Thank you so very much.

    • profile image

      gamomofthree 6 years ago

      Thanks! We were thinking cat too, but I dont recall seeing any in the area. Thanks for your help.

    • naturegirl7 profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 6 years ago from South Louisiana

      It could have been a cat or, if you live in a more rural area, a raccoon or possum. So sorry. Cardinals, especially first time moms, sometimes build nests in insecure places. Normally they build in a thicket or tangle of vines, but I guess in suburban yards, they use what they can find.

    • profile image

      gamomofthree 6 years ago

      We have a cardinal nest in front of our dining room window. We have been watching the pair take excellent care of the two babies since last week. This morning when we got up, the nest was tipped upside down and no sign of the birds except for the male who has been hanging around. My boys found some feathers around the yard. Any idea what could have gotten them? Very sad for us, as they were so interresting to watch. :(

    • profile image

      Audrey 6 years ago

      While watching the female cardinal at her nest I noticed she got something from the nest, white, and ate it. Could it have been one of her eggs

    • naturegirl7 profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 6 years ago from South Louisiana

      Lisa and C. Stoddard,

      This seems to be a good year for Cardinals in my neck of the woods. I'm glad to hear that they are doing well in other parts of the country.

    • profile image

      C. Stoddard 6 years ago

      I live in Martin County Florida and I so enjoy watching the male take care of his family. He does feed his wife and guards his baby carefully as he sits in a hedge watching. Thanks for your helpful information.

    • profile image

      Lisa Crawford 6 years ago

      Thank you so much. I have a pair nesting in my bush next to my front porch, 2nd year. This year we had 4 eggs, three that hatched and 2 that left the nest. I was so worried that they was to small, but now I'm smiling knowing that the little cuties are right on schedule.

    • naturegirl7 profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 6 years ago from South Louisiana

      They will probably build another nest somewhere nearby, but probably not in the same shrub as the nest that failed.

    • profile image

      Randy C. Ball 6 years ago

      sooooooooooooo sad....We had a nest in a shrub...enjoyed the male taking care of his young...then this morning no activity ( storm last night) ...checked the nest and the young baby was dead....buried it and no more cardinals around....will they come back and try again?

    • profile image

      Anita Guttenberger 6 years ago

      Thanks for the answer about the black bird. Thatmay be it.

    • geoffclarke profile image

      geoffclarke 6 years ago from Canada

      Great article, naturegirl7. Cardinals are my favourite bird and I see them everyday in my garden. You can almost guarantee that they will be the first to arrive in the morning, and the last to visit in the evening. Great Hub, voted up and I'm eager to read more of your Hubs.


    • naturegirl7 profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 6 years ago from South Louisiana

      The larger black baby is probably a Cowbird chick. Cowbirds lay their eggs in other birds nest and the other birds unknowingly raise them as their own. With really small birds, like warblers, the cowbird baby will often knock the others out of the nest and the parents will end up raising just the Cowbird.

    • profile image

      Anita Guttenberger 6 years ago

      A pair of cardinals is feeding a totally black bird, slightly larger than they are but who flutters its wings like the babies. What is this?

    • naturegirl7 profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 6 years ago from South Louisiana

      The female does not start incubation until the last egg is laid. She usually lays 3-4. Sometimes, if a predator frightens a female from the nest, she will abandon it. Inexperienced females may also not be diligent nesters. You didn't say how long the nest had been abandoned. Wait and watch, you may be surprised. If the pair is still around, there is ample time for them to build another nest.

    • profile image

      Matt 6 years ago

      We had a nest right outside our kitchen window in a honeysuckle. There are eggs in the nest and suddenly the female stopped coming to the nest. We have been sure to give them plenty of space but it appears the nest is abandoned. Why would they leave the nest with eggs. The adult pair are still in our yard daily.

    • profile image

      momma2thekz 6 years ago

      What a great hub! We have a Cardinal building a nest right outside our bedroom window in a foster holly! My kids love checking her progress daily! We can't wait to see the eggs and the hatchlings! Thanks for the info and amazing pics!

    • profile image

      kianna 6 years ago

      good info

    • profile image

      Dixiemagnolia 6 years ago

      This year we had three pair of Cardinals come to our back yard habitat. We live on 3 acres surrounded by woods. There are so many young at the feeders now that we can't keep up with who belongs with whom!They truly are a delight to watch.

    • naturegirl7 profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 6 years ago from South Louisiana

      Susarno and Nita,

      Sorry for not responding sooner, susarno. When the babies first fledge, the parents keep them hidden in thickets and brush. You will probably not see them unless you happen upon them while walking in the woods.

      The parents start bringing them to the seed feeders when they are trying to wean them. As Nita described, they look like female cardinals, except the beak is dark.

      Thanks so much for the comments and I'm glad that the hub helped you.

    • profile image

      Nita 6 years ago

      I saw a crested juvenile at my feeder with reddish feathers and a brown beak and didn't know what it was. I thought all cardinals had the red/orange beaks. Now I know it's a growing baby cardinal. Thank you for all the beautiful pictures and great information.

    • profile image

      susarno 6 years ago

      After being housebound in early spring and living in a new place I was heartened and delighted to get know a cardinal pair.They are the epitome of grace and beauty and show their protective qualities like the most ardent of human couples. I am still watching but as yet have seen no babies although I see the pair several times a day. Could I be missing them somehow? Both male and female have been around for almost four months.

    • AmeliaKat profile image

      AmeliaKat 6 years ago

      We don't have any cardinals in our yard, mom talks about how pretty they are though. I am an avid birdwatcher and love seeing new species at our feeders. ymmmm finches..... So pretty, would love to see one up close.

    • naturegirl7 profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 6 years ago from South Louisiana

      Thanks Movie Master. Cardinals are one of my favorite birds. We are blessed to have so many of them nesting in our habitat.

    • Movie Master profile image

      Movie Master 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi naturegirl7 I have never seen a cardinal, what a beautiful bird, veru informative hub and fabulous photos, thank you.

    • naturegirl7 profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 7 years ago from South Louisiana

      Jimmie... and such a handsome fellow, too. And good with the kids. ;)

    • JimmieWriter profile image

      Jimmie Lanley 7 years ago from Memphis, TN USA

      The cardinal is one of my favorite birds. I grew up in NC and now live in TN, so we see them often. I notice that when they are at the feeder, the female is always accompanied by a male. What a good "husband!"

    • naturegirl7 profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 7 years ago from South Louisiana

      Thank you so much Ann. Coming from such a superb wildlife photographer, your comments mean a lot. I really love your work.

    • annmackiemiller profile image

      annmackiemiller 7 years ago from Bingley Yorkshire England

      Absolutely beautiful - can' find enough words to describe it. voted up and stuff and thumbs up for facebook and twitter.


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