Sunday, December 9, 2012

Northern Cardinal

The Northern Cardinal is a nonmigratory song bird found throughout most of the US.  They live in swamps, thickets, woods and suburban yards. 

The male is bright red with a black face and pointed head (crest).  The female is tan with a rosy hue, also with a crest.  Cardinals molt once a year, but unlike many birds their feather color does not change with the seasons.   

Some Cardinal Facts

-  length:  8-9 inches

-  wingspan:  10-12 inches

-  diet:  seeds, fruit, insects

-  both male and female sing

-  juveniles resemble the adult female, except the youngster has a black beak, mom has a red beak

During the winter, Cardinals hang out in flocks.  By late winter/early spring they begin to split up into pairs and territories.  Both male and female defend their territory, chasing interlopers out.  Songs are used to establish territory and mates.  You may hear a Cardinal singing a verse, then another Cardinal answering by repeating that verse (counter singing).  Counter singing may involve two birds establishing territory boundaries or it may be a pair singing romantically to each other.

Other courtship behavior involves a curious lopsided sort of dance hop that both sexes perform.  The male ramps up the romance by feeding the female, placing food directly into her beak.

Soon the female is constructing a nest.  The male doesn't help much but sometimes gathers some of the nest material- leaves, twigs, vines, grass, bark.  Mostly the male hangs around and sings while the female builds the nest, usually in a shrub.  The nest building process takes 4-6 days.

The female lays 2-5 grayish or blueish white eggs.  She incubates them for 12-13 days.  The male feeds her while she sits on the eggs, also when the baby birds are nestling.  The youngsters leave the nest after 3-4 weeks.  The parents may have 2 or 3 more broods.

Cardinals are vocal all year round.  In addition to singing, pairs often communicate with chips and cheeps.

Hear the voice of a Cardinal.

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