Bird of the Month – Northern Cardinal



The Northern Cardinal is the official State bird of North Carolina!  It is abundant across our entire state and is non-migratory so it’s here year round.  Covering most of the eastern half of the U.S. and much of the southwest, the Cardinal is one of the most common of songbirds.  Cardinals are robust seed-eaters and therefore are avid feeder users.  Whether alone or in mass, they add a much needed touch of color to our yards especially in winter when they sometimes form large flocks.  These birds are especially beautiful against a snowy backdrop and create quite a favorite winter scene. They also have a beautiful voice with both males and females capable of extensive songs.

Cardinals thrive in an array of habitats, mostly forests, woodlands and residential areas.  They stay low in dense trees and shrubbery, often foraging on the ground, and stick close to their mate as they stay a pair year round and mate for life.  They are quite entertaining to watch, during courtship the males may feed the females beak-to-beak and after mating this may continue during incubation.  The females normally do all the incubating, although the males may do some.  Males typically feed the fledglings while the female incubates another set of eggs.  A pair will raise up to four broods per year.

Northern Cardinals are considered mid-sized song birds, with the males being bright red with a crest on the head, named so after the Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church who wear red robes and caps.  The males have a black “mask” over the face and the feathers are a darker, duller red.  The females are mostly a brownish gray with reddish tints on the crest, wings and tail.

Attracting more Northern Cardinals to Your Yard

Cardinals eat a varied diet of seed, berries and insects.  Attract more to your yard by planting dense shrubbery and evergreens as these are a favorite for nesting and perching.  Shrubs that produce berries are also a favorite.

Since non-frozen water can sometimes be scarce in winter, Cardinals, like most birds, will really enjoy a heated birdbath for drinking and bathing.

They are not fond of tube feeders and prefer platform or house style feeders for their seed.  They are also happy to clean up the ground surrounding feeders as well.  They prefer sunflower seeds and cracked corn but may eat any seed in winter when food is scarce.  During nesting season you’ll likely attract only one pair unless you live on a larger property.  In the winter however, it is not uncommon to see red flocks, upwards of 20 or more feeding for a good portion of the day.

This month, while many of us are adorning our homes with red trimming, take time to enjoy the red Northern Cardinal in your backyard!  With the proper habitat we can encourage more to visit our yard this season and entice them to stick around and raise their young next year.

Learn more about attracting birds to your yard or feeding birds in winter.