Cardinal Eggs: What They Look Like,
When They Hatch, & More!

From mating rituals down to egg hatching, this post has it all! Read this post for everything on Cardinal Eggs.

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David A. Swanson

June 06, 2021

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What’s This Post About?

Most birdwatchers in the Southeastern states of the US are familiar with the famous red feathered cardinals. It is also likely that you’ve probably even heard them sing in your backyard.

The crimson-colored cardinals are famous for their exquisite vocals. The cheery songs they sing, often sweet, cheery duets, are not only happy morning rituals.

Some of these songs are also used as mating calls during their breeding season.

Cardinals lay about three eggs per season. These eggs are typically a glossy white color with blue, green, brown, or grey specks. Their incubation period is about 11 to 15 days, after which they hatch.

male and female cardinal

Northern Cardinals: An Overview

All red everything, except the face!

Both male and female Northern Cardinals have bright orange, cone-shaped beaks. They also have the pointy crest of feather on the head and a long tail.

Fun Fact

If it isn't apparent, the Cardinals have been named after the Roman Catholic Church members. The similarity has been drawn from the red capes and gowns worn by church personnel.

One distinctive characteristic between the males’ and females’ physical appearance is that the males have a black mask, just around the beak, on the face.

The females have been seen to appear in various forms of color, mainly light brown, with a reddish hue present in the wings and the tail.

female cardinal

There’s more to cardinals than just their physical appearance. If you’re interested in knowing more about birds that look like cardinals but are not, read a previously published post.

5 Birds That Look Like Cardinals and How to Identify Them

Wondering if those red birds in your backyard are cardinals? Here’s how you can tell the difference between cardinals and other birds.

Fun Fact

Seeing a red cardinal in your dream is thought to be a good omen. It is said that it represents good fortune for the dreamer.

The Mating Season

Monogamous till the breeding season ends.

Cardinals are known to be a monogamous species. This does not mean that they mate for life; however, every season, both genders only mate with one partner per season.

The mating season is usually Spring, mainly during March through September. Cardinals generally produce 2 broods per year. Although, it’s safe to say that some have also been known to produce three or even four broods per year.

Males And Their Courting Behavior

A male cardinal's job is to impress the female.

The courtship rituals of the Cardinals are of particular interest. Every season, the males and females will choose for themselves a partner to mate with.

This usually entails the male raising his crest feathers and shifting side to side while singing a sweet, soft song to impress the females.

Once the females accept the male, the next step is feeding the female. This adorable display of affection by the male proves to the female that he is worthy and will provide food for her and the little broods.

male female cardinal


Nesting begins soon after courtship. A couple of weeks before the male and female cardinals can begin nesting, the female looks for a suitable place to build their nest.

The cardinal couples have equally distributed responsibilities. While the female looks for a suitable spot and builds the nest, the male flies out to look for rootlets, weed stalks, grasses, bark strips, leaves, vines, and twigs to provide sufficient nesting material to build their new home.


Do not go near a Cardinal's nest during the nesting season. Cardinals, both male and female, are known to be fiercely protective of the broods during this time. They may attack any perpetrator around their nest area, even if it's their reflection! Watch from afar and stay safe.

a cardinal nest

The Eggs

The female cardinals lay eggs about two to three times a year. In each brood, the females lay between 1 to 5 eggs.

These eggs have a smooth whitish glossy appearance and are speckled blue, green, or gray all over. They are about 1 inch in length and 0.8 inches in width.

Since these eggs have an incubation period of about 11 to 13 days, the females tend to them for about the same amount of time.

Here’s a concise table of information on cardinal eggs and their nesting habits.

Number of Eggs Laid 1 to 5
Number of Broods 1 to 2
Egg Length 0.9 to 1.1 in
Egg Width 0.7 to 0.8 in
Incubation Period 11 to 13 days
Nestling Period 7 to 13 days
Appearance of Eggs Grayish white, smooth and glossy texture, speckled with pale gray to brown.
Appearance of Hatchlings Naked except for sparse tufts of grayish brown, eyes closed. Usually found crying.

cardinal eggs

The Color Of Their Eggs


The egg has a smooth and glossy white appearance with a green, blue, or brown tint and grey, brown, or reddish speckling.

Bird eggs come in various hues and can be ornately decorated with spots, blotches, and scrawls.

They also come in multiple shapes and sizes, and they must be thick enough to support the weight of an incubating parent while remaining thin enough to allow the embryo to break through and hatch.

Aside from heat and safety, all of the resources required for a fledgling to develop and mature are neatly and firmly bundled in the eggshell that surrounds it.

The Northern cardinal egg’s beige base and brown dots stand out against the male parent’s vivid red plumage. Because the female has a more subdued reddish-brown plumage, she’s in charge of incubating the eggs.

Female cardinals also construct the tiny nest, breaking twigs with their powerful beak to form the base. Throughout, females are pursued and fed by the male as part of his nuptial feedings.

## What Time Of The Year Do Cardinals Lay Eggs?

The egg production lasts from March through September, laying eggs twice or thrice during this time. The female will lay 2-5 buff-white eggs with black markings. The male maintains a close eye on her and the surrounding territory for predators while the female constructs the nest.

female cardinal with baby

As previously stated, they lay eggs between 2 and 3 times every year. The female will lay 3 or 4 eggs each time.

They are whitish-green in appearance and can be incubated for 11 to 13 days. Throughout incubation, the male gathers food and takes it to his partner.

The mother cardinal broods her cardinal offspring for the first few days after they hatch. Both the male and female feed insects to the fledglings.

The Hatchlings

baby cardinals in nest

The Hatchlings are pinkish brown and almost scaly due to the absence of feathers when they are born.

They hatch on the 13th or 14th day from the start of the incubation. After the first cry, both the male and the female cardinals tend to the hatchlings by feeding them insects. It is the male’s job to bring food in for the babies.

The parents usually tend to the new broods for about 9 to 11 days after they hatch. At this time, the hatchlings are ready to leave the nest.


Although Cardinals are relatively easy to invite to your yard because they consume most types of bird feed, their favorites are sunflower seeds! Use these and observe closely for any new crimson-colored visitors in your backyard!

Cardinal Parenting

Fathers are the best teachers.

When the baby cardinals are ready to leave the nest, they need to be trained to fend for themselves before sending them out into the wild.

The males are usually responsible for this and teach the babies how to fly, look for food, and build their own homes.

The females around this time usually fly off to build a new nest for the next breed.

Fun Fact

Cardinals rarely reuse their old nests. They build new ones every season. However, they may use some material from their old nests to create new ones.

When Do Baby Cardinals Turn Red?

The baby cardinals are devoid of feathers and are almost ‘naked’ when they first begin their lives.

The feathers start to grow during the fall season, and it isn’t until 12 months from the beginning of their lives that their feathers begin to turn into their beautiful bright red shade.

young cardinal

Keep Reading!

The monogamous mating rituals are exquisite when it comes to cardinals. It is fascinating to see that not only do the males and females stick together till the end, but they also take their parenting roles very seriously.

The males not only provide for the partner and the babies, but they also teach them to survive while the female does a terrific job building a home and caring for the eggs before they hatch.

From courtship to parenting, cardinals are fierce, responsible, and intelligent birds. Though social, they will not be quick to trust just anyone right from the start.

You can read my post to know how many babies do cardinals have.

How Many Babies do Cardinals Have? Per Brood and Per Year

Cardinals, just like other species have a separate lifestyle. They are different in many ways and may also raise their babies differently. Read ahead!

David A. Swanson Picture

By 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!

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David A. Swanson Picture

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!



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