Northern cardinals are songbirds with raised crests on their heads and orange-red, cone-shaped bills. Males are a brilliant red color except for a black mask on their face. Females are shades of light brown, with reddish highlights and dark coloration around their eyes and beak. Cardinals are medium-sized birds (8 inches), with the male being slightly larger than the female.
Cardinals are year-round residents within their range. During mating season males are fiercely territorial; driving off competing males in their territory. Cardinals are considered monogamous, mating with the same partner each breeding season. The female builds a nest in dense shrubs or thick bushes. She will lay 3 to 4 eggs and incubate them; remaining in the nest for 11 to 13 days. During this period the male cardinal will feed the female.
Both male and female cardinals care for and feed their young. In the first few weeks the chicks are fed only insects. Young cardinals begin learning to fly around 10 days after hatching. Parent cardinals continue to help feed their chicks for several weeks after they have left the nest. The chicks are eventually driven away. They will usually flock with other juveniles until they are mature enough to establish their own territory. Cardinals have a lifespan of 15 years in the wild.
The Northern Cardinal is found throughout the eastern and central regions of America year round, due to the fact that they do not migrate. They tend to inhabit woodland edges and grassland landscapes with thickets and shrubbery they can hide and nest in. They are often found in close proximity to human habitation due in large part to the food that is provided to them in backyard bird feeders.
While cardinals are naturally ground feeders, humans provide them with an abundant amount of food in bird feeders. They are attracted to most bird feed, but are particularly fond of black oil sunflower seeds. They also like to eat suet, peanuts, fresh berries, and cracked corn. Cardinals get their bright colors from the pigments found in berries and other plant materials in their diet.
In the above video, Northern Cardinals feed their young.
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During the winter, Northern Cardinals will seek shelter in evergreen trees, and they look especially bright in the winter against fresh snow.
Cardinal pairs will usually stay close together throughout the year. When you see a lone cardinal, usually its mate is nearby.
The striking red plumage of the male Northern Cardinal does not molt into dull colors, so they are bright during all seasons.
The Northern Cardinal is the state bird of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. The Northern Cardinal was the first bird to be given such a distinction, by Kentucky in 1926.
Northern Cardinals have a fiery personality, and will aggressively defend territory against other Cardinals. Northern Cardinals males have been known to fight their reflections in mirrors for hours at a time. To stop this behavior, simply cover the window until the Cardinal leaves, or install a non-reflective window coating.
Northern Cardinals are often assosciated with good luck.
Brighter colored Northern Cardinal mates are more likely to successfully mate than dull colored males.
Northern Cardinals are very good parents, and they share the duties of parenthood. The male will feed and care for the mother while she incubates their eggs, and he will aggressively defend the mother and the hatchlings until they leave the nest.
Cardinals are considered highly beneficial to humans because they eat a variety of insects in gardens, and because they really like to eat the seeds of weeds.