Northern cardinals are monogamous (one male mates with one female). However, they often choose a different mate each breeding season.
Northern cardinals begin forming breeding pairs in early spring. The male tries to attract a mate by performing courtship displays that show off his crest and his bright red feathers. He will raise his crest and sway side to side while singing softly. Once he finds a female that may be interested, the male feeds the female to show that he would make a good provider for young cardinals.
Mating System: monogamous
Northern cardinals breed between March and September. They usually raise two broods a year, one beginning around March and the second in late May to July. The female builds a cup-shaped nest in dense shrubs and vines. The nest is built with twigs, strips of bark, and grass, and is lined with leaves, grass, or hair. She then lays 3 to 4 white to greenish eggs and will incubate them until they hatch 11 to 13 days later. While the female is incubating the eggs, the male brings food to her. After the chicks have hatched, the female broods them for the first 2 days. Both parents feed insects to the chicks. The chicks leave the nest when they are 9 to 10 days old. The parents continue to feed them for 25 to 56 days when the young become independent and have learned how to feed themselves. Young cardinals often join flocks with other young birds. They may begin breeding the next spring.
Breeding interval: Northern cardinals usually raise two broods a year, one beginning around March and the second in late May to July.
Breeding season: Northern cardinals breed between March and September.
Range eggs per season: 1 to 5.
Range time to hatching: 11 to 13 days.
Range fledging age: 7 to 13 days.
Average fledging age: 9.5 days.
Range time to independence: 25 to 56 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 years.
Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
Average eggs per season: 3.
The female northern cardinal builds the nest and incubates the eggs. When the chicks hatch they have no feathers or down, so the female broods them to protect them and keep them warm for at least 2 days. Both parents feed the chicks a diet of insects. After the chicks learn to fly and leave the nest, the parents continue to feed them for 25 to 56 days.
Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female)
- Halkin, S., S. Linville. 1999. Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). Pp. 1-32 in A Poole, F Gill, eds. The Birds of North America, Vol. 440. Philadelphia, PA: The Birds of North America.
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