What’s This Post about?
Seeing the splendidly beautiful birds with beautifully colored plumages flying around in the backyard makes for a breathtaking view.
Adding a splash of red color to the environment, it’s worth spotting a cardinal as the bird sports a magnificent crest on its head along with its crimson red plumage, singing its cheerfully melodious songs.
One of the most popular birds found in North America, the fascinating birds not only have the brightest of plumages, but you’ll be captivated to learn about the mind-blowing facts about the bird.
Though you might be familiar with a few of these facts, we bet some of these would be unheard of!
There are multiple mind-boggling facts about cardinals. One of the most robust yet shy birds, Cardinals like to have their food in the twilight, not being picky eaters at all. These birds prefer to stay close to their nests, not migrating even during the coldest winter months, dazzling in the snowy landscape.
Amazing Cardinal Facts
Explore the following facts about Cardinals to learn more about the jaunty bird!
1. Generally, cardinals are the first birds in the morning and the last ones in the evening to visit the bird feeders.
If you’re trying to attract Cardinals to your yard, make sure you keep your bird feeders full at all times, so the Cardinals do not have to return without having a meal in your yard.
During the twilight time of low light intensity, the striking plumage of the male doesn’t appear too bright, providing the cardinals security from their predators such as cats and hawks around.
Another reason that is speculated for the birds to visit the feeders during dawn and dusk is to avoid competition and form a cluster at the feeder. Having few species around, they feed on their favorite seeds in tranquility.
2. The Northern Cardinal has several other names.
Also called the Common Cardinal, the red bird, the Virginia Nightingale, and even the Winter Redbird, the Northern Cardinal is predominantly called the Cardinal.
One of the most easily identifiable species, having a showy appearance and distinctive bright red plumage, no further specification is needed to describe the bird – simply Cardinal is sufficient.
3. The oldest recorded Cardinal over the years lived for 15 years, 9 months. This female Cardinal was tracked in Pennsylvania.
Extremely rare, though, one captive Cardinal bird has been recorded to live for 28.5 years. That’s miraculous for the Cardinals!
On average, Cardinals have a very short lifespan, only around 2-3 years. Read my blog to know about how long do cardinals live.
4. Cardinals are dimorphic birds
Like many other songbirds, the male and female Cardinal have significant differences in appearances. You can easily differentiate the male and female species.
While the males have a flamboyantly red plumage recognizable even from afar, with a coal-black face mask, the female Cardinal lacks the flamboyancy.
It has much more subtle features, having an elegant and warm appearance.
With a softer greyish brown plumage, an orange bill, and hues of red in the wing bars and tail, the bird can camouflage itself well enough, escaping the sight of predators better than the male.
5. Cardinals are known to have high mortality rates.
The annual survival rate for Cardinals is approximately 60-65%. Several factors can be attributed to the high mortality of juveniles.
Due to its tiny size, the poor bird is affected by numerous hazards, eaten by predators, faces accidents such as being hit by vehicles, or quite often, crashes into building windows during its rapid flight.
At other times, cardinals also become a victim of starvation or disease, resulting in their demise.
6. Cardinals, especially the males, mistake their reflection on various surfaces such as glass windows, mirrors, and other shiny surfaces as other invading males.
You might be amused to learn the behavior of cardinals towards such reflections!
Feeling threatened by the intruders, the Cardinal exhibits extreme aggression and fights relentlessly for hours with its own reflection.
This violent battle with itself raises the bird’s stress level, but sometimes, this rigorous encounter also injures the clueless Cardinal itself.
7. Cardinals are highly territorial birds
Male Cardinals exhibit extreme aggression to protect their territory and will defend their zones from any possible intruders. For this reason, you might hear them chirping fiercely.
Cardinals are one of the toughest and rigorous birds. They would build their nests in the territories of other birds but, in protecting their habitat, wouldn’t let any bird, even another Cardinal, come near its property.
The hot-blooded Cardinal scares away any bird that tries to come near it. Read my blog to learn more about the territorial nature of the Cardinals.
Are you trying to find out if cardinals are territorial or not? Keep reading to find out the truth about them.
8. Cardinals protect their territory from intruders during the breeding season
As the mating and breeding season approaches, you’ll note a change in the behavior of the male cardinals. Ornithologists associate this to high hormone levels of the bird, which makes it quite oppressive and suspicious of other male Cardinals.
During this time, you might see the cardinals nesting around you become pretty territorial, attacking and chasing away any intruders that they feel threatened by.
9. Cardinals are an astounding sight in the winters!
The gorgeous, crimson red plumage of the cardinals provides a stunning view in the extreme winters as snowflakes propagate the surroundings.
Imagine the breathtaking landscape with white background with the impeccably prominent Cardinals present as the only red bird! It is for this reason that the Cardinals are also referred to as the Winter Redbirds.
10. The Cardinal is the State bird of 7 states
One of the most popular and highly desired species, the flamboyant red songbird, has been declared as the official state bird of 7 prodigious States. The states that have designated the Cardinal as their symbolic bird include
- Illinois – 1929
- Indiana – 1933
- Kentucky - 1942
- North Carolina - 1943
- Ohio - 1933
- Virginia - 1949
- West Virginia – 1950
11. Northern Cardinals are mostly a non-migratory species.
Several migratory birds migrate to the warmer regions during the winters and return when the intense winter months are over. Finding food for their sustenance becomes arduous in the winter due to the extreme cold weather.
The seeds that the Cardinals feed on are easily found throughout the year. The bevy of tiny red cardinals thus chooses to spend their winters in the same summer habitat.
The availability of food allows the tiny species to forage on a variety of seeds all year round. Read my post to learn about the non-migratory bird.
Interested to learn more about cardinals and their migration plans? Read the post below for some interesting facts and information.
12. The female is mainly responsible for the building of the nest and incubating the eggs.
Although the male helps to gather materials for the construction of the nest, such as dog furs, twigs, grass blades, pine needles, the job of weaving the nest together is primarily the female Cardinal’s.
Once the female lays the clutches of eggs, the female then incubates the eggs for 12-14 days, while the male actively defends his territory from external intruders, protecting it from any attackers.
13. Cardinals molt once a year
Have you ever seen a bald cardinal with little to no feathers on its body? It’s not a mesmerizing sight at all as the bird exposes its blackish-grey, featherless skin on the head and body.
Don’t worry; you’re not seeing a sick Cardinal. It is a common phenomenon for Cardinals to molt at least once a year to rejuvenate their spoilt feathers.
The feathers regrow in a couple of weeks, bringing back the stunning plumage of the bird.
14. Classified as Granivorous Species
Have you closely observed the conical-shaped beaks of the cardinals? They’re specially designed to assist them in feeding their favorite foods.
Cardinals are pretty fond of eating seeds such as cracked corn, black oil sunflower, nyjer, and safflower
With their specialized beaks, the Cardinals can easily crack open the hulls and shells of the seeds and enjoy a highly nourishing meal.
If you wish to enjoy the spectacular view of Cardinals in your backyard every day, all you need to do is provide the right seeds to the birds.
15. Cardinals often appear to be Kissing
Once the Cardinals have selected their mating pair, the male Cardinal plays the lead role in feeding its female. During courtship, the male finds seeds and feeds them to the female using a “beak to beak” method.
This display of affection between the two can be portrayed as the two birds kissing each other.
16. The red coloration of the Cardinals is due to the Carotenoid pigment.
The incredibly bright red wash of the Cardinal makes the bird highly conspicuous.
While males tend to have an overall bright red plumage, the females are usually dull brown with varying intensities of red in the wing bars and tail. But what causes the red coloration?
The red color is primarily due to the presence of the pigment carotenoid in the feathers of the bird. These pigments are not innate in the bird, neither are they manufactured inside the body.
Instead, the gorgeous red is ingested by eating plants with similar coloration, such as bright red cherries, dogwood berries, grapes, and other berries.
Even eating some insects that have fed on similar colorful plants also contain this pigment. Depending on the type of lusciously colored foods that the bird feeds on determines how bright and gorgeous its plumage turns out to be.
17. There’s not just Red Cardinals; very rarely, though, you can spot a yellow as well!
A yellow Cardinal is no less an enchanting sight. Occasionally, a deficiency of the bright red pigment found in the plumage of the Cardinal occurs in the body of the Cardinal.
Typically caused by a genetic plumage variation called xanthochroism, the resultant plumage color gives the bird a vibrant yellow or orange, so we call it a yellow Cardinal.
Yellow cardinals are extremely rare, so you might be among the few lucky ones if you get to see one!
18. Cardinals form Vatican’s of Cardinals in winters.
Cardinals are highly territorial birds. But during the winter season, you see the tables turn around for the birds as they forego their territorial restrictions and instead gather together to form flocks of a number of them.
These flocks of Cardinals are referred to as college, conclave, radiance, or even Vatican’s of Cardinals.
If you’re contemplating the reason for their transitioning behavior, the birds mainly come together to better look for sources of food that are difficult to find in the snowy winters.
Searching for food collectively, they’re more likely to find a good snack than when flying around alone or in pairs.
They can often be seen foraging along with goldfinches, sparrows, tufted titmice, and other birds. These are the same birds that exhibit extreme aggression during the breeding season.
19. Cardinals are midsized birds
The gorgeous red birds can be categorized as medium-sized songbirds, with a body length of around 8.3 to 9.1 inches and a wingspan of 9.8 to 12.2 inches.
Observe how the striking red gives a mesmerizing view during flight, spreading the wings wide! The adult bird weighs around 33 – 65 grams, with an average weight falling around 44.8 grams.
Although there is a slight difference in the size of the male and female, with the male Cardinal being slightly larger, it is not too evident.
### 20. Cardinals can be identified by their distinctive vocalizations
In the dense plantations, you might not be able to spot the Cardinal with your naked eye.
Despite its conspicuous plumage, the small size and concealing techniques of the bird make it difficult to spot. Instead, you can figure out the presence of the Cardinal near you by its peculiar, cheerful songs.
The melodious vocalization patterns like “birdie birdie birdie” or “cheer-a-dote cheer-a-dote” are distinctive to Cardinals.
You can quickly figure out the gorgeous little bird singing in the highly elevated branches of the trees.
Note how the Cardinals have different calls for different occasions – as many as 16!
### 21. Cardinals prefer Hopper or Platform, bird feeders.
Cardinals are a little bigger than most small birds like the finches. Since cardinals are heavy, it is essential that the feeders you place in your backyard should be sturdy and strong enough to bear the bird’s weight.
The feeders should provide ample space for the Cardinals to perch and feed; otherwise, they might stumble and hurt themselves.
The optimal kind of bird feeders for the Cardinal are hanging or Platform ones that give the bird enough room to feed conveniently. Explore the Perky Pet Bird Feeder for Cardinals.
The circular perch and mesh surface provides a large feeding area
22. Cardinals get their names from the historic Catholic Bishops
The bright red plumage color of the Cardinal is concurrent with the vibrant red robes worn by the Roman Catholic Cardinals.
Dating back to the time of America’s founding colonists, the analogous colors of the two gives the cardinals their distinctive name.
What does the word Cardinal mean? Stemming from the name given to the Catholic bishops - Cardinal is a highly sacred official of the Church, ranking below the Pope in authority.
The ecclesiastical entity is a member of the Sacred College of Cardinals, serving as the Pope’s assistant.
23. Cardinals cover themselves with ants – intentionally
As astonishing as it may sound, this is one of the most astounding facts about the Cardinals. The Cardinal presents itself to the ants, both crushed or living, as it holds one of the tiny creatures in its beak.
It then spreads and lowers its wings, bringing its tail forward, covering itself in a mob of ants. These ants then crawl over the body of the bird.
The process of anting helps the cardinals get rid of any lice or parasites on their plumage as they secrete formic acid. Fortunately, these ants do not sting, and their defensive secretions help to repel other external attackers.
More than 200 species of birds present themselves to the ants for the process of anting, including Brown-headed cowbirds, Blue Jay and Wild Turkey.
24. Cardinals are family-oriented birds
Both the parent cardinals take good care of their family - exhibiting a well-balanced family structure as the birds keep the nurturing of their family a fundamental priority.
Once the incubating period is over, and the eggs are hatched, producing tiny little nestlings, both the mother and father Cardinal take the responsibility to feed their offspring.
Unlike many bird species, the male Cardinal takes utmost responsibility to feed and raise its fledgling, especially when the female lays another brood of eggs.
25. Cardinals are a symbol of confidence and strength
Looking at the bold, vigilant, and confident species of birds is a perfect exemplification of recognizing one’s strength, power, and gifts.
Such confident are these birds that they are neither afraid of themselves, their power and even display aggression to their intruders, not hesitating to protect their territory.
By observing the incredible confidence flowing in the Cardinals, we need to take inspiration from how the bird is confident in its colors and doesn’t take its blessings for granted.
It’s a sign that we, as individuals, should also focus on our souls and appreciate ourselves and our strengths.
26. Northern Cardinal belongs to the Cardinalis genus
The Cardinal is one of the three ‘true’ birds belonging to the genus Cardinalis - Vermillion, Northern, and Pyrrhuloxia.
This spectacular bird is a member of the family of Cardinalidae, made up of passerine birds such as Grosbeaks and Buntings, commonly found in North and South America.
These birds have strong, stout bills to feed on the seeds and have distinctive color differences in the plumages of the male and female birds.
27. There are 19 subspecies of the Northern Cardinal
If you’re wondering how many different Cardinals can be found, there are 19 other subspecies of Cardinals.
However, only four of these subspecies have been found near the north of Mexico.
These gorgeous species with exotic plumages can all be distinguished as Cardinals, but there are very minimal variations among the individual species.
Though widespread in different regions, they have a similar body size, almost alike crests, and even color hues, making it hard to recognize the subspecies.
||Southeastern Canada to as far as Louisiana
||Cardinalis cardinalis floridanus
||Florida and Georgia
|Grey tailed Cardinal
||Cardinalis cardinalis canicaudus
||Oklahoma, Texas, central and eastern Mexico
|Cozumel Northern Cardinal
||Cardinalis cardinalis saturatus
||Cozumel Islands in the Caribbean Sea off the Eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula
28. The fledging success rate is relatively low - around 15 percent.
Although there are plentiful Northern Cardinals found in the region, the juvenile mortality rate is relatively high.
Sadly, the nests of the Cardinals are pretty susceptible to attacks from the predators, who would not let go of any chance to have a treat of the delicate cardinal eggs and its fledglings.
Some common plantations likely to carry cardinal nests are the multiflora rose, honeysuckle, and ash plants. Many baby Cardinals die due to this before they are even able to step out of their nests.
Who preys on the eggs of the Cardinals? The list of Cardinal predators is extensive. Cats, squirrels, chipmunks, and shrikes are among the potential mammal predators of the bird’s eggs.
Other birds like the Blue Jays, Hawks, Owls, snakes would also attack the nests and feed on the Cardinal eggs.
29. They have easy adaptability due to their multiple food choices
We can safely claim that the Cardinals are not picky eaters at all.
They have no particular food preferences - though they do have favorites - and feed on various seeds. Not only this, but Cardinals are also fond of fruits like berries, insects, and an array of grains.
With so many feeding choices available, they can forage on all the different foods available with the transitioning seasons.
The Cardinals aren’t too finicky about the kind of food they eat.
Their peculiarly shaped bill allows them to feed on almost all the different types of food, making it much easier for the birds to adapt to the various foods available throughout the year and stay in the same region the entire year.
30. Northern Cardinals are monogamous species
The highly monogamous Cardinal would have only one mate at a time. Once the male Cardinal attracts a female with its gorgeous, crimson red plumage, and the two form a pair, they will then begin preparing their nests.
In most instances, the cardinal pair stays together throughout the year or even longer, breeding together for several seasons, while some couples stay together for life.
They prefer to stay near their nesting territory, as the female lays and incubates the eggs during the breeding season.
Cardinals don’t like to stay single. So, if one of the mates passes away, the other would quickly look for a new mate to form a pair.
For most of the Cardinals, they are highly monogamous species, pairing with only one partner at a time.
However, it comes as an astonishing surprise that very rarely, the breeding pairs of some promiscuous Cardinals will readily mate with the neighboring cardinals.
Such mating is referred to as extra-pair copulation. Though very seldom observed in Cardinals, it is pretty profuse in many songbirds.
One might wonder why the Cardinals would mate with another bird, leaving its pair behind. Well, the primary underlying reason is to reproduce rapidly.
The more breeding partners the bird has, the more nestlings are produced, which inevitably enhances the species’ survival rate.
Or perhaps, the bird might just be looking for a better breeding partner!
32. Female Cardinals sing as a signal to the males to provide food
Generally, only the males of many species of songbirds can sing. Among Northern Cardinals, even the female has a melodious tune, often singing during courtship and the nesting season to call out for food.
The female Cardinals sing clear, whistled song patterns. Usually, the bird sings during the incubation period when the male Cardinal collects food for her female mate.
The bird expresses itself by tactically singing more elaborate tunes. It is known to sing almost twenty-four different tunes.
The female Cardinal might sometimes sing melodious songs together in a duet with its mate to strengthen her bond.
###33. Male Cardinals can sing up to 100 songs an hour!
Relative to the female, the male Cardinal’s songs vary in tunes. The Cardinal sings cheerful songs during courtship to attract a female mate.
However, usually, it sings in an aggressive voice to ward off intruders from its territory and protect its breeding and nesting from predatory attacks.
Such melodious are the birds that they can sing around 100, sometimes even 200, different songs in an hour. That’s amusing!
34. Cardinals are famous mascots of many sports
The highly treasured and zealous Cardinals are also famous mascots in several professional sports, including baseball and football, representing numerous colleges and high school teams that have cardinals as their mascots.
Currently, they represent two professional teams - St. Louis Cardinal’s Baseball team and Arizona Cardinal’s NFL team.
35. Cardinals are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act
During the 1800s, Cardinals were popular caged birds as people were enthralled by their bright red color and distinctive singing capabilities.
Constantly under threat of bird poaching, the cardinals would often be hunted, captured, and sold in the market at exorbitant prices.
Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, Cardinals were given utmost protection among numerous other birds in North America, prohibiting their sale.
Under the legislation of this act, it is against the law to chase, hunt, capture, kill or sell the birds that are listed or even their feathers.
After this ordinance was passed, the Cardinals were secured from human predation, allowing the brilliant birds to fly around freely.
36. Cardinals can hide well in the dense plantations
The conspicuously beautiful red cardinals stand out among all the other birds flying in the sky, foraging on the ground, or feeding on the bird feeders. This increases their likelihood of being preyed upon.
To deal with this, Cardinals strategically build their nests in well-sheltered parts like dense shrubs and trees using thick foliage, bramble, and twigs to camouflage well and remain undetected by their predators.
Even when they perch on tree branches, they prefer to hide between the dense foliage and tangled branches to stay concealed from the predators.
Despite their bright red colors, Cardinals are savvy to choose the appropriate location to hide well.
37. Cardinals are gradually expanding towards the North
Since the past few decades, the Cardinals have steadily propagated much of the Northern part of America.
Beginning to develop their range towards New England, over the years, the brilliant bird has established its habitats in many other regions, including parts of Canada and Minnesota.
What has caused the expansion of the species up North?
- It could be due to the rapid climatic change that has taken place, having a considerable impact on the severity of the winters.
- The bird has easy adaptability to various habitats and can feed on numerous kinds of foods
- Many of the urban and suburban regions now have bird-friendly landscapes making it easier for the birds to inhabit
- Moreover, bird feeders have become widespread throughout, easing the birds’ job to find food for themselves during the harsh winter months.
38. They are called “Northern” due to their prevalence in the region
The birds are called “Northern” Cardinals due to the worldwide locations of the bird’s range of habitat.
They are prevalent among much of the Eastern, Central, Southern, and Southwestern US regions. The birds are also found in areas of Mexico, making the species the northernmost among their kind.
Among the different types of cardinals existing, most are tropical birds. Since these cardinals are found in the northernmost regions, hence, their name.
39. Cardinals do not nest in traditional birdhouses
Unfortunately, the conventional birdhouses do not appeal to Cardinals, so if you’re planning to put some in your garden to attract Cardinals, it isn’t a great idea. They wouldn’t enter the enclosed box.
Contrary to the cavity nester birds like the woodpecker and chickadees who prefer to have a cover over their heads and cavity support to hold their chicks, birds like the Cardinal prefer to build their cup-shaped nests, open from the top, in the evergreen trees.
Using scrap material like twigs, dried grass, feathers, lichen, dog fur, and strings, the Cardinals secure the nest well to the branches and weave it together.
Instead of relying on a deep cavity to hold their nestlings, they stuff it with soft material like feathers and mosses to cuddle the tiny baby Cardinals.
Did You Know?
Apart from the Cardinals, birds like Blue Jay and Robin are also not attracted to traditional birdhouses and build their nests.
40. The female Cardinal looks for various features when choosing her mate
The male’s bright red plumage is an essential factor that the female considers when choosing her mate for courtship.
Of course, being an aesthetically pleasing and charming bird is her priority, but the brilliant feathers of the bird also provide some information to the bird.
She can decipher about the health and fitness of the male by assessing the colors of his feathers.
The male tries to prove his strength and charmingly enduring personality to the female by finding seeds for her and feeding them to her, one by one, with his beak.
If this act of courtship is successful, the male will continue to feed his female mate. What an enchanting sight it would be to have the Cardinals feeding seeds to each other in your backyard!
41. Cardinals have a deep spiritual meaning
The enticing birds never fail to capture your attention with their impressive appearance and energetic personalities.
Seeing a cardinal often or having several encounters with the bird could be associated with a profound spiritual message!
Seeing a Cardinal is known to bring good luck, signifying windows of opportunity available for you.
The bird is also a symbol of manifestation, devotion, and loyalty, inclining you to form deeper relationships with yourself and find a soulmate with a solid emotional connection.
To some religious scholars, the Red Cardinal is a spiritual messenger from God, sometimes appearing to boost your confidence and give you immense encouragement to work towards your goal.
A cardinal might also visit to soothe you after the death of a loved one.
42. Cardinals are symbols of joy and Festivity
The beauty of the delightful birds cannot be ignored at all.
Their beauty, dedication to their mates, confidence, assertiveness, and melodious songs are characteristics distinct to the magnificent red Cardinal, making it highly popular among the birders.
Even if you’re not an avid bird watcher, you’ll be astounded by the sight of the gorgeous bird. Cardinal’s symbol is one of the most commonly used figures in bird souvenirs such as bird figures, crafts, and other collectible items.
You’ll also find the enchanting Cardinal in the many Christmas decorations, further adding a splash of red.
Now that you have learned so many astounding facts about the Cardinals, don’t you think these red birds are amazing?
One of the most beautiful birds out there, these wonderful creatures are among the most desired species among bird watchers. They are one of the prime birds that have averted people towards the bird-watching endeavor.
Next time you observe the thrilling sight of the aggressive birds in your yard, you’ll recall these incredible facts about the red beauties.
Keep in mind that not all red birds are Cardinals. Read my blog to learn about birds that look like cardinals but are not cardinals.
Wondering if those red birds in your backyard are cardinals? Here’s how you can tell the difference between cardinals and other birds.
David A. Swanson
Bird Watching USA
My name is David and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!