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Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal
Cardinalis cardinalis
(Order: Passeriformes, Family: Cardinalidae)

Diagnosis: The male Northern Cardinal is an almost completely red passerine with a distinctive black mask covering the eyes and extending onto the chest. Females are a light brown, but share their bright red crest, tail, and wingtips with males. It is a large songbird, measuring 20-23 cm, with a long tail and a cone-shaped orange bill, perfect for its granivorous diet. It has a wingspan of 25-30 cm. Named after the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church; it may be one of the most recognizable species in the United States.

Natural History: Cardinals do not migrate and both male and female take part in singing, nest building, and incubation, although the females are the main contributors to nesting and incubation. Males are generally very aggressive/territorial and have been know to attack their own reflection in mirrors, windows, etc…Very few female passerine species sing, and cardinals are among them. Research suggests that female cardinals sing to communicate with males, and not to establish or defend territory. Generally, nest-building takes anywhere from 3 – 9 days to complete and eggs are incubated for 11 – 13 days. Eggs are usually white with green or brown speckling. Young may be born with tufts of down, but are usually naked with closed eyes. Brood are fed for an average of 10 days before fledging. Females may successfully raise 1 or 2 clutches per year.

Distribution:  Found east of the Rockies from southern Canada to Florida and Mexico. Also on the big island of Hawaii and Oahu.



Habitat: Prefers woodlands and swamps, but has adjusted well to urban and human occupied habitats.

Diet: Granivorous-grains, seeds, weeds, and some fruits. May also consume small invertebrates. Has been observed drinking maple sap from hollows created by Sapsuckers.

Conservation status: IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern


Flickr Images:


Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology:


Ritchison, Gary. 1986. The Singing Behavior of Female Northern Cardinal. The Condor. University of California Press. Vol 88. No 2. pp 156-159.

Peterson, Roger Tory. 2010. Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North American 6th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. pp 312-313, fig 470

Image Credits:

Captured Cardinal: Andrew Spellmeyer

From:, no photographer specified

© Kevin Bolton: Cornell University Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds.

Traveling Man 2009: Pileated Woodpecker Harpers Ferry, WV, Flicker:

Nest & Eggs: © Rene Cornado: WFVZ

Range Map: Cornell University Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds.


Submitted by:  Andrew Spellmeyer, July, 2011.

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