The Northern Cardinal is a medium-sized North American songbird that is also known as the Redbird or Common Cardinal. It is acclaimed as an excellent combination of familiarity, noticeability, and style. Its clearly visible red plumage definitely catches attention. The male Northern Cardinal is deemed as the reason why more individuals opt to open up a field guide than any other bird. The females, on the other hand, showcase crest and warm red accents.
Cardinals are non-migratory birds and their plumages don’t suffer from molting. Because of that, they appear conspicuous in winter’s snowy backyards. In summer, you can easily hear their sweet whistles in the morning.
The Northern Cardinal is a reasonably medium-sized, long-tailed songbird that has a little, very thick bill and a distinctive crest. It usually sits in a hunched-over posture and with the tail directed towards the ground. Its average body length is 8.3 inches and its wingspan ranges from 9.8 to 12.2 inches. The adult’s weight range is from 1.19 to 2.29 ounces. Males are slightly bigger compared to their female counterparts.
Males have a dominant brilliant red coloration in their plumage. They have a reddish bill, which is surrounded by a black face. Females, on the other hand, showcase a generally pale brown color, complemented with warm reddish shades in the wings, tail, and crest. Similar with the males, they also have a black face, although it is less defined compared to that of males. They also have a red-orange bill.
Both sexes of juvenile birds show a similar color pattern to that of the female until the fall, when the molting season begins and they grow adult feathers.
Distribution and Habitat
The preferred habitat locations of Northern Cardinals are dense shrubby areas like gardens and backyards, parks, woodlots, swamps, hedgerows, marshy thickets, mesquite, and shrubby forest edges. They nest in dense foliage and look for clearly visible, high perches for singing.
They can be found in southern Canada, through the eastern U.S. from Maine to Texas and south through Mexico. Due to the growing numbers of towns and suburbs across the eastern side of the continent, the bird has expanded its range northward.
As a granivorous animal, the bird’s diet primarily consists of seeds and fruits, making up about 90 percent of its overall diet. Some of the fruits and seeds are dogwood, wild grape, buckwheat, grasses, sedges, mulberry, hackberry, tulip tree, and corn. It finds its found in the ground through trees of shrubbery.
It also feeds on insects. As a matter of fact, the bird exclusively feeds its young on insects. Some of the insects that make up the bird’s diet are beetles, cicadas, grasshoppers, and snails. Other items that the bird eats are fruits, corn and oats, sunflower seeds, and maple sap from cavities made by sapsuckers.
They are preyed upon by different kinds of predators that are native to North America, such as falcons, shrikes, and several kinds of owls. Some of the known predators of their eggs are milk snacks, colluder constrictors, blue jays, fox squirrels, and domestic cats.
Northern Cardinals have the tendency to sit low in shrubs and trees, or search the ground for food while hopping. During foraging, juvenile birds tend to give way to adults. The females, on the other hand, tend to give to males.
They usually move around in pairs during the breeding season, but in fall and winter, they tend to assemble in large flocks. They also frequently visit bird feeders.
Males exhibit territoriality. They do this by marking their territories through a song. As a matter of fact, they are often found singing and preening from a high branch of a shrub.
When they are threatened, their unique crest can be raised and sharped. Consequently, it also gets lowered and barely seen while resting.
During courtship, the male would feed the female with a seed through the beak. They would look for possible nest locations together. They usually prefer fork or small branches in a sapling, shrub or vine tangle, about 1-15 feet high in hidden dense foliage. Some of their preferred trees and shrubs include dogwood, honeysuckle, hawthorn, grape, red cedar, spruce, pines, hemlock, and rose bushes.
During nest construction, the male would bring the material to the female, who does the majority of the nest building. She crushes the twigs using her beaks and bends the pliable twigs around her body, pushing them into a cup shape with the use of her feet. It takes about 3 to 9 days for the female to build the nest. And the finished nest is 2-3 inches tall and 4 inches across, with an inner diameter of approximately 3 inches. They don’t re-use their nests.
Females lay a clutch of 3 to 4 eggs, and about 2 to 4 clutches are produced in a year. The incubation period for these eggs ranges from 11 to 13 days. And the nestling period is from 7 to 13 days.
The Northern Cardinal is listed as least concern in the IUCN Red List.
According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the bird’s population has increased between 1966 and 2010. The estimated global breeding population of the species is 120million, with 77 percent in the United States and 22 percent in Mexico The bird has a 5 over 20 rating on the Continental Concern Score and is not included in the 2012 Watch List.
Although the growing presence of humans has benefited cardinals, some recorded habitat loss in southeastern California has caused the disappearance of the species in the said area.