Northern Cardinal Fact File
Male and female northern cardinals exhibit very clear sexual dimorphism. Males are easily noticeable due to their bright red feathers which cover most of the of the body except for a patch of black feathers around the eye, beak and a small patch down the chest.
Females are colored brown across most of their body with some red streaks over the wing and tail. The tail is long in both males and females.
The male and female both have a small crest of feathers on top of their head.
Both the male and female sport a bright red bill as adults. Juveniles can be identified as they have a blackish bill. These animals have a small dark eye.
Northern cardinals measure up to 23cm (9in) long with a wingspan of between 24 and 30cm (10 and 12in) across. They weigh an average of 42-48g (1.48-1.69oz).
The northern cardinal is an omnivore. Their diet includes seeds, fruits, grains and invertebrates. An observation exists of one feeding on another small bird during cold weather.
Young will feed more heavily on insects.
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North America is the native home of the northern cardinal. Here they can be found in Belize, Bermuda, Canada, Cayman Islands, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and the United States.
In the United States they are primarily found in the eastern half of the country and down through the south towards Mexico.
They make their home in forests, thickets, fencerows, riparian woodland, shrublands and wetlands with a preference for the edge of woods.
These birds are often seen around houses and their population has been able to increase with food provided in backyard bird feeders.
Males cardinals are highly defensive over their breeding territory which takes place from March to September. This will lead to them fighting their reflection when they see it in a mirror.
Pairs remain together outside of the breeding season and will breed with one another for multiple breeding seasons.
The pair form a nest in dense shrubs, vines or trees. This nest is an open cup which is formed out of twigs, weeds, grass, bark and leaves. It is then lined with grass or hair. The female does most of the building but the male will bring her material.
Most of the incubation is undertaken by the female. Between 2 and 5 eggs are laid which are colored whitish or pale blue with brown, purple and grey markings. These are incubated for 12-13 days.
Both parents will work together to feed the young. They leave the nest in as few as 9-11 days. These chicks receive feeding from their parents for a further 25 to 26 days after fledging.
Males will work to feed the fledglings while the female starts the next nesting attempt. This allows them to produce between 2 and 3 broods each year.
Sexual maturity is reached at the next breeding season after they fledge.
Northern cardinals are a songbird and are often recognized for their call. The male and female will often sing in turn with one another. They will sing year round to defend their territory against other birds.
During winter the northern cardinal will move around in flocks of two to fifteen birds and form larger flocks up to forty during prolonged snow.
Feeding takes place at ground level usually under the cover of shrubs.
Predators and Threats
Natural predators of the northern cardinal include birds of prey such as hawks, shrikes and owls, eastern grey squirrels and domestic dogs and cats. Chicks and eggs will face further predators including squirrels, snakes such as milk snakes and black racers and blue jays.
This species is one of the few that benefits from human expansion. Their ability to survive in man-made habitat which provide abundant resources has allowed them to expand their range.
The name “northern cardinal” comes from the bright red robes which were worn by Roman Catholic cardinals.
Northern cardinals are listed as the state bird in seven US states.
The northern cardinal is also known by a number of other names including the common cardinal, Virginia cardinal, cardinal red-birds, crested redbirds, cardinal grosbeaks and red-birds.
Public Domain. USFWS.
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