Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

This beautiful, medium-sized, wild songbird sometimes flies into Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo from the surrounding area, including Beardsley Park, and perhaps even your own backyard.

Northern Cardinal pairs share song phrases, but the female often sings slightly longer and more complex songs than the male. They are fiercely territorial and often will attack their own reflection in windows, mirrors or shiny bumpers thinking they are fending off an intruder.

Description:
Male Northern Cardinals are a bright red all over. Female Northern Cardinals are pale brown overall with reddish tinges on the wings, tail, and crest. They both have the same orange-red bill with a black band around the bill on the face. They have a distinctive pointed crest on top of their heads. When agitated, they raise and point the crest. When relaxed, they lower the crest and it is barely visible.

The male and female Northern Cardinals are not noticeably different in size. They are between 8 and 9 inches in length. Their wingspan is between 9.8 and 12.2 inches. They weigh, on average, 1.6 ounces. 

Northern Cardinals do not migrate and they don’t molt. They are most noticeable in winter with their red plumage standing in contrast to bright white snow. In summer, they are one of the first songbirds you can hear on a summer morning.

Northern Cardinals are foragers. They hop around on low branches before dropping to the ground to forage.

Habitat:
Northern Cardinals live on the edges of forests, overgrown fields, marshy thickets, and even in ornamental landscaping. They build nests in dense tangles of shrubs and vines.

Range:
These birds live year long from the eastern United States to the Midwest. They can be found from Maine to Florida and Texas. They can also be found in Mexico.

Family Life:
Northern Cardinals pair up during winter but up to 20 percent of the pairs will split up for the next season. Northern Cardinal females build the nest in a cup shape. The nest is made of four layers: coarse twigs, a leafy mat, lined with grapevine bark, and then pine needles and grasses. The finished nest is usually between 2 and 3 inches tall and 4 inches across. Northern Cardinals usually use a nest only once.

The female will lay between 2 and 5 eggs and have 1 or 2 broods a year. The hatchlings have very few feathers upon hatching with a grayish down. They are clumsy and their eyes are closed. Both parents feed the nestlings until they leave the nest 9 to 11 days after hatching.

Diet:
Omnivore. Eats seeds and fruits with a supplemental diet of insects such as beetles, crickets, flies and moths. They will also eat spiders.

Life Span:
The life span of the Northern Cardinal is up to 15 years in the wild or in human care.  

Status:
Least concern.