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Northern Cardinal

Common Name: Northern Cardinal.

Scientific Name: Cardinalis Cardinalis.

What to look for?  Red! A bird with a shade of red that you cannot take your eyes off. The Northern Cardinal is a large songbird with a long tail, short thick bill and a prominent crest. The male Northern Cardinal is brilliant red with a black mask and throat.  As a result, Northern Cardinals are called “redbirds.” Females are more pale brown overall with warm reddish tinges in the wings, tail and crest.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? You can find Northern Cardinals around here all year. They are common at our bird feeders – especially during the winter. Northern Cardinals may also be found low in shrubs and up in the trees around our community.

How big are they? The Northern Cardinal averages around 8 ½ inches in length. And their wingspan is approximately 11 inches. They weigh in at around 1 ½ ounces.

What are their flight patterns? The flight style of the Northern Cardinal is called "Flap-bounding" where short bursts of flapping are alternated with intervals in which the wings are folded against the body. They fly somewhat reluctantly on their short, round wings, taking short trips between shrubs while foraging. Most cardinals live within a mile of where they were born – does this say anything about their flight prowess?

How else do they behave? Northern Cardinals will hop across low branches in trees. They may forage on the ground. You may hear – then see - them preening from a high branch of a shrub. Northern Cardinals will forage with other birds, including Dark-eyed Juncos, sparrows, and American Goldfinches here at Carillon Stonegate Pond. Cardinals are social and join in flocks that may even include birds of other species. The male Northern Cardinal can be quite aggressive when defending their territory.

What’s for dinner? Northern Cardinals eat mainly seeds and fruit and supplementing these with insects. Their young are fed mostly insects.

Where do they take up residence? Northern Cardinals reside in dense shrubby areas such as forest edges, overgrown fields, hedgerows, backyards, marshy thickets and regrowing forest. They reside throughout the eastern half of the continental United States. And these birds are not found much west of the Great Plains.

When and where do they breed and nest? Northern Cardinals usually raise two broods of young a year. They mate in March and again around June or July. Northern Cardinals nest in dense foliage. You typically see cardinals moving around in pairs during the breeding season, but up to 20 percent of pairs split up by the next season. Nests are typically open cup made of twigs, weeds, grass, bark strips, leaves, rootlets, lined with fine grass or hair.

Where do they migrate? Northern Cardinals do not migrate. They are residents year around from the Great Plains eastward.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Northern Cardinal has seen slight increases in populations. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 130 million.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Cardinals are active songbirds and sing a variety of different melodies. On a sunny day in late winter, you may hear the cardinal's song which sounds like “cheer, cheer, cheer” (like Notre Dame fight song?). Here is a link to the sounds of the Northern Cardinal.

Interesting Facts About the Northern Cardinal:

  • The cardinal is the state bird of seven states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.

  • The cardinal is the mascot for numerous professional (St. Louis Cardinals, Arizona Cardinals), college (University of Louisville, Illinois State University) and high schools across the U.S.

  • Illinois schoolchildren selected the cardinal as the official State Bird and made official in 1929 by the Illinois General Assembly.

  • Only a few female North American songbirds sing and the female Northern Cardinal is one of them.

  • The male cardinal fiercely defends its breeding territory and will spend hours fighting the “imaginary intruder” it sees in the reflection in glass surfaces.

  • The oldest recorded Northern Cardinal was 15 years old.

For more information on the Northern Cardinal and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society and National Geographic.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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