Northern Cardinal

Cardinalis cardinalis
Northern Cardinal specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

The loud, clear songs of the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) are a familiar part of the suburban soundscape across the eastern United States. The Northern Cardinal is abundant throughout the eastern United States and adjacent Canada, with a range extending south to Belize. This species has also been introduced to the Hawaiian Islands, where it is well established on all the main islands from Kauai eastward, and has been established locally in coastal southern California and in Bermuda. These striking birds inhabit woodland edges, swamps, streamside thickets, and suburban gardens, as well as the Sonoran Desert and riparian areas of the Southwest. In the East, the Northern Cardinal has expanded its range northward during the past century. Northern Cardinals are permanent residents throughout their range. The Northern Cardinal has been selected as the state bird of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. The diet of the Northern Cardinals is highly varied, but consists mainly of seeds, insects, and berries. The young are fed mostly insects. The male sings to defend his nesting territory and actively attacks intruders. In courtship, both male and female raise their heads high and sway back and forth while singing softly. Early in the breeding season, the male often feeds the female. The female sings mainly in the spring before nesting. The nest, which is an open cup built by the female, is typically hidden in dense vegetation 1 to 3 m above the ground, sometimes higher. The 3 to 4 (sometimes 2 or 5) eggs (whitish to pale bluish or greenish white marked with brown, purple, and gray) are incubated for 12 to 13 days, almost always by the female alone. Both parents feed the young, which leave the nest around 9 to 11 days after hatching. The male may continue to feed the fledglings as the female initiates a second brood. There may be two to three broods per year (rarely four). (Kaufman 1996; AOU 1998; Dunn and Alderfer 2011)

DC Information

Abundant permanent resident, found commonly in suburbs and cities. Breeds from mid-April to mid-July. The male is bright red, the female is brown with red on the wings and tail.

Specimen Information

The bird on the left is a female; a male is on the right.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC54010 Cardinalis cardinalis (Northern Cardinal)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC67160 Cardinalis cardinalis (Northern Cardinal)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC67165 Cardinalis cardinalis (Northern Cardinal)