Nestwatch Focal Species Regions: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, Massachusetts
Year-round Range: Year-round resident in southeastern Canada, eastern and central U.S., and parts of northern, eastern and western Mexico and Central America. Breeding range has expanded north since the mid-1800s, probably because of warmer climate, human encroachment into forested areas and increased winter food availability from feeding stations, such as bird feeders.
Preferred Habitat: Shrubs, small trees, edge habitats and plantings around buildings
Preferred Breeding Habitat: Dense shrubby areas, such as forest edges, overgrown fields, hedgerows, backyards, marshy thickets, mesquite, regenerating forest and ornamental landscaping
Diet: Primarily seeds, fruit and insects. Can peel grapes using its bill to remove the pulp and seeds, discarding the skin. Prefers sunflower seeds among commercial bird seeds.
Nesting Characteristics: Can start building a nest as soon as late February. High rate of nest failure at all stages. Male and female may select a nesting site in thick tangles of vines or twigs in shrubs and small trees (.25-12 meters high). Female builds the nest, crushing twigs in her bill and bending them around her body as she turns in the nest. The bowl-shaped nest is made with a rough outer layer, leafy layer, bark layer and grassy lining. Nests are rarely reused. Typically has a clutch of two to five eggs that are grayish-white, buff-white or greenish-white with pale gray to brown speckles.
Lifespan: Oldest wild female recorded 15 years, 9 months. Oldest wild male recorded 13 years, 2 months
Conservation and Management: Deaths from exposure to various chemicals have been reported. Both males and females will attack their reflection in windows and mirrors. Human alteration of the environment has generally been beneficial, due to an increase in edge habitats.
Fun Facts: The northern cardinal is the state bird of seven U.S. states. Both males and females sing, and males sing throughout the year. Their plumage color is the result of ingestion and deposition of carotenoid pigments obtained from their diet during molting and may signal mate quality. Pairs may remain together throughout the winter but not often between seasons. They compete with the gray catbird and American robin for nest sites and feeding grounds.