by Cary Salter


TGO Nature Center, Nature, The Great Outdoors, Titusville, Florida, Education, Birds, Northern Cardinal, Cardinal, Red Bird, Photo Album

Photo Courtesy of Nikki Duthil


Chances are, that red thing that just streaked past your window was a male northern cardinal, a very common bird in backyards, at feeders throughout the eastern U.S.

Rumored to have been named by early explorers after the bright red robes and caps worn by Roman Catholic cardinals, the male is unmistakable with its black face mask and tall crest.  The female, identically shaped, is brown.  Upon fledging, both sexes are brown and easily mistaken for females, if the beak cannot be seen.  Females have red beaks, and fledglings have brown beaks and brown feathers, both male and female.

(When male and female birds look completely different, they are said to be sexually dimorphic.)

Mainly feeding on seeds and grains, cardinals will eat insects and fruit, particularly when feeding young.  They raise two to four broods each year.  Each brood has up to five eggs, which incubate 11 to 13 days.  Hatchlings are altricial (naked, blind and helpless) and depend on mom and dad completely.  Both parents tend the young, who take their first flights 12 to 15 days after hatching.

The Birder’s Handbook indicates the male will often tend to the first brood, while the female incubates brood number two.

According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, these mid-sized song birds were once kept in cages as pets, but now enjoy protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.  They live year round in most states but some will move slightly north in summer, according to The Sibley Guide to Birds.

Wickipedia says cardinals are preyed upon by hawks, shrikes, owls, and their eggs and young are food for squirrels, blue jays, cats and chipmunks.

So, at the next flash of red, don’t commit the ‘cardinal sin’ of calling out ‘summer tanager’, ‘scarlet tanager’ or ‘vermillion flycatcher’;  because, most likely,  it’s just another beautiful male northern cardinal.


TGO Nature Center, Nature, The Great Outdoors, Titusville, Florida, Education, Birds, Northern Cardinal, Cardinal, Songbird, Photo Album

Photo Courtesy of Hobie Kurtz


To see more photographs of the Northern Cardinal, go to the Cardinal Photo Album.

TGO Nature Center – “Living in Harmony with Nature

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