Northern CardinalCardinalis cardinalis

adult male
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult female
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adult female
Rolf Nussbaumer/VIREO
adult male
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult male
Rolf Nussbaumer/VIREO

Family

Description

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.

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.

Feeding 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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

Conservation

Widespread and abundant, having expanded its range over the last century or more. Current numbers probably stable.

Range

Permanent resident throughout its range.

Listen

calls & song of courting pair
songs #5
songs #3
songs #1
tink calls (alarm)
songs #4
encounter calls
songs #2
pair song duet (female sings first)
calls & song with churr

Similar Species

adult male

Hepatic Tanager

In mountain forests of the Southwest, this tanager is fairly common in summer among the pines and oaks. Members of a pair are often found foraging together, moving about rather slowly in the tall pines as they search deliberately for insects in the foliage. The name "Hepatic" is a reference to the color of the male, a more liver-red or duller shade than that of our other red tanagers.

adult male, breeding

Scarlet Tanager

Male Scarlet Tanagers seem almost too bright and exotic for northeastern woodlands. These birds are fairly common in oak forests in summer, but they often remain out of sight as they forage in the leafy upper branches. Sometimes in spring, when the Scarlet Tanagers have just arrived from their winter home in South America, a late freeze will force them out in the open as they search for insects on roadsides or in gardens.

adult male, Eastern

Summer Tanager

A languid song in southern woods, sounding like a lazy robin, is the voice of the Summer Tanager. Seeing the bird may require some patience, because it usually moves rather slowly in the treetops, often remaining hidden among the leaves. At times, however, it flies out conspicuously to catch flying insects in mid-air. This bird apparently has no fear of stinging insects, often raiding wasp nests and occasionally becoming a minor nuisance around beehives.

adult male

Pyrrhuloxia

This "desert cardinal" is common in dry country of the Southwest. It is similar to the Northern Cardinal in its song and behavior, and the two overlap in many desert areas. However, the Pyrrhuloxia can tolerate drier and more open habitats; it is less sedentary and more social than southwestern Cardinals, with flocks often wandering away from nesting areas in winter. The odd name "Pyrrhuloxia," formerly part of this bird's scientific name, combines the Latin term for the Bullfinch with a Greek reference to the bird's bill shape.

Vireo

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