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Northern Cardinal
Similar Birds:
 Vermilion Cardinal

Male Northern Cardinal
Male Northern Cardinal
Photographer: Alan D Wilson of www.naturespicsonline.com

Female Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal
Photographer: Alan D Wilson of www.naturespicsonline.com

Northern Cardinal Range Map (North America)
Northern Cardinal Range Map (North America)
Latin Name Cardinalis cardinalis
Conservation Status Least Concern
Location North America
Colour Red - Male
Grey/Brown - Female
Length 21 - 23 cm (8 - 9 inches)
Wingspan 25 - 31 cm (10 - 12 inches)
Weight 42 - 48 g (1.48 - 1.69 oz)
Life Expectancy Up to 15 Yrs

Main Characteristics

The Northern Cardinal is a medium sized bird that is a member of the cardinal family. They are between 21 and 23 cms (8 - 9 inches) in length, they have a wingspan between 25 and 31 cms (10 - 12 inches) and they weigh between 42 and 48 g (1.48 - 1.69 oz).

Males are bright red in colour with a black face mask and females are grey/brown with some red markings and a dark coloured face. Both sexes have a conical shaped bill that is red/orange in colour. Their tails are long and they have a distinctive crest of feathers on their head. Juveniles have a similar colouration to females and a grey/black bill.

Northern Cardinals use vocalizations and displays as methods of communication. Both males and females sing, produce alarm calls and visual displays to raise an alarm.


Northern Cardinals are found in the gardens, woodlands, shrublands and swamps of North America. They are commonly sighted at bird feeders, especially at dawn and in the evening. They are resident all year throughout their range and they are territorial during the breeding season.


Northern Cardinals are mainly granivorous, with seeds and grains making up 90% of their diet. They also feed on fruit, maple sap and a variety of insects. They are mainly ground feeders and they pick up food while hopping around on the ground through trees and shrubs.


Northern Cardinals breed between March and September and they usually produce 2 broods of chicks per year. Females build a cup shaped nest in a well concealed location, 0.9 - 6 m (3 - 20 ft) above the ground. Their nest consists of weed stems and twigs and it is usually lined with leaves and grass.

1 - 6 days after the nest has been completed the female will lay 1 - 5 eggs. The eggs are usually white in colour with brown spots, and the shell is smooth in texture and slightly glossy. The female incubates the eggs for 11 - 13 days and upon hatching the chicks have a sparse covering of grey down.

Both parents take care of the chicks, feeding them a diet of insects, and after 7 - 13 days the chicks fledge. The parents continue to feed the chicks for a further 25 - 56 days before they leave their parents' territory. After leaving, young birds often join juvenile flocks and they reach sexual maturity at 1 year old.


Northern Cardinals are preyed upon by a variety of animals which include cats, dogs, hawks, shrikes, owls, snakes, squirrels, blue jays and chipmunks


Subspecies of the Northern Cardinal include:

Cardinalis cardinalis affinis
Cardinalis cardinalis canicaudus
Cardinalis cardinalis cardinalis
Cardinalis cardinalis carneus
Cardinalis cardinalis clintoni
Cardinalis cardinalis coccineus
Cardinalis cardinalis flammiger
Cardinalis cardinalis floridanus
Cardinalis cardinalis igneus
Cardinalis cardinalis littoralis
Cardinalis cardinalis magnirostris
Cardinalis cardinalis mariae
Cardinalis cardinalis phillipsi
Cardinalis cardinalis saturatus
Cardinalis cardinalis seftoni
Cardinalis cardinalis sinaloensis
Cardinalis cardinalis superbus
Cardinalis cardinalis townsendi
Cardinalis cardinalis yucatanicus

Interesting Facts

Northern Cardinals are also kown as:
Virginia Nightingale

The Northern Cardinal is the state bird of seven US states which are:
North Carolina
West Virginia

The Northern Cardinal is a popular mascot of a number of athletic teams in the USA. In professional sports is it the mascot of the St. Louis Cardinals of baseball's national league and the Arizona Cardinals of the national football league. In college athletics it is the mascot of many schools including the University of Louisville, the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, Ball State University, Illinois State University, the Catholic University of America and Wesleyan University.

The Northern Cardinal is the only cardinal that is found in the Northern Hemisphere.

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