Northern Cardinal Backyard Bird

Northern Cardinal Male

About the Northern Cardinal

The Northern Cardinal is a very popular, attractive songbird. Homeowners and bird watchers rate this bird at the top of their list of favorite birds. Fortunately, it’s very easy to attract them to your backyard. Simply hang a birdseed feeder. Fill the feeder with sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, or a mixed bag of seeds that contains plenty of sunflower seeds. Place the feeder in view of a house window, and you’re in for a real thrill. Cardinals are non-migratory, year-round residents. They will frequently visit your bird feeder every month of the year. Usually, the male and female northern cardinals arrive together. Make sure to have your camera ready. Cardinals can be found at bird feeders from early morning through dusk. They are usually the first ones at the feeder in the morning and the last birds there just before dark.

These birds range across most of the continental U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains. They live near, but not in, woodlands. Northern Cardinals frequently take up residence around homes and buildings, living year-round in one area. They are very territorial.

Nothern Cardinal Male 02

Northern Cardinal Identification

These attractive birds are easy to spot. You will usually see them in pairs. Both males and females have a black mask on their faces, a crested head, and a small, cone-shaped beak.

Males (shown above) are a right red. The female Northern Cardinal (see below) is a brownish, or olive color, with a dull red color on her wings and tail. The female is slightly smaller.

Adult birds measure 8-9 inches long. Their wingspan is 10-12 inches. They weigh 1.5-1.7 ounces. 

Northern Cardinal Female

Northern Cardinal Life Cycle

Northern cardinals normally live 3-5 years.  

Usually, northern cardinals are seen in pairs. They mate for life. Cardinals bear two broods a year. The female has her nest in small trees, bushes or shrubs. She lays four eggs, which hatch in 12 days.

Hatchlings are fed primarily insects. The babies are in the nest for just 11 days.  

Northern Cardinal Male 03

Northern Cardinal Diet

Their diet includes:

  • Seeds: sunflower, safflower, cracked corn, and millet. They are one of the few birds that like safflower. You can use safflower to attract them to your bird feeder.

  • Fruit – a wide variety

  • Grains

  • Insects –  this is the primary diet of hatchlings.

  • Breads

Cardinals prefer platform feeders. Their short beaks do not allow them to get seeds from some feeders.

Cardinal pairs protect each other, usually taking turns at the feeder. Often one bird will eat at a feeder, while the other “stands guard” in a nearby tree. If a predator approaches, the bird in the tree sends out a warning.

See Bird Seed Feeding Chart.

Cardinals compete for food with other birds and squirrels. Their short, squat beak Keeps them from feeding at some feeders. A platform feeder works well.

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