20 FUN & INTERESTING Facts About Cardinals! (2024)

The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is one of the most familiar and easily recognizable birds in North America!

Interesting facts about Northern Cardinals

And it’s easy to see why!

Cardinals have an incredible combination of being easy to see in your backyard AND breathtaking plumage. In my opinion, the Northern Cardinal can be credited with drawing more people into the hobby of bird feeding and birding than any other species. 

But these fascinating birds have much more to their story than pretty feathers!

From sports teams to state birds to being dedicated parents and partners,

This post will detail 20 fun and interesting facts about Northern Cardinals!

Fact #1:

Cardinals are typically the first bird to visit feeders in the morning and the last to visit in the evenings.

While ornithologists aren’t entirely sure why this is the case, they believe it may be related to lower competition with other birds at the feeders during dawn and dusk. Males may also appear more inconspicuous in low light conditions providing them some security from natural predators.

You may be able to observe cardinals RIGHT NOW on my bird feeders!

Here is a LIVE view of my feeding station:

*Watch all of my LIVE cams HERE!

Fact #2:

catholic cardinal bishops

The Northern Cardinal’s name dates back to the time of the United States founding colonists, stemming from the similarity of the males’ vibrant red plumage to the red biretta and vestments of distinguishable Catholic cardinals.

Fact #3:

Northern Cardinals are classified as granivorous animals because they live on a diet consisting of mostly seeds. Their short, stout, cone-shaped beaks are specially designed to crack open the hulls on seeds and shells on nuts.

how to attract cardinals

Due to their love of seeds, you can easily attract cardinals to your feeders by using either sunflower seeds (their favorite!), safflower seeds, cracked corn, or shelled peanuts.

Fact #4:

Loved Cardinal Feed Each Other in the Summer

During courtship, affection is expressed by the males feeding their females seeds in a method known as “beak to beak.” If you choose to let your imagination run wild, you could certainly say that the birds look like they are kissing!

Fact #5:

Occasionally, a lack of the typical red pigment in the plumage occurs and is replaced by vibrant yellow or orangish pigments, which results in a yellow cardinal. The appearance of vibrant yellow Northern Cardinals is typically caused by a genetic plumage variation called xanthochroism.

fun facts yellow cardinals

It’s incredibly rare to see a yellow cardinal, but when it happens, it becomes a national news story for bird lovers!

Fact #6:

The average lifespan of a Northern Cardinal is approximately three years due to the hazards they face, which include predators, disease, accidents, and starvation

But the oldest recorded wild Northern Cardinal lived to be 15 years and 9 months. This female was banded as a young bird and tracked in Pennsylvania.

Fact #7:

The Northern Cardinal is a popular mascot for many sports teams!

They represent two professional teams; the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team and the Arizona Cardinals NFL team.

The cardinal also represents many colleges, including Ball State University, Concordia University, Lamar University, the University of Louisville, and Wesleyan University.

Cardinals logo incorrect

Unfortunately, the cardinal is often portrayed incorrectly on logos, such as displaying a yellow beak or legs.

Fact #8:

In the winter months, Northern Cardinals forego their territorial ways and congregate together to form flocks. A group looking for food collectively is more successful than a single cardinal or pair. These flocks can be called a college, conclave, deck, radiance, or Vatican of cardinals.

Check out this video that was taken at my bird feeding station.

Only in winter will you see this many male cardinals visiting at once!

*Watch my LIVE cams HERE!*

Fact #9:

The Northern Cardinal’s song sounds as if they are saying “birdie, birdie, birdie” or “cheer, cheer, cheer.” This distinctive vocalization pattern allows many birders to easily identify the cardinal when it’s singing.

Fact #10:

Concurrent with the mating/nesting season, male Northern Cardinals experience a marked increase in hormone levels. At this time they become very territorial and will attack any intruders they feel are a threat to the brood.

While amusing to onlookers, it isn’t unusual for them to violently and incessantly “battle” with their own image for hours in windows, mirrors, or anything that has a reflection.

Fact #11:

fun facts about cardinals

Northern Cardinals are also occasionally called a Virginia Nightingale or Winter Redbird. The name Virginia nightingale originates from 18th-century England. Cardinals are known as the Winter Redbird because they are incredibly noticeable against the white backdrop of snow in the winter when they are the only red bird present.

Fact #12:

“Northern” refers to the worldwide locale of the birds’ range of habitat. Of all three cardinal species belonging to the Cardinalis genus (Vermillion, Northern, and Pyrrhuloxia), Northern Cardinals are found in the northernmost regions.

Fact #13:

The Northern Cardinal is the official state bird of 7 eastern states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Fact #14:

Contradictory to many other songbirds, Northern Cardinals are mostly a non-migratory species, opting to overwinter in their chosen spring/summer habitat.

Many migratory birds move to warmer climates in the winter as they depend on insects or fruit for sustenance and their food supply drops in the colder, winter months. The diet of Northern Cardinals consists mainly of seeds and nuts, allowing them to forage for food year round.

Fact #15:

Yellow, orange, or red pigments found naturally in plants are responsible for the characteristic red coloration exhibited in the feathers of male birds. These pigments, known as carotenoids, cannot be manufactured within the bird’s body but must be ingested by eating plant material containing the pigments or insects that have fed on colorful plants themselves.

Fact #16:

Northern cardinals are monogamous, and pairs stay together year round.

common types of birds - northern cardinal

Fact #17:

After a brood of eggs has been laid in the nest, the female mainly performs the incubation. During this time the male of the mated pair expends his energy defending the nesting territory from intruders and bringing food to his female.

Once the eggs have hatched, both male and female cardinals take on the responsibility of feeding their nestlings. When a subsequent brood is laid, the male shoulders the job of raising fledglings (if they are still present) so the female can once again focus on incubating her eggs.

Fact #18:

Unlike many species of songbirds where only the male sex can vocalize, both male and female Northern Cardinals can sing. Females are known to sing when they are in the nest, as a way of signaling their mate to bring food; males, on the other hand, sing during courtship and to defend their nesting territory.

Female cardinals express themselves using more elaborate songs than males and may sing up to two dozen different tunes, depending on their location. Both male and female vocal patterns vary slightly based upon the region, just as dialects of languages appear depending upon the locale.

Fact #19:

Fun and interesting facts about cardinals

Cardinals molt at least once a year to replenish damaged feathers. During this process, they lose some or all of their feathers for a couple of weeks. Occasionally the birds look as if they have gone bald, showing the black or dark grey skin on their head when they are featherless.

Fact #20:

The Northern Cardinal also has the distinct honor of being the bird on the logo for Bird Watching HQ!


Bird Watching HQ logo with northern cardinal

I hope you enjoyed reading these fun and interesting facts about Northern Cardinals!

Is there anything you know about these birds you think is worth sharing?

If so, please let me know below!

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  1. I have a compost bin in my yard (Miami, Florida) that attracts a lot of insects. I have seen many cardinals hovering below the bins catching small maggots. This bin is their favorite spot. Also, yesterday I saw a male cardinal frantically chasing a small lizard, catching it and flying away with it toward a female. I am quite puzzled. I thought cardinal were granivore. Are you aware of this behavior? My compost bin is also the favorite spot for blue jays. The cardinals, blue jays, wood peckers love the mangoes in my yard. I usually cut a mango and left it for them. I have noticed buntings, owls, ibises, small sparrows, and a strange looking bird that looks like a piece of wood (nightjar). The scariest bird ever.

  2. Love reading and learning… my Cardinal family were back this year putting a nest in that same hanging basket… twist is a set of doves are nesting in the other hanging basket in the same area as them. They are not threatened by each other but raise cane when the bluejay or sparrows come near. The male Cardinal is definitely the caretaker/teacher once they start to fly then babies are gone.

  3. We have a all blonde cardinal in our yard this summer. It’s not paired with another. If it weren’t for the dark eyes, I would guess it was an albino. There are no black markings.

  4. We live in southern Indiana so a cardinal is always somewhere near. Whenever I am working outside & hear one give series of calls, I answer back in kind. If the call is a series of 5, that’s what I echo back with. The cardinal then always immediately switches it up to 4 or three. This “conversation”, with all of its changes, can go on & on & on until finally I have get back to the task at hand or the cardinal moves a few trees away. Do you think I am interfering with the cardinal’s daily routine or does it enjoy the interaction? I have wondered if it is the same bird.

  5. One thing not mentioned is the gradual colonization of cardinals eastward over the last half century — maybe more, don’t know. When I was growing up in Mass. in 50s and 60s, I never saw a cardinal. Saw my first one as a student at the University of Wisconsin in the 70s. When I returned to live in Mass. in 1981, cardinals were everywhere

  6. Do cardinals ever come to South America? I grew up in South Dakota and lived in Illinois and Iowa, also where I always loved seeing/feeding the cardinals. I miss them here! Thanks for your newsletter!

  7. My cardinal family has been coming to my backyard for years. This was first time they built nest in my hanging basket. Two fledglings hatched and then in two week nest is empty. I’m concerned. They have always been comfortable with me sitting on patio watching them. How long before babies can fly?, Do they return to nest?

  8. I live in Ontario Canada ……. I had at least 3 distinguishable “couples” this past summer visiting my feeder (Yay!) This past fall was the first time I had witnessed something new! The male cardinal would come to the feeder, followed by 3 (huge) babies who would sit on the railing below the feeder……. ‘dad’ would take seed from the feeder and come down to the rail & feed it to 1 baby then back up again to repeat! As the days progressed I was able to catch some video of this, then the babies would sit on the feeder begging for dad to give them a seed from the feeder…… seemed silly that they just wouldn’t put their beak down and grab a seed for themselves…. learning in progress!! I’ve been watching cardinals at my feeders since I was a child in my family home! Such joy!

  9. I live in Ontario Canada and have multiple sets of cardinals frequenting my backyard. In the spring one couple made a nest in my evergreen tree. I could see it everyday sitting at my patio dining table. I could hardly wait to see the babies thrive and fly away. One mourning I looked out and saw 2 little clumps lying on our barbecue counter. I ran out and saw that the babies fell right out through the bottom of the nest and landed on the counter top. It was a cooler rainy night so they did not survive. I must say they make the most small, flimsy nest I’ve ever seen. The parents were mortified. They mourned those 2 babies! They took turns nudging them with their beaks and chirping away for a couple of hours. My husband took them away to take them out of their misery. They continued coming back until the next day. I have never witnessed such mourning from birds in my whole life. It was the most moving and touching behavior I have ever seen.

  10. I can relate to cardinals being very territorial. I was sitting in my backyard enjoying a cold brew after work one day and there was a cardinal singing in a nearby tree. The song isn’t extremely hard to copy so I started whistling back to him. This went on for a few minutes until all of a sudden the cardinal swooped down on me. I’m thinking he must have been guarding his territory from another cardinal to dive bomb me like that.

  11. You’re so lucky!!! I’m in southeast Florida. A cardinal couple comes to my bedroom window several times a day to eat from a bird feeder I replenish for them — if they happen to spot me in my bedroom, even if I’m totally static, they fly away. I so much wish they wouldn’t find me threatening but that hasn’t happened yet. Thank you for sharing your story — and the same to all of you who mentioned some kind of purposeful interaction with these fascinating birds. It makes me hopeful.

  12. I live in Oahu, there is a red Male cardinal that comes to my window and sings every day. He sings until I respond to him. We go back and forth for a while and sometimes he follows me from room to room. I have a huge avocado tree that covers the kitchen, bathroom and one bedroom. I call to him as I go between rooms and he comes to that window looking in.

  13. I am familiar with the Northern Cardinal, having grown up in New England. However, there are also cardinals on Maui in the Hawaiian Islands. They are all grey except for having an all red head. None here in California though, that I am aware of.

  14. I just had the same experience with our male cardinal. He was very purposeful in his movements and wanted to get my attention to fill feeder after a storm knocked the top off and the seeds became wet. When we lived in Michigan and had hummingbird feeders, they would come over within a few feet of us and just hover to thank us or demand we hurry up and put feeder back after cleaning. Pretty amazing!

  15. This may sound crazy but I think one of the many male cardinals that feed at our feeder knows the feed comes from inside the house. As soon as the feeder is empty, this one male comes to our sliding glass door looks in. He isn’t interacting with his reflection, just looks in. No other times have I seen him do this, only when the feeder is empty. I fill it up and don’t seem him at the door again until a refill is needed.

  16. There is a superstition that cardinals are a sign of a departed love one coming to visit. I like the idea of this and look forward to seeing my cardinals for that reason.

  17. Could I send you a video of a pink Cardinal that used to feed at my feeders? Or you can view it on YouTube. Use keyword pink cardinal.

  18. I have nothing interesting to add, instead I hope with your knowledge, you can answer a question about my cardnials. First, maybe I should tell you I’m in Alabama. For the last four years there has been the same dominant pair of cardinals at my feeders. Unfortunately, the beginning of August I haven’t seen the dominant male. Now there seems to be no order, only havoc. Where as before, mama and dad would be able to feed little ones, (from all 3-4 hatchings) and others sliding in feeding at different intervals during the day, now they all just sit in the trees, close to the feeders, like they’re waiting to be told when it’s their turn. The brave ones, (or starving ones) are grabbing and flying, like a chikadee. Will this resolve itself? Thanks in advance!

  19. Very interesting article. I live in India, so haven’t seen this bird here but through this article got to know many interesting facts about this bird. I am a bird photographer and bird watcher and I write a blog named” Birds of India” for aspiring birders.