Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis

I think this was the first bird I was able to identify at a young age. Maybe because there is really nothing like these, at least not here in North America. They do not molt into a bland color for winter, like many finches and other birds. They keep their bright red plumage all winter. They are kind of like the “Cockatoo of the Americas” as its head feathers rise in the same fashion.

Cardinals tend to be ground feeding birds that generally hop around lower branches, although they tend to nest very high in trees.

Cardinals are very protective of their territories in the spring during breeding season and will defend their territory to the end! This is usually the time when they can be found attacking reflections of themselves in hubcaps, windows and metal roofing material.

When they do find a mate in the spring, the courtship is usually focused on the male feeding the female. I love watching the male grab a seed, fly to the female and give it to her.


Cardinals mainly eat seeds, fruit and insects (nestlings mostly get fed insects). Cardinals eat many kinds of birdseed, particularly black oil sunflower seed. They also eat many kinds of insects including beetles, crickets, leafhoppers, cicadas, flies, katydids, centipedes, spiders, and moths.


Female Cardinals are one of the few North American songbirds that sing and often do while sitting on the nest. It is thought she gives the male information about when to bring food to the nest. (Hey Honey, we need some food up here… Don’t go to McBirds either!) A mated pair often shares song phrases; however the female may sing a longer and a slightly more multipart song than the male.


In the winter, cardinals will flock with other birds for safety. It’s not uncommon to see them with sparrows, juncos, titmice and chickadees.

27 thoughts on “Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis

    • I had this pair hang around all summer, however didn’t see any others. This male actually had something wrong with his head feathers all summer, like mites or something, he was bald! When he molted this fall, they came back. I had tried to get a bald photo all summer, he was VERY elusive tho. I probably wouldn’t want a bald photo going ’round either!!


    • I did a quick search and they are only native to North America and moving northward to Canada a bit. However, I only see instances of them being captured here and brought to Europe as pets or for indoor aviaries.
      I’m sure you’ve got cool birds that aren’t over here. =-)


  1. Your photos are gorgeous! I see a cardinal once in a while, I know they are spreading their range northward. My yard is filled with chickadees at this time of year 🙂


    • Thank you very much!
      I think they decide to stay for the winter if they are able to find a good food source. For my pair, that would be me! I know they have other sources, as they are not here daily, however they spend the whole day here when they are. Oh! And the Chickadees! They are EVERYWHERE! Love the ‘lil guys. They are a bit fast for my camerone, but I’m workin’ on it!!


  2. Growing up, we had tons of cardinals around. My cockatiel LOVED them. He would wake up in the morning and start imitating their calls (usually at full volume and far earlier than anyone wanted to wake up, except him). We always thought that he felt some kinship with his crested American cousins!

    I always love to see them at the bird feeder. I hope once we get settled into a new place, we’ll have a nearby pair. They are always such a bright addition to the winter landscape (and summer one, for that matter!).


    • Your birdie must of thought, “Where did those other birds get their feathers done? They should get their money back!” Having been someone who HAS walked out with this color, not on purpose. oh no!
      Ever hear, “Build it & they will come?” Welp, offer them food they like, black-oil sunflower seed and safflower seed are favs. They tend to like to feed from the ground, ledges and feeders they can fit on. There were none here until I started passing round the sunflower seed!


  3. Pingback: Bald Cardinal | Midwestern Plants

  4. Pingback: Juvenile Male Cardinal ~ Cardinalis cardinalis | Midwestern Plants

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