Published on February 16, 2013 by Amy
Cardinals, (Cardinalis cardinalis), are commonly seen in backyards in the eastern half of the d. More states have adopted the Northern Cardinal as their state bird than any other bird. These states are: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. Their range is primarily in the South, East and Midwest, although a few have been reported in California.
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Cardinals are noted for their loud, clear whistled songs, often sung from a high treetop song post. Females will counter sing, duetting with males—usually after the males have established territories and before nesting begins. Local variations and accents have been noted in cardinal songs.
Typical habitats are thickets and brushy areas, edges and clearings, riparian woodlands, parks, and residential areas. Here the nonmigratory cardinals feed on a variety of foods including seeds, leaf buds, flowers, berries, and fruit. Up to one-third of its summer diet can be insects. Its winter diet is 90 percent vegetable matter, especially large seeds. Winter flocks can be very large, up to 60 or 70 individuals in areas of abundance.
Description: Northern Cardinals are a medium-sized songbird (approximately 8.75 inches in length) with short, rounded wings, a long tail, a heavy conical bill, and a crest. Males are nearly all brilliant red; brownish-gray-tinged scapular and back feathers give the upper parts a less colorful appearance. The coral red bill is surrounded by a mask of black that extends to a dark eye and includes the chin and throat. Legs and feet are dark red.
The female is soft grayish brown on the back with variable areas of red on the tail, crest, and wings. The underparts are a warm pinkish brown. Her coral red bill is also surrounded by darker but not black feathers, so her mask is not as distinct as the male’s. Females are slightly smaller than males.
Cardinals mate for life. If you see one, look closely into the trees, bushes, or brush for the other. They prefer a dense area, such as a thicket or thickly branched tree to make their nest of twigs and grass. Mom will lay 3 – 5 eggs and incubate them, while Dad will bring her food. When the young Cardinals can fly, Dad may watch over them while Mom may begin a second brood.
The juveniles are like females but more brown in color, with shorter crest and a blackish bill. They molt to adult plumage in fall.
Cardinals have cone shaped bills adapted to eating seeds of all sorts. In the wild, this bird has a varied diet of fruit, seed, and insects. Attract Cardinals to your backyard birdfeeder by offering sunflower seed and cracked corn. Watch as they feed their mates at your feeder, especially during the spring and into the summer. As they offer each other a seed, the pair will touch beaks briefly, almost as if they were gazing longingly into each other’s eyes. Also for your Cardinals, plant some shrubs with berries as well as some dense shrubs where they may nest and raise their young.
Cool fact: In the 1800s Cardinals were much-sought-after cage birds highly valued for their color and song. Thousands were trapped in the south in the winter and sent to northern markets, and thousands more were sent to Europe. This trade ceased, fortunately, with the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.