Male cardinals are bright red except for a
black mask on their face. Females are light brown
or light greenish-brown, with reddish highlights,
and do not have a black mask (but parts of their
face may be dark). Both males and females have
thick, orange-red, cone-shaped bills, a long
tail, and a distinctive crest of feathers on the
top of their heads. Immature cardinals are
similar in appearance to females, but have a
A medium-sized songbird, the average cardinal
is 8-1/4 to 9-1/4 inches long, with males being
slightly larger than females.
Cardinals often sit with a hunched-over
posture and with the tail pointed straight down.
Northern cardinals are found throughout
eastern and central North America east of the
Rocky Mountains, from southern Canada into parts
of Mexico and Central America. They have also
been introduced to California, Hawaii, and
Bermuda. One of the relatively few animal species
to benefit from the expansion of urban areas, the
northern cardinal has developed a preference for
the edges of woods, hedgerows, and vegetation
around houses. In fact, changes in habits caused
by humans have made more areas available to the
cardinal and made it easier for it to survive in
Pair formation begins in early spring, and is
initiated with a variety of physical displays.
The male performs a variety of displays to
attract a female, including courtship feeding.
Pairs may stay together throughout the winter,
but up to 20 percent of pairs split up by the
Breeding pairs usually raise two broods a
year, one beginning around March and the second
in late May to July. A week or two before the
female starts nest-building, she starts to visit
possible nest sites with the male following
along. The pair call back and forth and hold
nesting material in their bills as they assess
each site. They prefer dense thickets, but will
also use small trees, bushes, shrubs and thick
vines that are no more than three to eight feet
off the ground. The cup-shaped nest has four
layers: coarse twigs (and sometimes bits of
trash) covered in a leafy mat, then lined with
grapevine bark and finally grasses, stems,
rootlets, and pine needles. Cardinals usually use
a new nest for each brood.
Once the nest is completed, the female lays 1
to 5 (usually 3) white to greenish eggs that
average about one inch in length and one-half
inch in diameter. Incubation begins when the last
egg is laid, and is performed solely by the
female for 11 to 13 days. The male brings food to
the incubating female. The female broods the
chicks for the first 2 days. Both parents feed
the chicks a diet of insects. The chicks begin
leaving the nest 7 to 13 (usually 9 to 10) days
after hatching, but the parents will continue to
feed them for another 25 to 56 days. After
leaving or being driven out of their parents'
territory, young birds often join flocks of other
juveniles. They may begin breeding the next
Northern cardinals can live up to 15 years or
more in the wild.
The vast majority of the northern cardinal's
diet consists of weed seeds, grains, insects,
fruits, and sunflower seeds. They prefer seeds
that are easily husked, but are less selective
during winter when food is scarce, and have even
been known to feed on carrion.
Northern cardinals are year-round residents
throughout their range, and most live within a
mile of where they were born.
Cardinals are song birds, and the male uses
its call to attract a mate. Unlike most northern
songbirds, the female cardinal also sings.
Females will often sing from the nest in what may
be a call to her mate. Cardinal pairs often have
specific song phrases that they share.
Although northern cardinals often form into
flocks of a dozen to several dozen birds in the
fall and winter, they are aggressively
territorial during the breeding season. Once a
nesting territory has been established, both
sexes will defend it from intruders, and will
even attack their own reflections.
During foraging, young birds give way to
adults and females tend to give way to males.
Cardinals sometimes forage with other species.
They fly somewhat reluctantly on their short,
round wings, taking short trips between thickets
genus & species Cardinalis cardinalis
Animal Diversity Web http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Cardinalis_cardinalis/
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