Can You Legally Buy a Northern Cardinal?
For How Much?

This gorgeous red bird is loved by many, but buying and keeping it is illegal in the USA. Is there another way to care for the bird? Read to find out!

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David A. Swanson

November 21, 2021

Can You Legally Buy a Northern Cardinal? For How Much? Thumbnail

What’s This Post About?

This striking and iconic backyard bird may be found throughout much of eastern North America. The crest, crimson body, huge red beak, and long-tail distinguish this species even in a bad light. It is the state bird of seven states in the United States for a reason.

When these birds grace your yard, they liven up your property. In addition, whether it is the red male cardinal or the warm brown female cardinal, their distinct colors stand out amidst vegetation or snow. It really is something you cannot take your eyes off.

The beauty of the bird is such that many bird lovers want to keep it as a pet. While this was previously prevalent, updated laws made buying a northern cardinal illegal in the United States. Depending on your location, the bird can be purchased for $50-$80 and might even be as expensive as $800.


Can You Legally Buy a Northern Cardinal?

The birds protected by the MBTA are wild, and conserving them is critical for environmental equilibrium.

Due to their vibrant color and unusual melody, these lovely birds were formerly popular pets. Over time, various laws have been enacted to safeguard these endangered species.

These birds can no longer be bought and kept as pets.  In addition, cardinal birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 in the U. S, Japan, and Russia and the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds in Canada. 

These laws make it illegal to sell, own, shoot, catch, or injure this lovely creature. They are, however, common aviary birds in Europe.


Violations can lead to penalties of up to $15,000 and up to 6 months in jail.


Exceptions to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Even though it is not legally permissible to buy a northern cardinal under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, there are some exceptions to the law.

If the people seeking permission have a reason that benefits either the bird or society in general; they may be allowed to keep cardinals as pets.

The concerned authority may give permission to people and groups who wish to do so privately. However, this is contingent on the individuals or groups wishing to own protected species, notably northern cardinals, who must demonstrate that the birds or people would benefit significantly.

In these situations, the bare minimum of public value should be considered. A few examples of such exceptions are:

  • Scientific Research
  • Education purposes
  • Falconry (training of birds of prey)
  • Depredation (birds posing a threat to humans)

If you are interested in taking care of cardinals, there is another way you can go about doing so. First, you’ll need to get a wildlife rehabilitator’s license from your home state. This license allows you to provide for wounded birds and, in some situations, keep those that are deemed unfit for release.


How Much Does A Northern Cardinal Cost?

In captivity, northern cardinals can cost anywhere from $10 to $50 (€8 to €40). The pricing may vary based on your location. According to some sources, they are one of the most expensive birds having a valuation going up to $800.

These tiny red birds have a unique history. They’re small, bright red, and full of energy. Native Americans thought they were in charge of relaying messages to our forefathers on the other side in specific locations. Perhaps this explains the exorbitant price of purchasing them.

How Can You Attract a Cardinal Instead of Buying One?

You could absolutely maintain a cardinal in captivity, but it wouldn’t take much to entice one to your yard. With only a few changes, you can turn your backyard into a haven for cardinals. Even better, you’ll be able to enjoy their company while enabling them to have their independence.


Choose An Appropriate Bird Feeder

Cardinals are medium-sized birds making small feeders and tube feeders ineffective for them. Cardinals are more interested in visiting a feeder that provides them with a sense of security.

Since they are bulkier than other tiny birds, they prefer eating from upright feeders rather than suspended feeders. Ensure the Cardinals have a perch and a lofty enough space to land and feed.


Platform feeders are the finest to use. It has a robust wooden shelf for them to rest on to sustain their weight.

Useful tip:

Platform feeders are the finest to use. It has a robust wooden shelf for them to rest on to sustain their weight.

You can explore this Woodlink Birdfeeder for this purpose.

Woodlink Going Green Platform Bird Feeder

The feeder is made of up to 90-percent post-consumer recycled plastic.

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Choose An Appropriate Location For The Feeder

If you choose the correct feeder but do not make it accessible to the intended bird, the entire purpose would be defeated.

These birds require protective cover and will frequently choose a feeder that gives them lots of places to hide and take shelter, as well as areas to forage on the ground.


Below a new feeder, scatter several seeds on the ground. This will aid Cardinals in locating the feeder in your yard if they are hovering overhead.

To attract Cardinals, food supplies should be located near trees and bushes, providing them with a secure perch to check out the area before entering. To attract Cardinals to visit your yard, provide many feeders at a range of heights and close proximity.


Maintenance Of The Feeders

Cardinals are terrific birds in the sense that they don’t migrate and stay all year, so they’ll utilize your feeders at any time of year and in any weather.

If you wish to know how to lure Cardinals, maintain your feeders filled even on the coldest days in winter to provide a consistent food supply, which will draw even more birds to your feeding stations.


To avoid the spread of avian illnesses, feeders should be washed every two weeks. Wash it with mild dish soap and hot water.

Fill The Feeders Will the Correct Feed.

Cardinals consume a wide variety of foods. They aren’t renowned for being fussy eaters. Birdseed, insects, and a few fruits are among the foods they consume.

You can fill the feeders with black oil sunflower, cracked corn, peanuts, safflower, striped sunflower, and sunflower hearts and chips.


Use caution while employing pesticides or toxins near your bird feeders and birdbaths. They may contaminate the food or water supply which can be deadly for your bird guests.

Provide Nesting Material

Northern Cardinals seldom utilize birdhouses preferring instead to build nests in thick shrubbery or vegetation. Therefore, offering a range of nesting supplies to nesting birds is a terrific way to entice them to your backyard.

You may simply achieve this by suspending an empty suet container with twine, thread, or even animal hair near your feeders.


Any lightweight material, such as the hair from your brush, would suffice. Cardinals can have many broods every year; however, they seldom return to the same nest. Therefore, providing nesting material is a little gesture that may attract Cardinals to your backyard throughout the year.

Plant Trees

Cardinals are solitary birds who prefer quiet regions with lush vegetation and plenty of trees and plants. Therefore, planting trees and shrubs of various heights will provide a safe and secure environment for these songbirds.

You’ll not only be giving seclusion and protection but also providing a place for nesting.


Cedar shrubs and trees are particularly appealing to Cardinals since they provide lush vegetation and cover during the sparser winter months.

Install A Birdbath

A water supply is also an essential factor in attracting Cardinals. Water supplies are necessary for the Cardinals and many other species, yet they are often disregarded, particularly in the winter.

Most water sources are frozen, and thus the provision of one can be desirable for these birds.

Like other animals and birds, Northern Cardinals need to drink every day, and offering a consistent water supply is just another way you may make your yard more welcoming for them.


Keep the water clean and replace it frequently to avoid bacteria or algae growth, as well as mosquito eggs.

Adding a short wood or two to your birdbath might provide added protection in the water for Cardinals. In addition, it will provide them with a relaxing area to rest while drinking or after washing. Birdbaths that are about 2-3 inches deep are best for them due to their size.


Remove Reflective Surfaces

Northern Cardinals are territorial species, and when their violent impulses are at their greatest, they can guard their home for hours against unwanted visitors. If they feel intimidated, they will strike their own image in a window, vehicle mirror, or even a bright bumper.

You should eliminate reflective surfaces like large mirrors. You can cover them with plastic sheets or nets for surfaces that cannot be avoided, like car windows or bright bumpers.

Things You Must Know If You Want a Northern Cardinal

You already know that you can only pet a cardinal if the laws allow you. Bear in mind that cardinals are more apt to live in the wild than in confinement. However, before keeping a northern cardinal as a pet, you need to know some basic information about them.

They Make a Lot of Sounds

Cardinals are well-known for their charming chirpings. Both the males and female birds may be heard singing. Females like to sing alone, while males produce whistling, chirping noises from trees.

Cardinals sing during courting to protect their home, alert other birds of dangers, or inform their lover that food is on the way.


Cardinals May Give Birth To Yellow Babies

Red cardinals have been seen to produce yellow offspring in rare instances. A genetic variant known as xanthochromism is responsible for the yellow plumage. Apart from that, these animals are identical to their red counterparts in every way.

Female Cardinals Build Nests

The nests are mainly built by female cardinals. They put them up to fifteen feet from the ground in crowded locations. Building a nest takes them roughly 10 days. Males assist in this process by providing construction materials such as branches, petals, and other plant matter.

Cardinals Stay All Year Round

Cardinals, unlike other songbirds, do not relocate, even in the wintertime. They can only travel a mile away from homes at most. Since their food contains seeds and nuts primarily, they may eat anywhere at any time of year.

Cardinals Are Shy Birds

Even if you construct the bird feeders perfectly, you should know that you will not see cardinals very often.

They’re not out in the open during the day because they’re timid. They usually come to the feeders early in the morning and then again after the other species have gone home.


Cardinals Are Flirty Birds

Cardinals have a variety of unique mating customs, although they don’t start seeking mates until they’re around a year old. Males put on shows and make a variety of mating sounds. Once it comes to getting partners, their brilliant plumage is regarded to be an asset.

Surprisingly, food plays a significant part in these ceremonies. Male cardinals will frequently give female cardinals seeds using a “beak to beak” technique.

Cardinals Molt Occasionally

Don’t be startled if your pet cardinal is entirely hairless when you wake up one morning. The molting period for cardinals begins in late summer or early autumn, just after June breeding season has ended.

They frequently lose practically all of their feathers at this time, which is incredibly terrifying. However, there is nothing to worry about as they will return within a few weeks.

The Crest Of The Cardinal Signals Its Mood

Your pet cardinal’s crest shows its mood, which is something you’ll want to be aware of. When it’s low, it indicates that they’re in a good mood. If it is elevated and pointy, it suggests that the bird is angry or hostile.


They Have A Longer Average Lifespan In Captivity

Cardinals only live for around three years in the wild. Several natural predators like hawks, owls, snakes, squirrels, and domestic and wild cats and dogs prey on these beautiful birds.

However, older cardinals have been observed in the wild by scientists. A fifteen-year-old female bird discovered in Pennsylvania was the oldest documented.

However, due to the absence of natural dangers, cardinals in captivity can live for more extended periods.

The oldest confined cardinal survived to be 28.5 years old. So, as long as you keep predators out of the yard, you may be assured that your pet cardinal will stay with you for a long time.

Keep Reading!

Cardinals are excellent backyard companions. However, they are protected from captivity by state legislation in the United States and Canada.

If you want to keep one as a pet, you’ll only be able to entice them to your yard by meeting their basic needs. These birds will return to your property once they have a consistent food source, water, and shelter, and you will have an outdoor companion.

Now that you know if you can buy a cardinal, read to find out if you can eat cardinals!

Can you Eat Cardinals? Is it even Legal Where You Live?

As a general unwritten rule, almost all birds are edible. However, read on to find out specifically about cardinals whether you can eat them or not.

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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