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Interesting Facts About the Northern Cardinal Bird

written by: Diana Cooper•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 3/16/2011

The northern cardinal is a beautiful songbird with a wonderful voice. Find interesting cardinal bird facts, including information on their description, behavior, habitat, diet and more.

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    The Northern Cardinal

    Distribution Map of the Northern Cardinal Bird Northern cardinals, also known as "redbirds", are native to North America. In the earlier days, they were most commonly seen in the southeast regions of the United States in warm climates, but can now be found living throughout eastern and central North America, probably due to human habitation and winter bird feeders. They have also been introduced to southern California, Hawaii and Bermuda. Below are interesting cardinal bird facts.

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    Description

    These beautiful birds are sexually dimorphic, meaning the male and female look different. Both have a similar shape and both have a crest of feathers on top of their heads. However, the males are bright red with a black mask on their face and the females are light brown with a reddish tinge on their crests, wings and tails. Adults are 8 to 9 inches in length, have a wingspan measuring between 10 to 12 inches and weigh about 1.5 to 1.7 ounces. Females are slightly smaller than males.

    Male Cardinal Bird Female Cardinal Bird 

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    Behavior

    The cardinal bird is rather social and may even join flocks of other bird species. However, during the mating season, they hang in pairs. Northern cardinals are active songbirds and unlike many songbirds, both the male and female sing a variety of melodies. Their songs are used to communicate with one another, to court mates and to defend their territories. These birds are not migratory; they will reside within their range year-round.

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    Habitat

    Cardinals prefer brushy woodlands and woodland edges, overgrown fields, streamside thickets, swamps, gardens and parks. They like to build their nests in dense foliage and often perch in high areas for singing.

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    Diet

    The northern cardinal has a cone-shaped bill that is specialized for cracking seeds and eating insects. They are a familiar site in backyard feeders. Although they eat a variety of birdseed, the black oil sunflower seed appears to be a favorite. Insects include beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, spiders, caterpillars, butterflies and moths. Their diet also consists of grains, fruit and sap.

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    Reproduction

    Egg and Nestlings Breeding takes place between March and September. The cardinal bird is normally monogamous, meaning it will pair up with one mate. The pair will remain with each other year-round and may continue breeding together for several seasons. Females lay an average of three eggs, one egg every 24 hours. When the clutch is complete, she will incubate the eggs for 11 to 13 days. The male and female care for the chicks. The chicks are primarily fed soft bodied larvae like caterpillars. In roughly 10 days, the chicks will leave the nest but will continue depending on the parents for another month or two. Females normally raise two to three broods per season. Eggs and nestlings are vulnerable to predation by small mammals, snakes and birds.

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    More Information

    The following are more interesting cardinal bird facts:

    • The cardinal is named after the Cardinals in the Catholic Church who wore red robes.

    • The northern cardinal is the most popular state bird chosen by seven states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.

    • These birds were once a popular pet until 1918 when it became illegal to cage them.

    • They are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act and an estimated 100,000,000 exist.

    • The average life span is 15 years.

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    References

    National Geographic: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/cardinal/

    Animal Diversity Web: http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Cardinalis_cardinalis.html

    All About Birds: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Cardinal/lifehistory

    Photo Credit:

    Ken Thomas / Wikipedia

    Yi Luo / Flickr

    Yi Luo / Flickr

    thelenders / Flickr