Cardinals are medium-sized redbirds characterized by a unique crest, a black mask on the face and a short cone-shaped bill. They are known for their vivid red color, however only the male presents itself in the bright colors. The female has grayish shades through her body with duller red wings and tail. Young cardinals are similar to females but rather then orangey or reddish bills they have black or grey ones.
The male cardinal is very territorial and protects his breeding space from any male that comes his way. During the mating season, which begins in March, the males are so hot-blooded, that although they breed near birds of other species, they will never allow one of their own kinds to nestle in their territory. A male cardinal can be seen frequently following another from bush to bush, emitting a shrill note of anger, and diving aggressively towards the trespasser.
This combative action will continue until the transgressor has been satisfactorily ousted. Upon his exile, the victor will perch himself up in his favorite tree and begin pouring his heart out in an unmistakable song of cardinal exultation.
Though cardinals are often perceived as vain because they appear to be attracted by mirrors, the attraction is actually more of an expression of his territorial instinct. If put in front of a mirror, the male cardinal can spend hours trying to expel his reflected image that he perceives as an intruder. The unusual crest of this red bird is a visible marker of his emotional state. When calm it lies flat, when excited it lifts tall and peaked.
Both male and female sing all year round. It is though a song that females sing from their nest that informs the male when to bring food. The pair shares some melodic phrases but the female has a more elaborate song, which is unusual in singing birds. The melody is pleasant and it resembles a whistle, but sometimes they make more mechanical “clinks”. As cardinals do not seem to need a lot of sleep, you may hear them singing in the morning well before sunrise.
Cardinals do not migrate, and as a result they live their entire lives within one or two kilometer radius of where they were born. In the United Stated of America, the cardinal is the official bird of seven states. These states include: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.
Unlike most birds, Cardinals appear to actually be benefiting from the growth of cities. With so many city parks offering bird feeders cardinals are thriving. Since the eighteenth century, the cardinal numbers and popularity have been growing steadily.
In the Southern Districts cardinals have been known to raise three broods in a single season, in the Middle States however, they seldom raise more than one.
Cardinals are good parents. The male cardinal shares in the duties of parenthood with his mate, feeding and caring for the mother during and after incubation. His fatherly instincts direct him to protect and care for the mother and babies until they are safely out of the nest. Young cardinals frequently follow their parents on the ground for several days after leaving the nest. They tend to remain with their parents until they are able to find food on their own.
It is interesting to note that while the male is caring for his family his bright red color will change to a duller shade of brown and his appearance will be more like that of his female counterpart. This transformation of color occurs as a camouflage helping him to fulfill his duties as a dedicated parent.
If you are interested in observing cardinals, they are often found near bird feeders, so you may want to install one in your yard. Since cardinals do not stay in the same nest twice, and you desire the cardinals to remain, you may wish to provide some shelter and nest building materials.
Cardinal nests are composed of dry leaves and twigs, combined with dry grass and slips of grapevines when available. It is normally finished off within with bent grass, wrought in a circular form. Their eggs may number from three to six and are of a bluish beige color, marked with touches of olive-brown.
Cardinals tend to build their nests without much consideration location wise. Cardinal nests can be found in some low briar, bush, or tree, often near the fence, the middle of a field, or the interior of a thicket, not far from a cooling stream. Cardinals love to drink and bath in bubbling creeks, springs and steams. They can sometimes be found close to houses or in gardens, a few yards from that of the Mocking-bird or the Thrasher.
The Cardinal is a seedeater with a strong bill. He also likes fruits - small berries - and insects. Towards autumn they frequently ascend to the tops of tall trees in search of grapes and berries. Cardinals tend to be as fond of succulent or pulpy fruits as they are of the seeds of corn and grasses. Cardinals are very beneficial as they also eat a variety of weed seeds and insects that that can be injurious to humans.
There are about 18 variations of northern cardinals, mostly distinguished by their colors. However the Cardinalidae family has many other species.
It is illegal to own a Cardinal as a pet or to kill one; they are a government-protected wild bird species and protected pursuant to the "Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918."
The Cardinal’s lifespan can be up to fifteen years!