Northern Cardinals

(Cardinalis cardinalis)

Northern Cardinals are a frequent visitor to bird feeders is one of the most admired backyard bird species. A bird so admired that seven states have named it as their states bird.


The male cardinal is a bright red bird with a pointed crest on the top of his head. The female is mostly buff brown in color with some red on her head, wings, and tail. Both have small black masks on their faces that surround the bill and eyes. About 8 1/2 inches long.

There is a hierarchy in the world of birds. For these red birds, the male with the brightest color is the head honcho. He is first at the feeders and picks the prime territory. After that, it goes down the pecking order.

Once a bird of the deep South, Cardinals have benefited from mankind as they have steadily expanded their range North into parts southern Canada and inching their way westward into the Great Plains. Indeed, their immigration has reached parts of New Mexico and Arizona. I dare say Cardinals will eventually reach the Pacific Coast.

This range expansion offers more bird watchers a chance to see and observe this beautiful bird.

Northern Cardinals are permanent residents throughout their range.

While a somewhat secretive bird, you may still be able to watch from a distance.

male cardinal

Mating Habits:

At Your feeder you may see what is referred to as mate feeding. What you'll see is the male picking up a seed, hop over to the female, and the two momentarily touch beaks as she takes the food.

Mate-feeding continues through the egg-laying and incubation phases of breeding.

Typically Northern Cardinal pairs remain together the whole year.

Although in winter the bond may be relaxed.

Pairs often stay mated until one dies at which time the surviving mate will look for another partner. However, mating for life isn't always the case as bird divorces do take place.

Typically a bird divorce is over reproduction or a lack of the ability to pass on the family genes.

Nesting Habits:

The female cardinal builds the nest while the male keeps a close eye on her and the surrounding territory for predators and other males.

The female will be the only one incubating the eggs.

The Male's duty during this time is to feed her on the nest and protect their territory from intruders.

Once the young hatch, both will feed them.

Two broods each season are attempted, sometimes three.

The nest is made up of twigs, bark strips, vines leaves, rootlets, paper, and lined with vines, grass and hair.

You can find the nest placed in dense shrubbery or among branches of small trees. Generally 1-15 feet above ground.

Laying 2-5 eggs that are buff-white with dark marks. The female incubates the eggs for 12- 13 days and the young leave the nest in 9-11 days after

It has been my experience and that of others, that if the female Northern Cardinal feels threatened the female will abandon her nest building and eggs to find a new location.

Always watch from a distance.

Northern Cardinal Feeding Habits:

What do they eat?

The adult's food consist of insects, spiders, wild fruits, berries, and weed seeds.

Plant berry producing shrubs and trees to attract cardinals in the summer.

Keep feeding to keep them year round.

Ground feeding birds by nature, you can attract cardinals to hopper style or platform feeders filled with black-oil sunflower seed, peanut pieces and cracked corn. If they are reluctant to visit your feeders, toss some sunflower seed and cracked corn on the ground under some trees and shrubs.

Cardinal pair in my yard

Northern Cardinals tend to be territorial in their feeding habits. The bird watcher may wish to place their bird feeders in both the front and back yards during mating and raising young seasons using the house as a visual barrier between territories.

In the winter months, cardinals form loose flocks and often show up in my yard and at my feeders 12 to 15 pair on any given snow covered day.

Cardinals are permanent resident throughout it's range.

Return to Common Birds Main Page

Northern Cardinals enjoy Sunflower Seed

Plant a Bird Garden

Shrubs to Attract Birds

Plant Native Flowers

Trees Offer Protection, Food and a Place to Nest.

Offer Water for a Drink and a Bath

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