Where Do Cardinals Nest?

Have you ever wondered where the beautifully vibrant cardinals choose to build their nests? These stunning birds are known for creating intricate nests in trees or well-protected bushes.

This blog post will guide you through understanding cardinal nesting behaviorspreferred locations, and other fascinating facts about these magnificent creatures. Stay tuned to discover more about the secret lives of cardinals right in your backyard!

Key Takeaways

  • Cardinals prefer to nest in protected areas of trees, shrubs, or bushes that are close to the ground.
  • They do not use birdhouses for nesting and instead build their own nests using twigs, bark strips, leaves, paper, grass, hair, and rootlets.
  • Both the male and female cardinals are involved in building the nest and feeding their young until they are ready to leave the nest after about 9-11 days.


Understanding Cardinals and Their Habitats

Cardinals, often seen in backyards, show off their bright red plumage. They win hearts with their rich, cheerful songs. These birds love green spaces like woodlands and watercourses.

But they also live well in drier areas and suburbia. You can see them near your home if you have dense shrubs or small trees.

These pretty birds prefer safe spots for nesting. They choose protected parts of trees, shrubs, or bushes to build a home for their young ones. The nests are not too high up—somewhere between 3 to 15 feet from the ground is just right for them! Cardinals will not use birdhouses to make a nest though; they like natural settings better.

Where Do Cardinals Build Their Nests?

Cardinals build their nests in a variety of locations, including trees, shrubs, and bushes.

Nest Locations

Cardinals choose their nest sites with care. Here are some common choices for these birds:


  1. Cardinals like to nest in trees, shrubs, or bushes that are in protected areas.
  2. Dense vegetation is a good spot for their nests.
  3. They often build their nests in the fork of tree branches.
  4. Well – protected bushes can also be good homes for cardinal nests.
  5. Most times, they place nests just above ground level up to heights of 15 feet.
  6. Cardinals rarely use birdhouses to make their nests.
  7. You will often find cardinal nests 3 to 15 feet above the ground in thick shrubs or among small tree branches.


Preferred Trees and Heights for Nesting

Cardinals choose their nesting spots with care. Here are some preferred trees and heights for nesting:


  1. Cardinals often pick smaller trees or dense shrubs.
  2. They love to nest in the fork of tree branches.
  3. Bushes can also serve as good nest sites.
  4. The nests sit above ground level, from 3 to 15 feet high.
  5. Certain types of trees attract cardinals more like Pines, Maples, or American Elms.
  6. They steer clear of birdhouses most of the time.
  7. Protected areas in vegetation offer them a safe home spot.
  8. Their nests are well – hidden among dense leaves and branches.


Cardinal Nesting Behaviors

Cardinals exhibit specific behaviors when it comes to building their nests, including the nest building process and incubation and feeding habits.

Nest Building Process

Cardinals build their nests together, with both the male and female involved in the process. They start by selecting a suitable location in dense vegetation, such as shrubs or trees. Here are the steps they follow when building their nests:


  1. Cardinals gather nesting materials like twigs, bark strips, vine leaves, paper, grass, hair, and rootlets.
  2. They begin constructing the nest by weaving and interlocking the materials together.
  3. The female cardinal shapes the nest into a cup – like structure using her body.
  4. The male cardinal brings additional nesting materials to add strength and stability to the nest.
  5. The female arranges and lines the inside of the nest with softer materials like grass or feathers for comfort.
  6. The completed nest is typically about 2-3 inches deep and 4-6 inches wide.
  7. Cardinals may reuse old nests from previous years but will make repairs and additions before laying eggs.


Incubation and Feeding

Female cardinals are responsible for keeping the eggs warm during incubation, which typically lasts for around 11-13 days. While incubating, the female stays on the nest and rarely leaves. Here are some important points about incubation and feeding in cardinal nesting:


  • Male cardinals play an essential role in providing food for both the incubating female and the hatchlings.
  • The male feeds the female while she is on the nest to ensure she has enough energy to maintain proper incubation temperature.
  • Once the eggs hatch, both parents share feeding responsibilities for the young chicks.
  • The parents bring food to the nest in their beaks and regurgitate it for the hungry hatchlings.
  • Cardinals have a varied diet, including insects, seeds, berries, fruits, and occasionally even small lizards or snakes.
  • The parents carefully select appropriate food items that are easy for the young birds to consume.
  • Feeding continues throughout the day with frequent visits from both parents to provide nourishment to their growing chicks.
  • As the hatchlings develop, they become more active and vocal, demanding more food from their parents.


Cardinal Nests: A Closer Look

Cardinal nests are carefully constructed cup-shaped structures, typically made from twigs, bark strips, vine leaves, paper, grass, hair, and rootlets.

Nest Appearance

Cardinal nests are small and cup-shaped, built with a combination of twigs, bark strips, vine leaves, paper, grass, hair, and rootlets. The male cardinal helps gather materials while the female constructs the nest.

The nests are about 3-4 inches deep and have an outer diameter of around 6-7 inches. Inside the nest, there is usually a soft lining made from fine plant fibers or animal hair. With their red plumage, tan wings and tails, and black ‘masks,’ cardinals are beautiful birds whose nests reflect their careful construction skills!

Nest Construction Materials

Cardinals use various materials to construct their nests. These include:


  • Twigs: Cardinals primarily use small twigs as the main structural component of their nests.
  • Bark Strips: They may also incorporate strips of bark into the nest for added stability.
  • Vine Leaves: Cardinals often utilize leaves from vines to provide a flexible and secure base for the nest.
  • Paper: In some cases, cardinals may even use paper, such as scraps or shreds, if it is available in their environment.
  • Grass and Hay: Cardinals weave strands of grass or hay into the nest to create a soft and comfortable lining.
  • Hair and Fur: They sometimes add hair or fur from animals to further cushion the nest.
  • Feathers and Fine Plant Fibers: These materials are used to create a cozy inner lining for the eggs and chicks.


Cardinal Breeding and Nesting Timeline

Cardinals typically begin nesting in early spring and continue until late summer. The breeding season starts with courtship behavior, followed by the female building the nest and laying eggs.

Incubation lasts for about 12-13 days, and once hatched, the chicks are cared for by both parents for another 9-11 days before fledging.

When Cardinals Nest

Cardinals typically nest during the spring and early summer months, which is their breeding season. They begin building their nests in late March or early April, depending on the weather and availability of food.

The female cardinal will choose a nesting site and the male will help her construct the nest. Once the nest is complete, the female lays her eggs and begins incubating them for about 12 to 13 days.

After hatching, both parents take turns feeding their chicks until they are ready to leave the nest, which usually takes around 9 to 11 days. Cardinals may have multiple broods throughout the nesting season before they migrate in late summer or fall.

How Long They Nest

Cardinals typically nest for a period of 9-11 days. During this time, the female cardinal incubates the eggs and both parents take turns feeding the hatchlings. Once the young cardinals are able to fly, they will leave the nest and begin their independent lives.

It’s important to note that cardinals usually have two nesting periods per year, so they may build another nest and raise another brood later on.

Cardinal Egg Laying and Incubation Period

Female cardinals typically lay a clutch of 2-5 eggs, with each egg being laid at one-day intervals. The incubation period, during which the female sits on the eggs to keep them warm and ensure proper development, lasts for about 12-13 days.

While she is incubating the eggs, the male cardinal takes on the responsibility of guarding their territory and nest from potential threats. It’s important to note that once the chicks hatch, both parents continue to care for them until they are ready to leave the nest, which usually happens around 9-11 days after hatching.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cardinal Nesting

When it comes to cardinal nesting, many people have common questions. Here, we delve into some of the frequently asked queries to provide clarity and more understanding about this topic.


Questions Answers
Where do cardinals prefer to build their nests? Cardinals like to nest in secure areas of trees, shrubs, or bushes, often just above ground level up to heights of 15 feet.
Can cardinals nest in birdhouses? Cardinals typically do not use birdhouses for nesting. They prefer to construct their nests in natural environments.
Do cardinals reuse old nests? No, cardinals do not reuse old nests. They build new ones for each nesting period.
Who is responsible for building the nest? The female cardinal is responsible for building the nest. The male protects her during this time.
How often do cardinals nest in a year? Cardinals have two nesting periods per year.
Who feeds the young cardinals? Both the male and female cardinals feed the hatchlings until they leave the nest.
How long do young cardinals stay in the nest? The young cardinals leave the nest 9-11 days after hatching.



Cardinals are fascinating birds that prefer to nest in protected areas of trees, shrubs, or bushes. They build their nests in the fork of tree branches or well-protected bushes just above ground level.

While they won’t use birdhouses for nesting, they will create new nests each mating season. Female cardinals take charge of building the nests while males protect them. Both parents play a role in feeding the hatchlings until they leave the nest after about 9-11 days.


1. Where do cardinals nest?

Cardinals typically build their nests in dense shrubs, bushes, or low tree branches, often near the edges of wooded areas.

2. What materials do cardinals use to build their nests?

Cardinals use twigs, leaves, grass, bark strips, and other plant materials to construct their nests. They may also incorporate feathers and small roots for added stability.

3. How long does it take for cardinals to build a nest?

It usually takes about 1-2 weeks for cardinals to complete building their nests from start to finish.

4. When do cardinals usually nest?

Cardinals tend to begin nesting in early spring (around March) and may have multiple broods throughout the breeding season until late summer (around July).

Julian Goldie - Owner of ChiperBirds.com

Julian Goldie

I'm a bird enthusiast and creator of Chipper Birds, a blog sharing my experience caring for birds. I've traveled the world bird watching and I'm committed to helping others with bird care. Contact me at [email protected] for assistance.