Bird photography

The Northern Cardinal

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 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.

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 (

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.

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