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Our Backyard Birds: The Northern Cardinal

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A Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) perches on a stick.
Crested Cardinal

Our Backyard Birds: The Northern Cardinal

(Cardinalis cardinalis)



The northern cardinal has a strong, thick bill that is perfect for large seeds. Black oil sunflower seeds and safflower seeds are two of their favorites. Other foods cardinals prefer include cracked corn, peanut pieces, fresh berries, apple chunks, and small pieces or crumbles of peanut butter suet.


Platform feeders and large hopper feeders are your best choices for your backyard bird feeders. However, Cardnials often forage on the ground under the feeders for fallen seeds, so make sure you toss a little quality birdseed mix on the ground.


The adult male is a brilliant crimson-red color with a black face mask over the eyes, extending to the upper chest. The color becomes duller and darker on the back and wings. The female is fawn-colored, with mostly grayish-brown tones and a slight reddish tint on the wings, crest, and tail feathers. The face mask of the female is gray to black and is less defined than that of the male. Both sexes possess prominent raised crests and bright coral-colored beaks. The beak is cone-shaped and strong. Young birds, both male and females show coloring similar to the adult female until the fall when they molt and grow adult feathers. They are brown above and red-brown below, with brick-colored crest, forehead, wings, and tail. The legs and feet are dark pink-brown.


With their brilliant red plumage, northern cardinals are easy to see and recognize, and even the more subdued females have lovely red highlights in their fawn-colored feathers. Because these birds do not typically migrate, they can be welcome guests in yards throughout the year. Cardinals are often stunning decorations in otherwise bare winter trees and bushes since these birds keep their brilliant color year-round. Both male and female cardinals sing varied songs, adding a beautiful voice to their beautiful appearance, and giving birders one more reason to want to attract cardinals.

Northern cardinals are very popular songbirds and are common throughout central and eastern North America, and south from Florida and Mexico down to Belize and Guatemala. They don't migrate and live year-round in woodland edges, streamside thickets, wetlands, shrublands, gardens, and vegetation near houses in suburban and urban areas. The Northern cardinal was once prized as a pet, but its sale as a caged bird was banned in the United States by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Northern cardinals readily visit bird baths for bathing and drinking, and because they are larger songbirds, slightly deeper baths (two to three inches at the deepest point) can be suitable. Adding a dripper or mister to the bath will help attract cardinals' attention to this welcome water source.

A female Northern Cardinal  (Cardinalis cardinalis) perched on a stump
Lady Cardinal

I hope you found the information about the Northern Cardinal and attracting them to your backyard helpful. If you are new to my website or blog, welcome, and thank you for joining us. To stay updated on future Backyard Birding blog posts and receive occasional discounts and newsletters, please subscribe here. Remember to always follow the Nature First and Leave No Trace principles and strive to leave places better than you found them. If you know anyone who loves birds, bird photography, or backyard birding, please share this post with them.

Until next time, keep the sun behind you and the birds in view.


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