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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.

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Songs

Both male and female Northern Cardinals sing. The song is a loud string of clear down-slurred or two-parted whistles, often speeding up and ending in a slow trill. The songs typically last 2 to 3 seconds. Syllables can sound like the bird is singing cheer, cheer, cheer or birdie, birdie, birdie. Males in particular may sing throughout the year, though the peak of singing is in spring and early summer.

Calls

Scientists have described at least 16 different calls for the Northern Cardinal, but the one you’ll hear most commonly is a loud, metallic chip. Cardinals make this call when warning off intruders to their territory, when predators are near, as females approach their nests, and by both sexes as they carry food to the nest or when trying to get nestlings to leave the nest. When one member of a pair is about to feed the other, either bird may make a softer took note.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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

You Might Also Like

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

eBird Occurrence Maps, Northern Cardinal