Everything You Must Know About Cardinals – And MORE!

What is a Cardinal Bird?

Cardinals are passerine birds usually found in North and South America. They are known as cardinal-buntings, cardinal-grosbeaks, or redbird. Learn more amazing and beautiful cardinal bird facts!


Characteristics of a Cardinal Bird

One of the most common characteristics of a cardinal is that the males are bright red with a crest on their head, black feathers on their faces, and they have a short, orange beak.

Some cardinals are yellow, but yellow cardinal sightings are very rare. 

While cardinals are recognized by their coloring, only the male has the coloring as described above.

The female cardinal has pale brown feathers and just the tips of their tails, wings, and crests have a reddish hue. 

Yellow cardinals have mostly canary-yellow bodies with brownish wings, the recognizable black mask, and lighter orange beak.

Female yellow cardinals have white facial stripes, brown or gray breasts and bodies, with yellow bellies.


Diet

Cardinals have a diet that primarily consists of seeds, fruits, and insects.

During the breeding season, cardinals are known to eat an abundance of insects in order to keep up the necessary energy required for mating. 

In the wild, cardinals have been observed eating over one hundred different types of nuts and fruits.

This includes sunflower seeds, grapes, blueberries, elderberries, mulberries, hackberries, and many more.

In addition to eating fruits, seeds, and insects cardinals have been known to eat plants such as tulip trees, brambles, honeysuckle, and Russian olive trees.

Not only do they like to eat these plants, but they use the twigs and branches for nesting, too.


Habitat

As climate change happens cardinals have expanded their habitat.

Many years ago, they were mostly found in the southeastern portion of the United States.

With temperatures increasing over time they have expanded their habitat. 

Cardinals are most commonly found in the southeastern portion of the United States but can be found up the eastern coastline into Canada and over to the central United States.

They can also be seen as far south as Mexico. 

They like to build their nests in places that are hidden from predators but can be seen in trees, along with forest lines, bushes, residential landscaping, marshy areas, and fields.

Cardinals like to sit on higher perches rather than low to the ground areas. 

See Also: The Red Faced Duck: Extraordinary Facts About The Unique and Fascinating Muscovy Duck


Conservation Status

The conservation status of the cardinal is of least concern.

At this time the IUCN is not monitoring the size of the population because their population is stable.

Some cardinals do live in conservation sites that are protected.

It is believed that the population of cardinals is growing due to its expanding habitat range. 


Mating Habits

Cardinals begin to mate in the early spring and the season can last through September.

They are typically monogamous, but sometimes will leave the relationship and mate with others.

An estimated 75 percent of cardinals are born to monogamous parents. 

To attract a partner, a male will do everything he can to attract the attention of a female.

Mate feeding and courtship can often be seen while partner selection is happening.

What is mate feeding? Unlike when a mother feeds a baby bird, the male does not put food into the female’s mouth. 

Males will take food to the female by bringing seeds or fruit and placing it near the female’s feet.

Females pick the male partner based on his courtship skills, coloring, and singing abilities.

Females want a male with a dark, large face mask. It is believed that these males are better defenders of the nest. 

Once a mate has been chosen, the female will seek out a proper nesting place. Nesting places are hidden in shrubs, trees, or vines.

If they choose to nest in a tree, they will choose from a variety of options, they do not stick to just one type of tree.

Nests are made of twigs, leaves, grasses, pine needles, and stems.

While the female will do most of the nest making herself, males sometimes help out by bringing nesting materials to the female. 

Nests are put together using four different layers.

The first layer is a grouping of larger twigs. The second layer is a coating of softer leaves.

After that, the third layer is made of bark. Finally, the fourth layer is made of the other materials (pine needles, grasses, and softer leaves). 

Once the nest is made, a female can lay up to five eggs and will lay eggs up to twice per each mating season.

The eggs are greenish-white with ale speckles, grayish-white, or even plain white.

After laying the eggs, the female will incubate them for approximately thirteen days. 

While the eggs are incubating, the males will look over the female and the nest.

They become extremely territorial and will “dive-bomb” any intruders, people included.

This is where they get their “Angry Bird” nickname from. 

Fledgling cardinals, or babies, hatch from the eggs naked and unable to see. If they do have any feathers they will be light grey and will be sparse.

After a week or two, the baby birds begin to learn to fly. 

When the female needs to leave the nest, she will call her mate by singing a song. Once the male hears this song he takes over caring for the nest until the female’s return.

See Also: Golden Pheasant: Here’s What You Absolutely Must Know


Facts about Cardinal Birds

There are seven states that feature the cardinal as the state bird.

The seven states are Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The following are the dates when the bird became the official bird of each state:

  • Illinois – Selected in 1928, but made official in 1929
  • Indiana – Selected in 1933
  • Kentucky – Selected in 1926, but made official in 1942
  • North Carolina – Selected in 1943
  • Ohio – Selected in 1933
  • Virginia – Selected in 1950
  • West Virginia – Selected in 1949

Cardinals are so territorial that they have often been seen fighting their own reflection, say in a car’s shiny bumper or a very clean window. They can fight for hours, too. 

Several sports organizations have chosen the cardinal as their mascot, including the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League, the Assindia Cardinals of the American Football Club from Germany, and the St. Louis Cardinals of the Major League Baseball Association. 

Many colleges have made the cardinal their mascot, too.

This includes Texas Wesleyan University, the University of Louisville, Lamar University, and Concordia University. 

They are the only red bird in the United States with a crest – the feathers that stick up on top of their heads and make the head shape almost triangular on top. 

The red bird in the game Angry Birds is a cardinal.

Cardinals are also recognized by the following three names: Northern Cardinal, redbirds, and Virginia nightingales. 

It was once believed that both male and female songbirds don’t sing; however, the cardinals are in the seventy percent of songbirds where both the male and female are capable of singing.

This means that thirty percent of songbirds have only one singer, the male. 

The adult cardinals will clean the nest of baby poop to keep it clean.

This has the tendency to leave the baby birds hungry for longer periods of time because the parent will take the mess far away from the nest. 

Cardinals gather in large flocks. They can be seen in flocks with approximately seventy birds during the cooler months. 

If you want to attract cardinals to your backyard, simply put up birdhouses where predators can’t reach them and fill up bird feeders with black sunflower seeds, unsalted, of course!

Cardinals will visit feeders early in the morning and late into the evening. 

Cardinals are named after Catholic Bishops, these clergymen wear bright red garb often with tall red hats. 

Like flamingos, cardinals are able to adjust their appearance by adjusting what they eat. Brightly colored fruit will help keep the cardinal’s red.

If there is a lack of red-colored fruit, the bird’s color will fade. 

For unknown reasons cardinals “ant” themselves. This means that they cover their feathers in ants.

Sometimes the ants are alive, while other times the cardinal will crush the ants and smear them over their feathers.

Yellow cardinals have a genetic mutation which is why they are so rare. 


Cardinal FAQs:

How long do cardinal birds live?

The average lifespan of cardinals in the wild is three years. There are a few instances of cardinals living in the wild for up to fifteen years.

In captivity, the longest living cardinal lived to be over twenty-eight years old!

See Also: Amazing Must-Know Facts About The Curious and Colorful Red Rump Parakeet


Are Cardinals friendly birds?

Cardinals have been nicknamed the “Angry Bird” because they have been known to become very aggressive, especially if someone or something is in their territory. 


Are Cardinals rare?

Cardinals that are red in color are not rare if you are in the United States, specifically in the southeastern portion of the country.

Yellow cardinals, on the other hand, are very rare to see. There are only an estimated 2,000 yellow cardinals in the world. 


Do Cardinals migrate?

Even though cardinals prefer warmer climates, they do not migrate like other birds who prefer warmer weather.

They will stay in the southeastern portion of the United States even when temperatures become colder than they like.