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Interesting Facts about Cardinals

Northern cardinals (usually just called cardinals) are beautiful songbirds that live in parts of the United States and Mexico. Read on to find more interesting facts about cardinals.

Pair of Northern Cardinals

Physical Description of Cardinals

Cardinals are small wild birds that are very lightweight at about 1.5 ounces, which is about the weight of 9 sheets of paper. They are about 8 or 9 inches long and have a wingspan between 9 and 12 inches.

Male cardinals are bright red while female cardinals are pale brown, both with black around their red-orange beak.

Habitat of Cardinals

Cardinals typically live in dense foliage which gives them plenty of cover. Some examples of places they may live are edges of forests, in overgrown fields, in hedges, and sometimes in your backyard.

When they sing, you'll most likely find them by looking up. Cardinals like to sing from high perches.

When it's time to begin nesting, cardinals will build their nests in an area where they aren't likely to be seen–in dense shrubbery, for example. This is so that predators won't see the nest. The nests may be as much as 15 feet above ground.

cardinal in tree

Their nest is typically cup-shaped. It's made out of twigs, vines, leaves, and sometimes paper. It takes anywhere from 3 to 9 days to build. Cardinals typically only use the nest once.

People often ask where do cardinals nest at night. They sleep in many different places such as dense shrubs, high trees, and even in cavities in a tree. They might also sleep in a birdhouse, but it must be the right one–they don't like the enclosed ones.

Habits and Behaviors of Cardinals

Did you know that male cardinals are territorial? They will aggressively defend their territory and attack other males who intrude. They will let female cardinals come into their territory but not other males.

Unlike other songbirds, both the male and female cardinals can sing. Usually only male songbirds have that ability. They have 30 or more different melodies and will often sing all day. Listen to some of their songs.

Female cardinals will sing when she's nesting to let the male know she needs food. Males often use their songs as a way to attract a mate.

Cardinals In Snow

What Do Cardinals Like to Eat?

Cardinals are omnivores, and they love to eat seeds, fruit, buds, and insects. You may see them hopping around on the ground foraging for their dinner.

And of course, they'll eat from your bird feeder. They prefer the tray-style feeders.

Interesting Facts About Cardinal Babies

Before we talk about baby cardinals, let's talk about their parents. One question people usually want to know is do cardinals mate for life. For the most part, they do. If one of them dies, they'll find a replacement partner.

The female cardinal typically has between 1 and 3 broods during their mating season. Each brood has between 2 and 5 eggs. If you're wondering how long for cardinal eggs to hatch, it's typically 11 to 13 days.

Once the brood has hatched, these tiny birds have sparse tufts of gray down feathers, and their eyes are closed.

Male Cardinal feeds new born birds

Now, how long do baby cardinals stay in the nest? It's usually 10-11 days after hatching.

When do baby cardinals turn red? When the male cardinals are about a year old, they'll start to turn red.

Their beaks start off black and fade to a coral red color.

Classification/Taxonomy of the Cardinal

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Passeriformes

Family: Cardinalidae

Genus: Cardinalis

Species: C. cardinalis

History of Cardinals

The earliest documentation of a cardinal was in 1758 by Carl Linnaeus. They are related to grosbeaks, sparrows, and finches.

In the 1800s, many people kept cardinals as cage birds because of their bright color and ability to sing.

How Long Does a Cardinal Live?

The life expectancy of a cardinal is about 3 years in the wild. But some live as long as 13 to 15 years. However, the longest recorded living cardinals were 28.5 years.

cardinal sitting on branch

What Sound Does a Cardinal Make?

Click on this audio file to hear what a cardinal sounds like.

Other Interesting Facts About Cardinals

  1. The cardinal is the state bird of Illinois, Indiana, Kentuky, North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virgina
  2. It is illegal to own a cardinal in the US.
  3. Cardinals can fly an average of 25 miles per hour.
  4. A flock of cardinals may be called a college, conclave, radiance, or Vatican.
  5. Cardinals got their name because when settlers saw their bright red feathers, they thought about the red vestments that Catholic cardinals wear.
  6. Cardinals occasionally go bald due to their abrupt molting season.
  7. Cardinals don't migrate. They typically live within a mile of where they were born.
  8. Cardinals will attack their own reflections in windows and other surfaces.
  9. Because of their color, they conceal their nests in dense trees and shrubs.
  10. Cardinals are the mascot of quite a few sports teams such as the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team and the Arizona Cardinals football team. Lamar University, Ball State University, the University of Louisville, Wesleyan University, and the State University of New York at Plattsburgh all have cardinals as their mascots. This doesn't include schools and youth sports teams.
  11. Male cardinals get their red feathers from the carotenoids in the food they eat.
  12. It's easy to tell the difference between male and female cardinals because of their distinct physical appearance.
  13. Cardinals are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which, among other things, made it illegal to keep cardinals in cages.
  14. what does seeing a red cardinal mean When you find it, think about your loved ones in Heaven and know that they are always with you.
  15. Some people believe the folklore that when a cardinal visits your yard, a loved one is visiting you from heaven.
  16. Because of their bright red color, cardinals are often used in holiday decorations and on holiday cards.
  17. A genetic plumage variation called xanthochroism causes some cardinals to be yellow.

I hope you have enjoyed learning these interesting facts about cardinals. Next time you sit outside, listen and look for them. If you are quiet and sit still, one may come close to you while you are bird watching.

Check out these other cool birds!