Northern Cardinal Bird Species

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)


Also known as the ‘Redbird’ the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is one of the most popular birds in the United States. Easily identified by its bright red coloring, this pretty little bird is a common sight on snow-covered bird feeders across most of eastern USA. Its range even extends as far as southeastern Canada, Mexico, Belize and even Hawaii, though it has spread to New York, New England and Hawaii in more recent years. The less colorful female is generally more vocal than the male; however, both sexes sing and can be heard year round. The Northern Cardinal is a nonmigratory bird, though some movement may occur in summer and autum.

The Northern Cardinal is fairly easy to identify. It is a small bird with a length of 21-23 cm. The wingspan may vary between 25-31 cm and the bird weighs between 42-48 grams. In general the bird has a large, conical bill, a crested head and along tail. It is the male that bears the bright red plumage that is so commonly associated with the species. This plumage is dullest on the back and wings of the bird. The male has black coloration around his face and at the base of his bill. The bill is also a brilliant red. The adult female, in contrast, is mainly a greyish-tan color. Only her crest, wings, tail and bill show some red and this is much less bright than the red found on the male. Juvenile birds are similar to the female in colour but they have a darker bill and crest.

When it comes to nesting, it is the female that usually starts building the nest. The nest is reasonably small and made of small twigs and grasses. It is usually built in a shrub or brushy tangle and once it is built, the female will lay between 3 and 4 eggs in it. These are incubated by the female in just under two weeks. After this, the male shares in the responsibility of raising the young. A pair may raise as many as four broods in one breeding season with the male tending one brood while the female starts incubating the next one. Male Northern Cardinals are fiercely territorial and those with brighter red plumage generally have better breeding grounds and greater reproductive success.