Northern Cardinal Facts, Information, Photos & Artwork

Northern Cardinals are a favorite at bird feeders because of the color and inspirational melodies they bring to our lives.

The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is a year round resident of its range. With its striking red plumage, the northern cardinal is a favored guest at backyard bird feeders in all seasons. American Expedition is proud to present interesting information, facts, habitat info , artwork & and photos about the Northern Cardinal, as well as tips for attracting cardinals to bird feeders.

Northern Cardinal Facts, Information, Photos and Artwork, as well as bird feeding tips from American Expedition.

Northern Cardinal Information

Northern cardinals are songbirds with raised crests on their heads and orange-red, cone-shaped bills. Males are a brilliant red color except for a black mask on their face. Females are shades of light brown, with reddish highlights and dark coloration around their eyes and beak. Cardinals are medium-sized birds (8 inches), with the male being slightly larger than the female.

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Cardinals are year-round residents within their range. During mating season males are fiercely territorial; driving off competing males in their territory. Cardinals are considered monogamous, mating with the same partner each breeding season. The female builds a nest in dense shrubs or thick bushes. She will lay 3 to 4 eggs and incubate them; remaining in the nest for 11 to 13 days. During this period the male cardinal will feed the female.

Both male and female cardinals care for and feed their young. In the first few weeks the chicks are fed only insects. Young cardinals begin learning to fly around 10 days after hatching. Parent cardinals continue to help feed their chicks for several weeks after they have left the nest. The chicks are eventually driven away. They will usually flock with other juveniles until they are mature enough to establish their own territory. Cardinals have a lifespan of 15 years in the wild.

Northern Cardinal Facts

  • Cardinals get their bright colors from the pigments found in berries and other plant materials in their diet.
  • Pairs of male and female cardinals remain with each other year round. Pairs usually do not stray very far from each other.
  • Female cardinals are responsible for building the nests. Cardinals will usually build the nests from twigs, pine needles, grass, and other plant material.
  • Cardinal eggs have an incubation period of 11 to 13 days. During the incubation period, the female cardinal will stay with the eggs and the male will bring her food.
  • Cardinals will breed 2 or 3 times per summer. They will usually drive their chicks away 10 days after hatching.
  • Male cardinals molt in early fall after the breeding season is over. Both male and female cardinals otherwise maintain their bright color throughout the year.
  • Cardinals are not found often in forests. They prefer the edges of forests and grassland landscapes with thickets and shrubbery they can hide and nest in.
  • Cardinals are fiercely territorial during the breeding season of May through August, but during the winter months when food is scarce they may flock together around a food source.
  • An average cardinal measures about 8 inches in length.
  • The cardinal is a very popular bird, and has been named the state bird of 7 states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.


  • The cardinal has a distinctive crest which is barely visible most of the time, but can be raised when agitated.
  • Female cardinals sing more complex songs than males.
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Northern Cardinal Habitat

The Northern Cardinal is found throughout the eastern and central regions of America year round, due to the fact that they do not migrate. They tend to inhabit woodland edges and grassland landscapes with thickets and shrubbery they can hide and nest in. They are often found in close proximity to human habitation due in large part to the food that is provided to them in backyard bird feeders.

What Do Cardinals Eat?

While cardinals are naturally ground feeders, humans provide them with an abundant amount of food in bird feeders. They are attracted to most bird feed, but are particularly fond of black oil sunflower seeds. They also like to eat suet, peanuts, fresh berries, and cracked corn. Cardinals get their bright colors from the pigments found in berries and other plant materials in their diet.

Artwork of two Northern Cardinals in a snow covered evergreen tree.

Attracting Cardinals To Bird Feeders

  • Cardinals are especially fond of sunflower and safflower seeds. They also like to eat suet, peanuts, fresh berries, and cracked corn.
  • Try to avoid mixed seed bags, as these will contain a lot of filler that Cardinals and other birds will not eat.
  • Make sure to choose a larger, heavier feeder that can support the weight of larger birds like Northern Cardinals without swaying or tipping over.
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  • Cardinals are ground feeders, so try not to place the feeder more than 5 feet above the ground in order to attract them.
  • Make sure your bird feeder has a flat surface or perch where cardinals can comfortably rest while eating.
  • Setting up a deep bird bath of 2-3 inches near your bird feeder will provide a place that Northern Cardinals can drink and bathe. Make sure the bird bath is heated in the winter because cardinals are year round residents of their range.
  • Planting blueberry, mulberry, and blackberry plants is a good way to attract cardinals. In addition to providing a food source, the thickets these vines provide can serve as shelter for cardinals that will make them feel secure.
  • In the winter, cardinals will seek shelter in evergreen trees and shrubs. Planting evergreens is a good way to make your yard cardinal friendly.
  • Cardinals prefer thickly covered nest sites and will not nest in bird houses. Planting viney shrubbery like junipers, honeysuckle, grapevines, and dogwoods can provide a place where cardinals will build nests.
A sketch of a northern cardinal


  • Because cardinals are ground feeders, they are especially vulnerable to predation by house cats. Make sure to keep your cats inside if you want the birds to feel comfortable in your yard.
Shop for Cardinal Gifts.

Shop for cardinal gifts in our wildlife store.

In the above video, Northern Cardinals feed their young.

Northern Cardinal Habitat: A Northern Cardinal in an evergreen tree during a snowstorm.

During the winter, Northern Cardinals will seek shelter in evergreen trees, and they look especially bright in the winter against fresh snow.

Northern Cardinal Pictures: A pair of Northern Cardinals against a backdrop of a blue sky.

Cardinal pairs will usually stay close together throughout the year. When you see a lone cardinal, usually its mate is nearby.

Northern Cardinal Facts: A northern cardinal in the midst of a snowstorm.

The striking red plumage of the male Northern Cardinal does not molt into dull colors, so they are bright during all seasons.

Northern Cardinal Information: A Cardinal Pair on a snowy branch in winter.

The Northern Cardinal is the state bird of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. The Northern Cardinal was the first bird to be given such a distinction, by Kentucky in 1926.

Northern Cardinal Information: A Cardinal against a fiery autumn background.

Northern Cardinals have a fiery personality, and will aggressively defend territory against other Cardinals. Northern Cardinals males have been known to fight their reflections in mirrors for hours at a time. To stop this behavior, simply cover the window until the Cardinal leaves, or install a non-reflective window coating.

A pair of Northern Cardinals on a branch.

Northern Cardinals are often assosciated with good luck.

A Northern Cardinal on a fencepost with a green background.

Brighter colored Northern Cardinal mates are more likely to successfully mate than dull colored males.

Northern Cardinal Facts: Cardinals are great parents and share responsibility for raising their young.

Northern Cardinals are very good parents, and they share the duties of parenthood. The male will feed and care for the mother while she incubates their eggs, and he will aggressively defend the mother and the hatchlings until they leave the nest.

Northern Cardinal Information: A Northern Cardinal sitting in a flowering tree.

Cardinals are considered highly beneficial to humans because they eat a variety of insects in gardens, and because they really like to eat the seeds of weeds.