10 Fun Facts About Cardinals You Didn’t Know

The Northern Cardinal is a perennial favorite of backyard birders because of its bright red colors, joyful songs and year-round presence. While those in its range might have become accustomed to these prominent birds, the birds should be marveled every day for so many reasons. Here are 10 interesting facts about Northern Cardinals you probably didn’t know.

1. Unlike many other songbirds in North America, both the male and female cardinals can sing. Usually, only a male songbird is capable of singing.

2. On a related note, when a female cardinal sings from the nest, it usually means she’s telling the male she needs more food.

3. The Northern Cardinal is the state bird of seven states, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia, which is more than any other bird.

4. It is also the mascot of prominent sports teams and schools, including the St. Louis Cardinals, Arizona Cardinals, University of Louisville and many more.

5. During the courtship process, male Northern Cardinals are known to exhibit affection toward females by feeding her beak-to-beak, like this picture from one of our Facebook fans. The tender display of affection is a sight to behold.

6. The bird is named for the red plumage of the male, which was said to look similar to a Catholic cardinal’s red vestments.

Female Northern Cardinal7. The oldest Northern Cardinal ever recorded was 15 years and 9 months old.

8. During the spring, you might see a male Northern Cardinal attacking a window. It’s actually attacking his reflection in the glass because he will fiercely defend his breeding territory from intruding males.

9. When a male cardinal is attacking his reflection, it’s due to an increase in hormone levels that are so strong, it could cause the cardinal to fight his reflection for several hours.

10. The Northern Cardinal has been introduced farther west in places like Southern California and even Hawaii. Although the small population in California has been present for some time, it is in danger of disappearing due to habitat loss.

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27 Comments

  1. S.Tasso
    Posted June 4, 2012 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    Love my Cardinals. They are a constant delight @ the feeding stations

  2. Posted June 4, 2012 at 2:42 am | Permalink

    Saw them in Hawaii all the time. Wish someone would introduce them here in Oregon. Watch the Masters Golf Tour. Every year just to hear them.

    • Timothy Martinez Jr.
      Posted June 4, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      That’s great. What bird (or person for that matter) wouldn’t want to spend its time in Hawaii!

  3. T-Tom
    Posted June 4, 2012 at 3:03 am | Permalink

    Very Interesting and useful!

  4. CharleAnne
    Posted June 4, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    DId you know that a male cardinal will risk his life to protect his mate and babies? I saw this just a few days ago with a cat was on the prowl; the male sat on the ground and made the “broken wing” act. Years ago, I read a touching story about a cardinal pair coming into a feeder. The female was about to be attacked by a hawk, but the male flew in and gave his life for her. They mate for life. Also, they have certain “sidewalks” that they travel by. Another story I read was that a forested area was destroyed, and not having their “sidewalk” to fly by, cardinals didn’t know where to go, and died.

    • Timothy Martinez Jr.
      Posted June 4, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      While I knew cardinals mated for life and males were very protective, I never heard those stories. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Jean Gordon
    Posted June 11, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    I was washing windows (tilt-out) during our lovely rain this a.m. and the Cardinals were just singing away — they were enjoying the much-needed rain, too. We have a “Mr. & Mrs.” that regularly visit our feeders right outside the kitchen window — what a way to brighten my chores!!

  6. Richard Guthrie
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    No, let’s not be introducing Cardinals to Oregon or anywhere else. Haven’t we learned a lesson from badly gone introductions in the past? Yet it still happens with plants in backyard gardens….

  7. Ruth Williamson
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    We live N/E of Toronto, On. Canada – we have had a pair of cardinals for several years now (year round). This week we looked out at our feeders and saw no less than 4 female & 2 male birds – is this a usual occurence? The males are darting in & out of the trees at each other, so I don’t suppose more than 1 will last through mating season. We’ve never seen this before.

  8. Alice
    Posted April 18, 2013 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to you, I finally know why I’ve been RUDELY awoken every morning by a cardinal attacking my window. There is another bird pulling pieces of the window screen off for nest construction. This is actually what sparked my interest in birds. How can I be upset when they’re so cute?! Thanks for the facts!

  9. Alice
    Posted May 8, 2013 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    I’ve read your comments regarding a male attack a window, but we have a female cardinal that is attacking one of our living room windows, and a window in the kitchen. She has been doing this for several weeks now, and she sometimes hits so hard she falls to the ground. She starts very early in the morning and continues until dark. There is a male nearby and I have witnessed them “kissing” in the yard. I have never seen the male hit any window, can you please tell me what is up with her? We’re afraid she is going to hurt herself.

    • Timothy Martinez Jr.
      Posted May 9, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      Even though males are mostly known to attack windows, it’s not uncommon for females to also attack windows. They can be very territorial as well. You can stop her by doing some of the solutions in this articles: http://www.backyardchirper.com/bird-info-219.html.

      • Alice
        Posted May 9, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

        Thank you very much, I appreciate your help!

  10. Dana Campbell
    Posted June 9, 2013 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    I love cardinals so much. The.y make me happy when i’m feeling down. I built a nice squirrel proof feeding station a few years back, faithfully kept the feeders full, and the cardinals faithfully keep coming back. numbers will always return for safflower and black oil sunflower. There is something just so spiritual about them it is said that our deceased loved ones come back as cardinals. I believe it.

  11. Susan
    Posted June 17, 2013 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    There is a cardinal nest in a bush right outside my window. I’m so excited and can’t wait for the chicks to hatch. I’m keeping the curtains (bedroom) closed until the chicks are gone because I don’t want to disturb the female.
    I can peek out a tiny bit to see if the female is on the nest and if she isn’t I take a couple of quick pictures :)

  12. Adam
    Posted June 17, 2013 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    Awesome

  13. erica
    Posted August 9, 2013 at 4:14 am | Permalink

    I spotted one during the coldest day in Massacusetts (Dec 2012) and again in August 2013. I never seem to be able to capture a picture of their beauty though.

  14. Patricia Michaels
    Posted September 1, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Our cardinals that live in our backyard are members of our family. I have named ours Irving and Belle and we love seeing them.There is a white butterfly that appears as well. My state is Massachusetts.

  15. Carole Fenstermacher
    Posted December 17, 2013 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    I have 4 male cardinals near my feeders or eating from them,is this unusual?

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  21. Renae
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    I have seen several times this past month what appears to be a male cardinal, but it has a black bald head. Red feathers everywhere else, orange beak, but no red crest on his head at all. Haven’t tried to get a picture yet, but am hoping to do so. Anyone seen this before?

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