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The Beautiful Cardinal
In layman’s terms they are called redbirds or common cardinal. But to an ornithologist, one who studies birds, they are known as a member of the Cardinalidae family. They are related to Finches which are considered the most highly developed and skilled of all birds. Cardinals survive on a diet of seeds and insects.
Whatever one chooses to call them, the Northern Cardinal has been described as one of the most beautiful and favored song birds in North America. Male cardinals are brilliant red, having a reddish bill, distinctive pointed crest and black face immediately around the bill. Females have a slightly lighter black face and red-orange bill. In fact, during the early 1800s, thousands were trapped each year in America and sold to Europeans as caged pets for those qualities. However the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918 put an end to that and today, it’s unlawful to hold them captive.
These magnificently colorful birds have been found so attractive several states have made them their official state bird. And more than one athletic team is named after the cardinal and has adopted it as their mascot. It is believed the bird was so named because of the red robes worn by Catholic cardinals.
Cardinals are found in North and South America. However, the South American varieties are classified in a different family. North American cardinals are among the continent’s most popular songbirds and the males are easily recognized by their bright red feathers and crested heads. Female cardinals, while also attractive, have a more understated, dull reddish color. Cardinals are especially abundant in the southern portions of the United States. In recent years, they were introduced into Bermuda and Hawaii and have adapted quite well.
Originally known as the "Northern Cardinal," it was once found only in the southern most regions of the United States. However, over the last century their range has grown to reach almost every state in the U.S. Even so, cardinals are not considered migratory birds, although they may wander a few miles from their nest seeking food and water. Since they don't migrate, if an attractive habitat is established a cardinal family may reside on a piece of property for many years.
Because they eat mostly insects, cardinals are sometimes introduced into areas to help control insect populations. Cardinals also eat wild fruit, leaf buds, berries and flowers.They live in nests, made from twigs, bark, roots,and lined with grass. Their natural habitats include thickets, bushes, woodlands, parks, and residential areas. If the female feels threatened, they frequently will abandon their nest and find a new location.
Cardinals mate for life, so if one is seen, it’s a good bet their mate is close by. The male and female often serenade each other, alternately singing the same tune one after the other. They are fond of singing. If females change to a different tune, their mates will do likewise. These birds are sometimes comical and fun to watch as they often fight with their reflection in house windows and car mirrors.
The female lays 3-5 eggs at one time and incubates them while the male brings food. Eggs hatch in just under 14 days, at which time both feed and watch over their young. Up to four broods may be raised during a single breeding season. One of their mating habits is referred to as "mate feeding.” The male takes a seed, hops over to the female and the two briefly touch beaks as she takes the food. Actually, this is common with many birds.
Cardinals will eat at most available bird feeders. They love sunflower seeds and will usually eat them first before starting in on other seeds. These birds will visit a feeder starting early in the morning and keep returning well into the evening. They prefer a steady stationary feeder about 5-6 feet above the ground over a hanging bird feeder. Male cardinals are highly territorial and will often fight other birds for available birdseed.
There are many predators native to North America, which prey upon Northern Cardinals. Some of these include:
· Cooper’s Hawks
· Loggerhead Shrikes
· Northern Shrikes
· Eastern Gray Squirrels
· Long-eared Owls
· Eastern Screech Owl
Chicks and eggs are at risk from:
· Milk Snakes
· Coluber Constrictors
· Blue Jays
· Fox Squirrels
· Eastern Chipmunks
Cardinals, like all birds, need to live near a water source. A heated bird bath will provide them comfort and unfrozen water during the winter months.