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Cardinals-Beloved Redbirds

Updated on March 4, 2015
Sherry Thornburg profile image

Writer, photographer and birding enthusiast, Sherry Thornburg writes about birding and birding related topics.

Species Overview

Diet: Omnivore – seeds, insects and berries

Average life span: 15 years

Size: 8 to 9 in (21 to 23 cm)

Weight: 1.5 to 1.8 oz (42 to 51 g)

Habitat: Edges of forests and thickets, low brushy areas, suburbs and parks

Female Cardinal in Spring Colors

Bright eyed and dressed to attract - This lady cardinal is ready for Spring.
Bright eyed and dressed to attract - This lady cardinal is ready for Spring. | Source

James Knott's Mini-Documentary

Winter Cardinal

Winter foraging for berries. This female is harvesting Yaupon Holly berries.
Winter foraging for berries. This female is harvesting Yaupon Holly berries. | Source

Cardinal Basics

The Cardinal is likely one of the first birds most people learn. They are wide spread across the eastern half of the country and parts of Arizona. So popular, they are in high demand as the a state bird. Seven states have claimed it. They are of the Cardinalidae famly, related to Grosbecks, Tangers, Buntings and the Desert Cardinal Pyrrhuloxia.

The male is dressed to be noticed in the color of a Catholic Cardinal’s robe. The female is no drab bird either. She has red in her wings and tail crest and can have yellow, orange and brown feather mixes. Both have a black mask across their eyes and below their thick orange bills, though the female’s is not as dark. Both also have showy head crests.

Cardinal Food

Cardinals move in large groups to forage in the fall. You will see them mostly on the ground hunting seeds and in thick berry bushes such as yupon holly, blackberry and mulberry.

Insect preferences include beetles, crickets, katydids, leafhoppers, cicadas, flies, centipedes, spiders, butterflies, and moths. This is a good bird to have around for pest control.

To attract these birds

  • try Black Oil Sunflower seeds.
  • try blackberries, mulberries and grapes (with seeds) in the fall when their diet is mainly fruits.

Spring Nesting Season

When hormones are high during mating times, you will see male and female Cardinals at their territorial best, or worse, depending on your viewpoint. They are fierce. They will attack other Cardinals to secure their mate selection. They will attack other animals that get too close to their nests. You may have seen Cardinals trap cats under cars, chase squirrels across yards and even attack their reflections in windows and the glossy finish of cars. This is all about securing mates and territory, but will calm down in time.

Cardinal nests are built in in shrubs and dense vine tangles five to 15 feet above ground. The female is the main builder. They may have 2 to 3 broods a year, with 2 to 5 whitish to greenish eggs speckled in brown per clutch. Incubation takes 7-13 days. While chicks are growing, the female sings to her mate, likely keeping him informed about approaching threats and food needs. The nests are only 4 inches wide with a 3 inch cup for the eggs to fit in. They are not reused.

Caring Parents

Daddy Feeding his Fledgeling
Daddy Feeding his Fledgeling | Source

Cardinals as Parents

If you have the good luck to gain a Cardinal family as tenents in your bird house, you will have a good view of how veracious baby birds can be. I have never seen a nest, but I have seen cardinals come back and forth to my feeder carrying off seeds with a quick turn around. I have also seen them give my garden dirt a fine combing for grubs and other insects.

When the chicks fledge, parents will bring their babies to the yard, but may not let them on the feeder. I’ve seen these protective parents settle their little ones in tree branches, fences or rooftops to wait for mom or dad to fly back and forth from the feeder with seeds. It could be a week or more before you see little ones on the feeder by themselves. Even then, some parents will feed them beak to beak, as seen in the photo to the right, rather than let them gather on their own.

Did You Know?

The male cardinal will lose his bright colors and take on a duller redish brown while caring for babies in order to protect them.

The young cardinals defecate after every feeding. Parents will then take the fecal sac to a distant area for dumping to hide their location from predators.

Despite the fact they Cardinals are not migratory birds, they are listed as a protected species under the "Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918." It is illegal to own a Cardinal as a pet or to hunt them.

Increasing in Numbers

The Cardinal has been expanding out of their southeast range into the northeast and as far north as Canada. This is believed to be due to their affinity to backyard feeders.

© 2015 Sherry Thornburg


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    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Cardinals are beautiful birds. Thank you for sharing the interesting information about them. I love your photos of cardinals, too!

    • Hexder Jackets profile image

      Hexder Jackets 2 years ago from United state

      Cardinal looks really beautiful birds like the angel.