Northern Cardinals are one of the most iconic, easily recognizable, and beautiful birds in all of North America. They are known for their beautiful, red-colored feathers that cover their entire body. The scientific name of the Northern Cardinals is Cardinalis cardinalis. In different parts of the North, they are known with some other names as well, such as red cardinals, common cardinals, red birds, and just cardinals. The Northern Cardinals belong to a bird family known as the Cardinalidae. They are commonly seen in Canada, the United States, Guatemala, and some parts of Mexico. They have also been introduced to some other parts of the world as well.

Description and Identification:

Northern Cardinals are mostly identified by their reddish appearance. They are one of the few birds that have complete reddish plumage covering their entire bodies. The Northern Cardinals also have a crown or crest above their heads. The face of the male Northern Cardinals is masked with black color and eyes are also black.

The female Northern Cardinals are different from the males, they have a grey masked head and blackish-grey eye patches. The color of the male plumage is vibrant and fresh red while the color of the female’s plumage is dull reddish olive. They can easily be identified separately from one another as they have different body colors.

The body size, wingspan, and weight of the male Northern Cardinals are also more than a female. The Northern Cardinals can be between 21–23 cm (8.3–9.1 in) long. The wingspan of an adult can be up to 25–31 cm (9.8–12.2 in), while the weight of an adult can be between 33.6–65 g (1.19–2.29 oz). The lifespan of a Northern Cardinal bird can range between three to five years. They are the state bird of 7 different states including Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. Their food entirely consists of seeds and grains.

Habitat, Regional distribution, and Migration Patterns

The Northern Cardinal birds like to live in woodland environments. They are commonly found in the eastern and southern parts of the United States. They are also found in half of the eastern Mexico region as well. In States like Maine, Nebraska, Florida, Texas, and Minnesota, their populations are widely present and seen. Mostly they build their nests near the water bodies. They are shy birds and do not build their nests closer to human populations.

Apart from its natural habitats, they have also been introduced to some other parts of North America as well, including Hawaii islands, southern California, and southern Arizona. They are not migratory birds and that is why they remain in the same region all year-round. They mostly remain in the same nests even during the winters as well. The Northern Cardinals sometimes move closer to the bird feeders during winters as they lack food and mostly visit the bird feeders to get more food during the winter.


The Northern Cardinals are a very aggressive bird species, they are most often seen chasing other birds away from their territory and sometimes taking charge of the bird feeder as well. When they are agitated, their crest rises, and they start screeching in a noisy sound. Males Northern Cardinals are generally aggressive while the females are generally calm, but during the mating seasons, females also become aggressive.

Most of the time they are aggressive to their species, and they do not fight with birds from a different species. Their flight patterns and feeding patterns are similar to other passerine and cardinal birds. The Northern Cardinals mostly forage on the ground in search of their food.

Diet and food preferences

The Northern Cardinal birds are seed-eating birds. 90% of their diet comprises different kinds of weed plant seeds that they pick up while foraging on the ground. They also eat grains of small size including wheat, and rice. Other food items that they consume also include the flesh of different fruits and berries that grow on small bushes and plants.

Apart from the seeds, grains, and fruits, they also eat some insects such as beetles, cicadas, grasshoppers, and snails. They pick these while foraging on the ground or hopping around the branches of plants. Mostly they feed these insects to the young Northern Cardinal chicks. If you are looking forward to attracting them to your backyards, you must put safflower seeds, sunflower hearts, and seeds and maize in the feeders.

Nesting Habits

The Northern Cardinal birds mostly nest in dense trees or shrubs. The female is responsible for most of the building and decoration of the nest while the male provides the food while the female is building it. The Northern Cardinals create and live in a cup-shaped nest. They depict the behavior of pairing, a male and female in a pair will remain closely like a family.

The female is responsible for creating the nest, laying, and hatching the eggs, while the male protects it from the predators and also provides food. The male feeds female and young Northern Cardinals as well. Females mostly stay in and around the nests while males fly away to get food.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Question: How to attract Northern Cardinals to your backyards?

Answer: Northern Cardinals like to eat seeds of small plants and weeds, you can attract them to your backyards by filling your feeder’s seeds of safflowers, sunflowers, oat, and millet. Once they find these items in your backyard feeders, they will return to get them and might even settle near the trees around your backyards as well.

Question: How to find Northern Cardinals?

Answer: Northern Cardinals can easily be found in different parts of urban and suburban areas of North America. They can be spotted on the bird feeders and can also be seen in branches of the suburban tree covers. As the Northern Cardinals are not migratory birds, they can be seen year-round in different parts. They are also one of the most abundant birds and are also one of the most seen birds as well. They are easy to find and identify due to their reddish color and their crest above the heads.