The Northern Cardinal

The northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is a common bird in North America and is the state bird of several states. It is known for its bright red plumage and crest on its head.

bird feeder in your backyard
A bright red male cardinal perched on a branch in the snow. Photo by Trevor Jones.

When is the Best Time to See a Cardinal?

The best time to see a cardinal bird depends on the specific location and climate, but in general, cardinals are most active and visible during the breeding season, which usually runs from late winter to early fall. They are quite common birds and can be seen year-round in many parts of their range. They are known for being non-migratory birds, living in the same area year-round, even in cold regions.

During the breeding season, males are more conspicuous and vocal, and they may be seen defending their territories and attracting a mate. The females are also more active during this time as they build nests, lay eggs, and care for their young.

The best time of day to see cardinals is usually early morning or late afternoon when they are most active and feeding. They are also known to be active during the day, so you may see them at any time of the day.

Northern Cardinal Behavior

Here are some behaviors that are commonly observed in Northern Cardinals:

  1. Singing: Male Northern Cardinals are known for their loud, clear whistle-like song, which is used to establish territory and attract mates.
  2. Perching: Northern Cardinals are often seen perching on trees, shrubs, or bird feeders, where they survey their surroundings for potential predators or food.
  3. Feeding: Northern Cardinals primarily feed on seeds and insects, and are often seen at backyard bird feeders. They use their strong beaks to crack open seeds and shells.
  4. Mating: During the breeding season, Northern Cardinals form monogamous pairs and engage in courtship behaviors such as feeding each other and displaying their bright plumage.
  5. Territorial behavior: Northern Cardinals can be aggressive toward other birds that they perceive as a threat to their territory or mates. They may engage in chasing or physical combat with other birds.
  6. Nesting: Northern Cardinals build nests in shrubs or trees, where they lay 2-5 eggs. Both males and females are involved in incubating the eggs and feeding the nestlings.

Overall, Northern Cardinals are active and vocal birds that are commonly observed in suburban and rural areas and are a popular species to attract to backyard bird feeders.

Northern Cardinal Facts (Video):

What Does a Cardinal Bird Represent?

The bird is often associated with Christmas and the winter season due to its color and the fact that it is often seen in gardens and backyards during the colder months.

In addition to its physical characteristics, the northern cardinal is also known for its distinctive song and its tendency to form monogamous pairs. In many cultures, the northern cardinal is also considered a symbol of vitality, loyalty, and courage.

What Does a Cardinal Look Like?

A cardinal bird has distinctive red plumage, with a black mask around the eyes and a crest of feathers on top of its head. Its beak is also black and its wings and tail are dark brown. The male and female cardinals look similar, but the male is generally brighter and more vibrant in color.

The Northern Cardinal Bird is one of the most recognizable birds to people around the world. You do not need to be an expert birder to identify this one!

Northern cardinal
A male cardinal perches on a tree with falling snow all around him. Photo by Trevor Jones.

What Sound Does a Cardinal Bird Make?

The northern cardinal bird makes a loud, clear whistle, often described as “cheer, cheer, cheer” or “whit-chew, whit-chew.” The male cardinal’s song is usually louder and more musical than the female’s call, which is usually a shorter, quieter series of notes. The male cardinal also makes a loud, sharp chip or chirp sound, which is used as an alarm call or to signal territorial presence.

Are Northern Cardinals a Common Bird?

Northern Cardinals are a common bird in North America. They are found throughout the eastern and southern United States, as well as parts of Mexico, Central America, and South America. They are also a popular bird to attract to backyard feeders due to their striking appearance and pleasant song.

The population of Northern Cardinals has generally remained stable over the past 25 years in North America, according to data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS). The survey shows that the population has increased slightly in some regions, while declining in others, but overall the population has not undergone significant changes. It’s worth noting that changes in habitat, climate, and other factors can affect bird populations, so continued monitoring and conservation efforts are important for the long-term health of Northern Cardinal populations.

When Do Cardinals Start Nesting?

The timing of when cardinals start nesting can vary depending on the specific location and the climate. However, in general, cardinals begin breeding in late winter or early spring. In the southern part of their range, cardinals may start nesting as early as February, while in the northern parts of their range, they may not start until April or May.

Cardinals are known to have 2-3 broods per year, with the first brood starting as early as late March, and the last one starting as late as early August. The nesting process can take from 10-14 days, after which the female lays 2-5 eggs, which she incubates for about 12-13 days.

What Color are Cardinal Bird Eggs?

The eggs of the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) are typically a pale blue or bluish-green color with brown or purple speckles. They are generally about 1 inch long and 0.75 inches wide. The eggs are incubated for about 12-13 days, after which the chicks hatch. The female cardinal does most of the incubation, but the male helps by bringing her food while she is on the nest.

Cardinal Eggs in the nest. Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Helpful Resource: How to Recognize Cardinal Eggs (

What Does a Baby Cardinal Look Like?

Baby cardinals, also known as nestlings, have a distinctive appearance that is different from adult cardinals. Here are some characteristics of baby cardinals:

  1. Naked and pink: When they hatch, baby cardinals have no feathers and are covered in pink skin.
  2. Closed eyes: Their eyes are closed, and they rely on vocalizations and touch to communicate with their parents.
  3. Yellow or orange beaks: Baby cardinals have a bright yellow or orange beak, which gradually darkens as they age.
  4. Fuzzy feathers: As they grow, they develop a coat of downy, grayish-white feathers that look fuzzy and soft.
  5. Stubby tails: Baby cardinals have short, stubby tails that gradually grow longer as they mature.
  6. Lack of bright plumage: Unlike adult cardinals, baby cardinals have a duller coloration with a brownish-gray back, and are not yet adorned with the bright red plumage that is characteristic of the species.

Overall, baby cardinals have a distinctive appearance that sets them apart from adult birds, but they are no less adorable and can be a delight to observe as they grow and develop.

Average Lifespan of a Northern Cardinal

The average lifespan of an American cardinal is around 2-3 years in the wild. However, some individuals have been known to live as long as 15 years in captivity.

Cardinals face many challenges in the wild, such as disease, predators, and harsh weather conditions, which can shorten their lifespan. However, if they are able to survive these challenges, they can live a relatively long life.

Factors like access to food, good nesting sites, and protection from predators can also affect the survival rate of cardinals and thus their lifespan.

It’s important to note that many wild birds have a high mortality rate during their first year, as they have to learn to survive and find food on their own. Once they reach adulthood, their chances of survival increase significantly.

backyard birds
A female Northern Cardinal perched on a tree branch. Photo by Trevor Jones.

Red Bird Meaning

The Cardinal is so strikingly red, it stands out to people that don’t see them very often. Some people that see a Cardinal a looking for the red bird meaning, or more specifically, the spiritual meaning of seeing a red bird. There are many other red birds in the wild, but the Cardinal is one of the most common ones we see in North America.

So, if you see a Cardinal, it could mean something more to you, depending on what you are experiencing in your life. I personally remember seeing a bright red Cardinal on Christmas morning as a child, and it felt like a special moment between me and the bird at the time.

Different cultures and belief systems have different interpretations of what it means to see a red bird. In some cultures, seeing a red bird is believed to be a sign of good luck, happiness, or prosperity. In others, it may be seen as a message from a deceased loved one, a symbol of passion or love, or even a warning of danger or impending change.

In general, it’s important to note that seeing a red bird may simply be a coincidence or a natural occurrence, and any meaning or interpretation may be subjective. It’s always a good idea to consider the context in which you see the bird and how it makes you feel, and use your own intuition and beliefs to determine any personal significance it may hold for you.

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