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Northern Cardinal

Cardinalis cardinalis ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: CARDINALIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The male Northern Cardinal is perhaps responsible for getting more people to open up a field guide than any other bird. They’re a perfect combination of familiarity, conspicuousness, and style: a shade of red you can’t take your eyes off. Even the brown females sport a sharp crest and warm red accents. Cardinals don’t migrate and they don’t molt into a dull plumage, so they’re still breathtaking in winter’s snowy backyards. In summer, their sweet whistles are one of the first sounds of the morning.

Big Day 2014
Merlin Bird ID app

Backyard Tips

Nearly any bird feeder you put out ought to attract Northern Cardinals (as long as you live within their range), but they particularly seem to use sunflower seeds. Leave undergrowth in your backyard or around the edges, and you may have cardinals nesting on your property.

Find This Bird

The brilliant red of a male Northern Cardinal calls attention to itself when males are around. You can also find cardinals by getting a sense of the warm, red-tinged brown of females – a pattern you can learn to identify in flight. Away from backyards, cardinals are still common but inconspicuous owing to their affinity for dense tangles. Listen for their piercing chip notes to find where they are hiding.

Get Involved

Keep track of Northern Cardinals at your feeder with Project FeederWatch

Q & A: Why is a cardinal attacking my window?

The Northern Cardinal is a focal species for NestWatch. Learn how to find nests and report your observations.

Enhance your yard for cardinals and other birds. Visit our web pages on attracting and feeding birds

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You can identify cardinals and many other birds just from their size and shape. Watch our Inside Birding video series and learn how—right from your computer.

Have you seen a bald cardinal? Read our web page on bald-headed birds.

Northern Cardinal from Bent's Life Histories of North American Birds (1968)

Find in-depth information on cardinals and other hundreds of other birds for as little as $5 in The Birds of North America Online from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and American Ornithologists' Union