Cardinal Nest: Where to Find Them,
What They Look Like, & More!

Are you here trying to find more information about where you can discover cardinal nests and what they look like? Keep reading to find it out more.

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David A. Swanson

June 06, 2021

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What’s This Post About?

Many of you might have seen a cardinal’s nest before but perhaps couldn’t recognize it because of its resemblance with other domestic birds’ nests.

However, you can quickly identify a cardinal’s nest if you’re fond of its shape and size.

Many people want to see cardinals, their nests, hatchlings, and much more. People also try to attract them to their yards and gardens to watch them more often.

In this post, you will find where cardinals’ nests are located, what they look like, and a lot more information about them.

Northern cardinals have cup-shaped nests made from different essential nest-building elements, including twigs, bark strips, grass, leaves, pine needles, and woody stems. They prefer building their nest near small trees and thick, dense bushes on a fork of a branch.

cardinal nest

What Do Cardinals’ Nests Look Like?

Northern cardinals make cup-shaped nests with different materials like twigs, bark strips, grass, leaves, pine needles, and woody stems.

Although both male and female cardinals will bring all of this nesting material, the nest-building work is completed by female cardinals. They prefer building their nest near a small tree and dense bushes on a fork of a branch.

They do not build their nests very high up on tall trees. However, they build only a few feet above the ground and can go up to 12 feet high. On average, most of their nests are found four to five feet above the ground.

You can also encourage cardinals to build the nest in your garden by planting shrubby plants and creating their preferable environment.

cardinal nest with eggs

Where Can You Find Cardinals?

Northern cardinals can be found in several places. They are found mainly in the United States in various parts, including the southern half of Maine to the Texas-Mexico border.

Not only the United States but a vast population of cardinals can also be found in Canada’s various regions, including Ontario, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Nova Scotia.

The range of cardinals has also extended through Mexico to northern Guatemala and Belize. In the year 1700, Cardinal species was also introduced in Bermuda and later raised in Hawaii.

The natural habitat of Northern cardinals is Gardens, shrublands, woodlands, and wetlands.

a red cardinal

What Do the Cardinals Look Like?

Northern cardinals are mid-sized birds which means they are not very large nor very tiny like domestic sparrows. They are one of the few midsize birds that are also songbirds.

The body length of Northern cardinals ranges between 8.3 inches to 9.1 inches. The distinctive feature is a crest that is on their head.

Moreover, the male cardinals have a black mask on their face, while the females have grey faces. The male cardinals can be spotted in stunning shared of solid red. On the contrary, female cardinals are reddish-olive or brown.

Northern cardinals are theoretically omniverse as they also eat insects. However, they are mainly granivorous because of their love for seeds.

a male adult cardinal


These birds are very friendly throughout the year and may generally interact with humans. However, during their breeding or nesting period, they will become highly territorial and fight back against anyone trying to invade.

When and Why Do Cardinals Sing?

Male cardinals can sing more than two hundred songs in an hour. Cardinals sing to communicate with their partners or convey a message to them.

When the female cardinal is nesting or building a nest through its breeding period, she communicates with the male cardinal by singing a song.

Through her song, she gives the male cardinal messages to bring food or eliminate the threat of a predator lurking nearby.

The male cardinal will also respond with its unique tunes. Cardinals also sing when there’s some danger around and give off alarms to alert the other partner around.

They have dozens of song variations and can be singing various tunes that vary according to their situation.

Interesting Fact

You might not see cardinals singing throughout the year as much as they sing during the breeding period. Female cardinals will sing to the male cardinal for bringing food while she nests through this period.

a male female cardinal pair

When Do Cardinals Begin Nesting?

The nest of Northern cardinals is made by female counterparts. Meanwhile, the male cardinal will keep an eye on the surrounding territory.

The breeding season of northern cardinals may begin from early March and can last until late September. Through their breeding season, female cardinals will lay 3 to 5 eggs at once.

These eggs are of buff white color, having dark black marks on them. They will also try to fight off all the predators around the nest.

Paired-up male cardinals will also make sure that no other male cardinal comes near their breeding or nesting female cardinal.

The incubation duty is only for the female cardinals, and they will start laying eggs after 1-8 days of the nest completion.

However, the incubation period starts right after the female cardinal lays the last egg.

a male female cardinal pair

Can Cardinals Be Found In Nest Boxes?

No, since Northern cardinals do not prefer having an enclosed environment, they do not prefer nesting in nest boxes.

However, there is a chance that they will use an artificial nesting shelf that is not covered from all the sides but only has three sides covered.

You can increase the chances of Northern Cardinal accepting nesting shelves by placing them near shrubby plants.

You may also attract them if you place a nesting shelf only a few feet above the ground. Putting the shelf only 4-5 feet high will be a good idea.

The main concept is to keep them shielded from the afternoon sun, so they don’t get exposed to extreme heat. Moreover, you must also make sure that the nest is safe from predators, including cats, blue jays, and raccoons.

a nesting box


The goal is to convince the female cardinal of your gardens' location. It will be more effective if you put the nesting shelves out in your garden before the winter starts. Otherwise, these birds will take time in recognizing or finding the nesting shelf until coming spring.

While you’re at it, here’s a bird feeder you can explore to further help you attract cardinals to your yard.

Window Bird Feeder with Strong Suction Cups and Seed Tray

Made from high transparency, see-through acrylic, you can now study the beautiful markings of each bird.

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What Do Young Cardinals or Hatchlings Look Like?

Young nestlings will initially be brown, and once they start growing bigger, they will have patches of red if it's a male cardinal. Moreover, baby cardinals need more proteins to grow, so they are mainly fed with insects.

a young baby cardinal

When a cardinal’s baby hatches from the egg, they are primarily naked without having big feathers. Just like every other birds’ hatchlings, cardinals’ hatchlings also have only a few small tufts of down.

These baby cardinals have their eyes closed most of the time, and they will appear helpless and clumsy until they grow. They will only raise their heads, opening their mouth wide open for the food and nothing else.

Both parents must feed baby hatchlings; however, the female cardinal stays longer in the nest to make the brood feel warmer, whereas the male cardinal searches for food. Adult cardinals love to feed on seeds.


Although the female cardinal performs the major nesting tasks, the male cardinal has the charge of feeding and taking care of fresh fledglings that have just started taking flights off the nest.

a single baby cardinal

Keep Reading

It gets hard to recognize every other bird’s nest, and you might get confused too. Most of these birds have nearly similar nests. However, you will have to learn to distinguish the nest features of your favorite bird.

Cardinals have cup-shaped nests that are also very easy to recognize. Northern cardinals can be found at various places around the globe, and that might include the United States.

This majestically red songbird has expanded into some other parts of the world, including Canada, Bermuda, and Mexico. Later they spread through Hawaii.

However, the natural habitat of Northern cardinals is wetlands, gardens, shrublands, and woodlands. Here’s a post you can read to find out whether cardinals migrate or not.

Do Cardinals Migrate? You Won’t Believe It but It’s True!

Interested to learn more about cardinals and their migration plans? Read the post below for some interesting facts and information.

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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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