Northern Cardinals, also known as Cardinals, rank among the most beloved bird species in the United States. These easily recognizable birds are not only residents of the US but can also be found in parts of Mexico and Canada. Cardinals possess such charm and popularity that they often grace artworks and holiday decorations. Yet, how well-acquainted are you with the Northern Cardinals? If you're eager to learn fascinating facts about them, don't hesitate to delve into this article and embark on your discovery!

1 What's with the Name?

The Northern Cardinals acquired their name due to the vibrant red color of their plumage, which resembles the red robes worn by Catholic Cardinals in the Roman Catholic religion.

2 Stunning in Red and Yellow

The cardinal's predominantly red feathers owe their hue to a pigment called carotenoid. This pigment is abundant in the cardinals' diet, which includes dogwood berries, grapes, and various other berries.

a male cardinal on the perch
Not all cardinals boast this iconic red hue. Males, driven by the desire to attract their female counterparts, showcase a brilliant red coloration throughout their bodies. In contrast, females exhibit a more subdued appearance, typically donning brown feathers with subtle touches of red.

The subdued plumage of female cardinals actually plays a role in their survival strategy, allowing them to evade potential predators. By blending into their surroundings with their earth-toned feathers, female cardinals gain an advantage in protecting their nests and young from prying eyes.

a female cardinal on the perch
While the majority of cardinals adhere to the traditional red or brown color palette, nature occasionally presents a rare and awe-inspiring display—a yellow cardinal. The chances of encountering such a remarkable sight are estimated to be one in a million. Possible reasons are that: 1. A genetic plumage variation known as xanthochroism disrupts the production of a specific enzyme responsible for converting yellow pigments to the vibrant red hues typically associated with cardinals; 2. Environmental factors may also contribute to the muted coloration observed in cardinals. When cardinals experience sickness or excessive stress, their plumage may exhibit a more subdued and faded appearance.

3 Good Parents and Loyal Partners 

Cardinals exemplify the meaning of family-oriented birds, investing tremendous effort in the nesting, nurturing, and protection of their offspring. Males and females work together as a team, sharing responsibilities in feeding and raising their fledglings. During the nesting period, males take on the task of gathering building materials, while females focus on constructing the nest. Male cardinals exhibit unwavering dedication, bravely guarding their mates and young from potential threats.

female cardinals
Moreover, cardinals are known for their monogamous nature, with some even suggesting that they mate for life. As an expression of love and affection, male cardinals engage in a behavior that resembles kissing to humans—they feed their mates. This act of nourishing their loved ones bears a striking resemblance to a common habit among us humans.

4 Melodious Singers

Did you know that these red beauties possess remarkable vocal talents? Unlike many songbirds where only males sing, both male and female cardinals are able to produce beautiful melodies. They are known to sing an impressive repertoire of up to 100 songs throughout the year. Male cardinals, in particular, captivate with their melodious tunes, which they employ to attract females during mating rituals. Females, on the other hand, use their songs to communicate their needs, whether it be requesting food during the nesting period or warning unwanted intruders to stay away.

a cardinal on high level
Male cardinals prefer to perch at elevated positions when singing, making it easier to spot these enchanting songsters by simply looking up when their lovely melodies fill the air. They have a preference for singing at the break of dawn and during the early hours of the day.

5 Territorial but Sometimes Cute

Cardinals exhibit a strong territorial nature, displaying dominance within their designated areas. They are among the most spirited birds, often engaging in fierce disputes with rivals and even challenging their own reflections in windows and mirrors. It's hard to deny the cuteness factor in their behavior. Another endearing trait is that cardinals raise their crest when they feel angry, accompanied by a sharp tink-tink-tink call. If their crest suddenly lowers, it's a sign that they are about to dive-bomb their rivals.

male cardinals
However, it's important to address a serious concern. Many birds are unfortunately injured due to collisions with windows and mirrors. This issue deserves our attention, and measures such as applying stickers or bird tape to these surfaces can help prevent such accidents.

6 Migration? Nah ah

Cardinals buck the trend of migration, choosing to remain year-round residents in a single region. Their powerful nostalgia instinct keeps them close to their birthplace, preventing them from embarking on long-distance journeys during fall or spring.

7 Harbinger of Luck

Considered as bearers of love, hope, and good luck by many Native American tribes, cardinals hold a special significance. Spotting a cardinal is believed to symbolize the presence and support of loved ones in Heaven, serving as a spiritual reminder of their continuous blessings.

8 A Bird of Distinction

The Northern Cardinal holds the prestigious title of the state bird in seven states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. Its initial designation as the state bird dates back to 1926 in Kentucky. Additionally, this charismatic bird has become the mascot for several professional sports teams across the United States.

9 Adored Bird Feeder Visitors

Cardinals are frequent guests at bird feeders. To attract them, fill your feeders with their preferred foods such as sunflower and safflower seeds, peanuts, cracked corn, and fruit. Planting berry bushes can also entice them to visit your garden. Keep in mind that they typically appear in the early morning or around dawn, so be sure to replenish your feeders in a timely manner.

cardinals and bird feeders

Summing Up

Once kept as pets in the 1800s, cardinals now enjoy the protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), which prohibits their capture, sale, and even the trade of their feathers. From their vibrant plumage to their strong family bonds, these remarkable birds continue to captivate us. As you observe these iconic beauties in your garden, may you always be reminded of the wonder they bring to our world.

October 20, 2023 — Yin Liang


Elaine katz said:

Cardinals. Are frequent guests around my property and I enjoy seeing them. I provide fresh water and food for them daily

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