Get to Know the Northern Cardinal
Give this beautiful feathered friend food and shelter, and you will have year-round backyard guests.
The colorful and musical Northern Cardinal is one of the reasons many people become interested in bird-watching. The male cardinal, cloaked in a brilliant shade of red, is arrestingly eye-catching, whether perched amid full evergreen branches or on a bare tree branch in the winter. He is easily one of the first birds that many amateur ornithologists learn to identify. Even the more subdued colored female cardinals display a snappy crest and warm red accents. The South is home to many permanent resident birds, meaning they don't migrate in winter; mourning doves, bobwhites, goldfinches, and various types of hawks and owls are just a few types of fowl that stay close to home year round. None, however, are as eye-catching as the bright red Northern Cardinal. Read on for some interesting facts about this songbird, which is so popular it is the state bird of seven states.
Backyard Feeding and Housing Tips
Cardinals make good backyard guests because they seem to be easy to please. They are attracted to almost any type of bird feed you put out in your yard (as long as you live within their range), but they are partial to sunflower seeds, as well as cracked corn, safflower, millet, and peanut hearts. Cardinals will also eat from an assortment of feeders, such as large tube feeders and hoppers, platform feeders, or simply off the ground.
Cardinals may look showy, but they prefer discreet, secluded areas for shelter and nesting. Thickets of dense vines and shrubs will provide good cover so the birds feel secure. Some of their preferred plants include blueberry, clematis, grapevines and hawthorn. Evergreens, such as pines and spruces, also provide comfortable winter shelter. Essential nesting materials like small twigs, pine needles and grass clippings will encourage cardinals to build nests nearby, though they will not use bird houses.
It's a Family Affair
Northern Cardinal pairs typically remain together the entire year and, often but not always, will stay together until one dies, at which time the surviving mate will look for another partner. While watching cardinals, you may see a ritual calledmate-feeding: the male will pick up a seed, hop over to the female, and the two will quickly touch beaks as she takes the food. This interesting ritual continues through the egg-laying and incubation phases of breeding.
Northern Cardinals do not Migrate
These birds typically do not migrate—though they may travel if food becomes scarce—so you can enjoy cardinals in your yard throughout the year, including the winter months when other birds take flight for a warmer climate. To keep cardinals in your yard, keep bird feeders filled and make sure your property has adequate shelter and nesting sites.
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Folklore Surrounding Cardinals
Birds have long been linked to folklore, superstition, and the supernatural, perhaps because they spend their lives flitting between the earth and sky. Cardinals may also figure prominently in folklore because of their vivid color; the sudden appearance of a bright red cardinal when you are troubled is sure to lift your spirits. One heart-warming legend tells that whenever a cardinal appears to someone, it is a sign that a departed loved one is thinking of them. Another tale (that isn’t hard to believe) is that whenever you hear a cardinal sing, your sadness will be lifted. And it isn’t hard to understand why farmers would believe that if you see a cardinal in the winter, you will prosper in the spring.