How Long do Cardinals Live?
The Record is Amazing!

The cardinals are known for their bright red coloration and their crested head. Learn how long they can survive in the wild.

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Iñigo Navarro

May 30, 2021


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What’s This Article About?

Birds tend to live for slightly shorter periods as compared to other organisms. It is justified for the birds to have to go through various challenges concerning their habitat, environmental and behavioral changes, and their never-ending crusade to find refuge from their predators.

These are some of the factors that affect and determine how long a bird can live. While an average bird’s lifespan extends no longer than 68 to 70 years and likely to be as brief as 3 years, cardinals have an average lifespan that ranges from 3 years to 28 years.

The northern cardinal, scientifically called the Cardinalis cardinalis, is one of the most welcomed birds in backyards.

Cardinals have a lifespan of 3 years in the wild that extends to 15 years. Some cardinals have lived for 28 years in captivation and favorable conditions. Their lifespan involves an incubation phase, a period that involves nestling, a learning span, the juvenile phase, and the phase of maturity and adulthood.

a cardinal on tree

What Makes a Cardinal Bird So Special?

If you see a cardinal in your yard, thank the Lord, for it's a good omen.

Known with various names such as northern cardinals, red cardinals, or just cardinals are native birds of the United States.

1. Their Pigmentation

The elevated crested songbirds are well-distinguished because of their bright red pigmentation and an orange-red bill. Males tend to have a black mask around their bill and are more likely to be fierce, though cardinals are rather shy and sweet.

Females however are slightly light in pigmentation as compared to the male cardinals. The females too have a tinted area around their eyes and bill but are rather reddish-brown, unlike the males.

a red cardinal on tree

Apart from their distinctive coloration, it is their elevated crest that differentiates them from the rest of the birds.

2. The Crest

A settled crest indicates how calm a cardinal is.

The lofty crest is quite responsive to external stimuli. If teased or annoyed then their crest tends to get pointed and lifted. During rest, their crest is hardly visible. Their crest indicates how these cardinals are likely to feel upon an unusual encounter.

If you see a cardinal with a barely visible crest, then you can call yourself lucky because the bird feels calm around you.

a cardinal in winter

Fun Fact

A male cardinal is highly territorial especially when it is the time of the mating season.

3. The Lifespan

Birds usually have a brief lifespan. Some of them may live for long. There are examples of birds that have a significantly longer period of life such as the American Flamingo and Laysan Albatross whose lifespan tends to extend to a period of 47 to 68 years.

an american flamingo

a laysan-albatross

In the case of these little songbirds, their life cycle adds much to their distinctive characteristics.

How Long Can a Cardinal Live For?

Life keeps extending for as long as the predator is at bay.

Cardinals have an average life of 3 years in the wild given the various circumstances that affect their lifespan. However, some of them have also grown up to the age of 28 years under captivation.

Otherwise, if situations remain favorable then these crested songbirds tend to live for more than 15 years as well. Since these crested red birds are highly likely to experience a variation in their lifespan due to various factors, therefore, these birds have a varying age.

a mature cardinal

In most favorable circumstances they tend to have a quite stable lifecycle. The life cycle of a northern cardinal goes through the following phases.

  1. The incubation phase
  2. Nestling period
  3. The phase of learning to fly and feed
  4. The Juvenile phase
  5. Maturity phase

1. The Incubation Phase

This is the initiation stage of a cardinal’s life cycle in which the female cardinals brood their eggs. They incubate them for as long as 13 to 14 days while a minimum of 11 to 12 days.

During this time, it is the male parent of these eggs that provides the food for the female parent, while the female cardinal continues to incubate those eggs until they are concocted.

2. Nestling Period

Once the nestlings are out of their eggs, their nourishing period begins in which the young ones are taken care of by both parents. Since cardinals are monogamous, therefore they are unlikely to leave their mate.

During the nestling period, the female remains in the nest to take care of these little ones for a period of 7 to 13 days. The male this time fetches food for both the mother and the nestlings.

3. The Learning Phase

This period takes about 20 to 22 days for the hatched ones to learn to:

  • Forage, and

  • Fly

When the hatchlings are learning to feed and forage, they stay in the nest with their parent cardinals. During the fall, the young ones join the flock with their parents.

a cardinal in flight

4. The Juvenile Phase

During the juvenile phase, they tend to grow like their male parent, adopting and exhibiting the same bright red colorations. Although the adolescent tends to look much like their father, it is not until their second fall that they display the matured red coloration.

They tend to exhibit light brown shade during the first fall of their juvenile phase that lasts for no longer than a year. By the arrival of the next spring, the female ones are already prepared to breed.

5. Maturity Phase

The nestling of a cardinal will stay even if it attains adulthood to stay close to its loved ones.

This phase lasts lifelong. As they continue to grow, they attain their majority by each passing year. Some may survive for as long as a period of 15 years while some may die early if they fall prey.

Fun Fact

When an unwanted visitor arrives, the cardinals fly towards it, to scare it away.

Keep Reading!

Cardinals are thought to be a representative of a lost loved one. If you see a cardinal around, welcome it wholeheartedly.

The northern red cardinals or just cardinals are bright-colored tiny little songbirds that are highly welcomed. Given the circumstances of their habitat, these birds can live up to 15 years to 28 years of age.

Their lifespan comprises various stages which include an incubation period, a period that involves hatching of the nestlings, the phase that involves the training of the young ones during which they remain with their parent cardinal, followed by the juvenile stage that extends to a period of 1 year and finally reaches the phase of maturity that goes on for the rest of their lives.

If conditions remain favorable then these birds are likely to extend their lifespan from a period of 3 years in the wild to 15-28 years. Just ensure that they remain out of the sight of their predators and watch how they keep adding years to their lives.

If you want to explore more birds with redheads just like the cardinals, then you must read my post about 13 astounding birds with redheads with pictures!

13 Astounding Birds with Red Heads With Pictures! (Backyard Friendly)

Wondering what type of red-headed bird just fluttered by you in your backyard? It’s not as easy to figure out as you’d think. There are quite a few!

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By Iñigo Navarro

Bird Watching USA

My name is Inigo 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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Iñigo Navarro Picture

Iñigo Navarro

Bird Watching USA

My name is Inigo 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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