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Overview

Brief Summary

The loud, clear songs of the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) are a familiar part of the suburban soundscape across the eastern United States. The Northern Cardinal is abundant throughout the eastern United States and adjacent Canada, with a range extending south to Belize. This species has also been introduced to the Hawaiian Islands, where it is well established on all the main islands from Kauai eastward, and has been established locally in coastal southern California and in Bermuda. These striking birds inhabit woodland edges, swamps, streamside thickets, and suburban gardens, as well as the Sonoran Desert and riparian areas of the Southwest. In the East, the Northern Cardinal has expanded its range northward during the past century. Northern Cardinals are permanent residents throughout their range. The Northern Cardinal has been selected as the state bird of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.



The diet of the Northern Cardinals is highly varied, but consists mainly of seeds, insects, and berries. The young are fed mostly insects.

The male sings to defend his nesting territory and actively attacks intruders. In courtship, both male and female raise their heads high and sway back and forth while singing softly. Early in the breeding season, the male often feeds the female. The female sings mainly in the spring before nesting. The nest, which is an open cup built by the female, is typically hidden in dense vegetation 1 to 3 m above the ground, sometimes higher. The 3 to 4 (sometimes 2 or 5) eggs (whitish to pale bluish or greenish white marked with brown, purple, and gray) are incubated for 12 to 13 days, almost always by the female alone. Both parents feed the young, which leave the nest around 9 to 11 days after hatching. The male may continue to feed the fledglings as the female initiates a second brood. There may be two to three broods per year (rarely four).

(Kaufman 1996; AOU 1998; Dunn and Alderfer 2011)

  • American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. Check-list of North American Birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
  • Dunn, J.L. and J. Alderfer. 2011. National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C.
  • Kaufman, K. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
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Distribution

Geographic Range

Northern cardinals are native to the Nearctic region. They are found throughout eastern and central North America from southern Canada into parts of Mexico and Central America. They have also been introduced to California, Hawaii and Bermuda. Cardinals have expanded their range considerably since the early 1800’s by taking advantage of moderate temperatures, human habitation and supplemental food available at bird feeders.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native ); oceanic islands (Introduced )

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Global Range: Resident from central Baja California, southeastern California east to southern New Mexico, southeastern South Dakota across the northern U.S. and southern Canada to Nova Scotia, south to southern Baja California, Belize, Gulf Coast, and southern Florida. Range gradually has expanded northward in recent decades. Introduced in Hawaii (all main islands), southwestern California.

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Geographic Range

Northern cardinals are found throughout eastern and central North America from southern Canada into parts of Mexico and Central America. These birds live as far north as Maine or Nova Scotia, Canada down south through Florida and the Gulf Coast. They range as far west as South Dakota, Nebraska and Texas. They have also been introduced to California, Hawaii and Bermuda. Northern cardinals do not migrate so they live in the same place year-round.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )

  • Sibley, D. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc..
  • 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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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Northern cardinals are medium-sized songbirds. Both males and females have thick, bright orange, cone-shaped beaks. They also have a long tail and a pointed crest of feathers on the top of their heads. Males are bright red all over except for a large, black mask on their face. The mask covers their eyes, goes around their beaks, and covers their throats so that it looks like a black bib. Females are light brown with a reddish crest, wings, and tails. Females have a very small, black mask and bib. Males are slightly larger than females. Young cardinals look similar to females, but they have a gray-black bill and have less red coloration.

Northern cardinals measure 20.9 to 23.5 cm long and weigh 42 to 48 g. Their wingspans measure 30.5 cm from tip to tip.

Range mass: 42 to 48 g.

Range length: 20.9 to 23.5 cm.

Average wingspan: 30.5 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry ; polymorphic

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; sexes colored or patterned differently; male more colorful

Average basal metabolic rate: 0.5163 W.

  • Kielb, M., J. Swales, R. Wolinski. 1992. The Birds of Washtenaw County, Michigan. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.
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Physical Description

Northern cardinals are medium-sized songbirds. Males are bright red except for a black mask on their face. Females are light brown or light greenish-brown, with reddish highlights and do not have a black mask (but parts of their face may be dark). Both males and females have thick, orange-red, cone-shaped bills, a long tail, and a distinctive crest of feathers on the top of their heads. Males are slightly larger than females. Males are 22.2 to 23.5 cm long whereas females are 20.9 to 21.6 cm long. The average weight of adult cardinals is 42 to 48 g. Immature cardinals are similar in appearance to females, but have a gray-black rather than orange-red bill.

There are 18 subspecies of Cardinalis cardinalis. The majority of these subspecies are distinguished based on the color of the face-mask in females.

Range mass: 42 to 48 g.

Range length: 20.9 to 23.5 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry ; polymorphic

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; sexes colored or patterned differently; male more colorful

Average basal metabolic rate: 0.5163 W.

  • Kielb, M., J. Swales, R. Wolinski. 1992. The Birds of Washtenaw County, Michigan. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.
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Size

Length: 22 cm

Weight: 45 grams

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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Northern cardinals live in several habitats including the edges of woods, swamps, riverside thickets, city gardens and residential areas. They are often seen at backyard bird feeders. Northern cardinals often build nests on the branches of dense bushes and shrubs.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: forest

Other Habitat Features: suburban ; agricultural ; riparian

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Northern cardinals have a preference for the edges of woods, hedgerows, and vegetation around houses. This may be partially responsible for the increase in their population since the early 1800's. Cardinals also benefit from the large numbers of humans who feed them and other seed-eating birds with backyard bird feeders. Cardinals prefer to build their nests in dense thickets.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; mountains

Other Habitat Features: suburban ; agricultural

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Comments: Thickets, brushy areas, fields, shrubbery, forest edge, clearings, around human habitation, and, in arid regions, in scrub, riparian thickets, woodland, and brush; typically avoids dense forest (but penetrates native forest in Hawaii).

Nests in dense shrubs, small deciduous or coniferous tree, thicket, vine, briar tangle, mesquite, generally 3 m or less above ground. Female builds a new nest in a different location on the territory for each nesting attempt (Filliater et al. 1994).

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Most of what northern cardinals eat is weed and sunflower seeds, grains, and fruits. Northern cardinals have large, strong beaks are specialized to crack open seeds. They prefer seeds that are easily husked. They will also eat some insects and feed their young almost exclusively insects. Northern cardinals are less choosy during winter when food is harder to find.

Northern cardinals drink water by scooping it into their bill and tipping their head back. They drink freshwater from streams, ponds, or even birdbaths.

Animal Foods: carrion ; insects

Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit

  • Searles, R. 1989. Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). Passenger Pigeon, 51: 236.
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Food Habits

About 90% of northern cardinals' diet consists of weed seeds, grains, insects, fruits, and sunflower seeds. They prefer seeds that are easily husked, but are less selective during winter when food is scarce. According to one observer, a cardinal was seen feeding on a dead black-capped chickadee on a cold snowy day. Northern cardinals also eat some insects and feed their young almost exclusively insects.

Animal Foods: carrion ; insects

Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit

Primary Diet: herbivore (Frugivore , Granivore )

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Comments: Eats insects, fruits, seeds, grains, buds, flowers; also spiders, snails, slugs. Forages on ground and in trees and shrubs (Terres 1980).

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Because northern cardinals eat large quantities of seeds and fruits, they may help disperse seeds for some plants. They may also affect the composition of plant communities because they are seed predators and seed dispersers.

Northern cardinals provide food for their predators. They also sometimes raise the chicks of Molothrus ater that are brood parasites and lay eggs in the nests of other birds. This helps local brown-headed cowbird populations. Northern cardinals also provide habitat for many internal and external parasites.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds

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Predation

Adult northern cardinals are eaten by Felis silvestris, Canis familiaris, Accipiter cooperii, Lanius ludovicianus, Lanius excubitor, Sciurus carolinensis, Asio otus and Otus asio. Nestlings and eggs are eaten by snakes, birds and small mammals. Predators of eggs and nestlings include Lampropeltis doliata, Coluber constrictor, Elaphe obsoleta, Cyanocitta cristata, Sciurus niger, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus and Tamias striatus. Molothrus ater also take cardinal eggs from the nest and sometimes eat them.

When a predator comes near a cardinal nest, both male and female northern cardinals give an alarm call that is a short, chipping note. They also fly toward the predator to try to scare it away. Northern cardinals do not mob predators like other songbirds do. Females incubate the eggs and their brown coloration camouflages them while they sit on the nest so that predators cannot find them in the brush. An incubating bright red male can easily be spotted by predators who are searching for a nest.

Known Predators:

  • Domestic cats (Felis_silvestris)
  • Domestic dogs (Canis_lupus_familiaris)
  • Cooper's hawks (Accipiter_cooperii)
  • Loggerhead shrikes (Lanius_ludovicianus)
  • Northern shrikes (Lanius_excubitor)
  • Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus_carolinensis)
  • Long-eared owls (Asio_otus)
  • Eastern screech owls (Otus_asio)
  • Milk snakes (Lampropeltis_doliata)
  • Black racers (Coluber_constrictor)
  • Pilot black snakes (Elaphe_obsoleta)
  • Blue jays (Cyanocitta_cristata)
  • Fox squirrels (Sciurus_niger)
  • Red squirrels (Tamiasciurus_hudsonicus)
  • Eastern chipmunks (Tamias_striatus)
  • Brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus_ater)

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Ecosystem Roles

Because northern cardinals eat large quantities of seeds and fruits, they may act to disperse seeds for some plants. They may also influence the plant community composition through seed eating.

Northern cardinals provide food for their predators. They also sometimes raise the chicks of brown-headed cowbirds that parasitize their nests, helping local brown-headed cowbird populations. Northern cardinals also host many internal and external parasites.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds

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Predation

Adult northern cardinals are predated by domestic cats, domestic dogs, Cooper's hawks, loggerhead shrikes, northern shrikes, eastern gray squirrels, long-eared owls and eastern screech-owls. Nestlings and eggs are vulnerable to predation by snakes, birds and small mammals. Egg and nestling predators include milk snakes, black racers, pilot black snakes, blue jays, fox squirrels, red squirrels and eastern chipmunks. Brown-headed cowbirds also remove eggs from the nest, sometimes eating them.

When confronted with a predator near their nest, both male and female northern cardinals will give an alarm call that is a short, chipping note, and fly toward the predator in an attempt to scare them away. They do not aggressively mob predators.

Known Predators:

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Known predators

Cardinalis cardinalis (backbirds, mockingbird, oriole, cardinal) is prey of:
Lynx rufus
Canis latrans

Based on studies in:
USA: Arizona, Sonora Desert (Desert or dune)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • P. G. Howes, The Giant Cactus Forest and Its World: A Brief Biology of the Giant Cactus Forest of Our American Southwest (Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, New York; Little, Brown, Boston; 1954), from pp. 222-239, from p. 227.
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Known prey organisms

Cardinalis cardinalis (backbirds, mockingbird, oriole, cardinal) preys on:
seeds of other plants
mistletoe
Orthoptera
Lepidoptera
Gryllidae
cactus weevils
Moneilema
Papilionoidea

Based on studies in:
USA: Arizona, Sonora Desert (Desert or dune)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • P. G. Howes, The Giant Cactus Forest and Its World: A Brief Biology of the Giant Cactus Forest of Our American Southwest (Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, New York; Little, Brown, Boston; 1954), from pp. 222-239, from p. 227.
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General Ecology

BREEDING: Male breeding-season home ranges varied from 0.5-2.3 hectares (mean 1.2 hectares) in Tennessee to 11.0-23.2 hectares (mean 18.8 hectares) in Ontario (Dow 1969).

Like most birds that have open cup nests, incurs a high rate of nest predation. In Ohio, nesting success rate was only 15% (Filliater et al. 1994).

NON-BREEDING: Winter home ranges in Kentucky averaged 21.2 hectares, although these may have been underestimated because of limited observation time (Ritchison and Omer 1990).

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Northern cardinals use mostly songs and body signals to communicate with each other. Male and female cardinals both sing loud, beautiful whistled phrases. Some songs you may hear sound like "whoit whoit whoit" and "whacheer whacheer." These songs are used to defend territories and to attract mates. Male and female cardinals use "chip" calls to keep contact with their mate and to signal alarm. They may also signal alarm using body signals, such as flicking their tails and raising and lowering the crest of feathers on top of their head.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Communication and Perception

Northern cardinals primarily use vocalizations and physical displays to communicate. Male and female cardinals both sing. Their songs are loud, beautiful whistled phrases. Their songs have been described as sounding like "whoit whoit whoit " and "whacheer whacheer." These songs are used to defend territories and to court mates. Male and female cardinals use "chips" as contact calls and alarms. They also have many visual displays to signal alarm. These include "tail-flicks" and raising and lowering the crest.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

The oldest wild cardinal banded by researchers lived at least 15 years and 9 months.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
15.75 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
189 months.

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Lifespan/Longevity

The oldest wild cardinal banded by researchers lived at least 15 years and 9 months. Annual survival rates for adult northern cardinals have been estimated at 60 to 65%.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
28.5 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
189 months.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 28.5 years
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Reproduction

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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Northern cardinals are serially monogamous, though polygyny occasionally occurs. Despite being monogamous, northern cardinals frequently engage in extra-pair copulations. In one study, 9 to 35% of nestlings were the result of extra-pair copulations.  Pair formation begins in early spring, and is initiated with a variety of physical displays. The male performs a variety of displays to attract a female, including courtship feeding. Breeding pairs may remain together year-round, and may breed together for several seasons.

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 second nest is often parasitized by brown-headed cowbirds. Nests are built by the female in dense tangles of vines or twigs in shrubs and small trees. The female lays 1 to 5 (usually 3) white to greenish eggs that average about one inch in length and one-half inch in diameter. Incubation begins when the last egg is laid, and is performed solely by the female. The male brings food to the incubating female. The eggs hatch after 11 to 13 days of incubation. The female broods the chicks for the first 2 days. Both parents feed the chicks a diet of insects. Both parents also remove fecal sacs from the nest. The chicks begin leaving the nest 7 to 13 (usually 9 to 10) days after hatching. The parents continue to feed the chicks for 25 to 56 days after they fledge from the nest. After leaving or being driven out of their parents' territory, young birds often join flocks of other juveniles. 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.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 to 1 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 to 1 years.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)

Average eggs per season: 3.

The female northern cardinal builds the nest, incubates the eggs for 11 to 13 days, and broods the altricial chicks for the first 2 days or so. During incubation, the male brings food to the incubating female. Both parents feed the nestlings a diet of insects and remove fecal sacs from the nest. The parents continue to feed the chicks for 25 to 56 days after they fledge from the nest.

Parental Investment: altricial ; 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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Clutch size is 2-5 (usually 3-4). Two to 3, sometimes 4 broods (in south) per year. Incubation 11-13 days, usually by female. Young tended by both parents, leave nest at 9-11 days, independent at 38-45 days. Renests rapidly in response to nest predation (Filliater et al. 1994). Monogamous.

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Cardinalis cardinalis

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 11 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.  Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.  See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNATGGTAGGTACAGCCCTAAGCCTCCTCATTCGAGCAGAACTAGGCCAACCTGGAGCTCTTCTAGGAGACGACCAAGTCTACAACGTAGTCGTCACAGCTCATGCTTTTGTAATAATTTTCTTCATAGTTATGCCAATTATAATCGGAGGGTTTGGTAACTGACTAGTTCCCCTAATAATTGGAGCCCCAGACATAGCATTCCCACGAATAAACAACATAAGCTTTTGACTCCTACCTCCATCTTTCCTTCTCCTCCTAGCATCTTCTACAGTCGAAGCGGGTGTCGGCACAGGATGAACAGTATATCCCCCACTTGCTGGCAACTTAGCCCATGCTGGAGCTTCAGTCGACCTTGCTATCTTCTCCTTACACCTAGCTGGTATCTCCTCAATCCTAGGGGCTATCAACTTTATCACAACAGCAATCAATATAAAACCCCCTGCCCTCTCACAATACCAAACCCCACTATTCGTCTGATCCGTACTAATCACTGCAGTCCTACTACTCCTATCTCTACCAGTACTAGCTGCAGGAATTACAATGCTCCTTACAGACCGTAACCTCAATACTACATTCTTCGACCCTGCTGGAGGAGGAGACCCTATTCTATACCAACACCTCTTCTGATTCTTCGGCCACCCAGAAGTTTACATCTTAATCCTA
-- end --

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Cardinalis cardinalis

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 11
Specimens with Barcodes: 23
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
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Northern cardinals appear to have become more common over the past 200 years. Northern cardinals like to live in residential gardens and are attracted to backyard bird feeders. These habitat preferences allow northern cardinals to expand their range and live wherever humans build cities or houses. There are about 100,000,000 northern cardinals in the world. They are not rare, but are protected under the United States Migratory Bird Act.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

US Migratory Bird Act: protected

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

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Northern cardinals appear to have increased in number and geographic range over the last 200 years. This is probably the results of increased habitat due to human activities. There are an estimated 100,000,000 individuals worldwide. This species protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.

US Migratory Bird Act: protected

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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Population

Population Trend
Stable
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

We do not know of any way that northern cardinals harm humans.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Northern cardinals affect humans by dispersing seeds and eating insect pests such as boll weevils, cutworms, and caterpillars. They are also an attractive visitor to backyard bird feeders.

Positive Impacts: controls pest population

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse affects of northern cardinals on humans.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Northern cardinals affect humans by dispersing seeds and eating insect pests such as boll weevils, cutworms, and caterpillars. They are also an attractive visitor to backyard birdfeeders.

Positive Impacts: controls pest population

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Wikipedia

Northern Cardinal

"Red Cardinal" redirects here. For the plant Erythrina herbacea, see Coral Bean.

The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is a North American bird in the genus Cardinalis; it is also known colloquially as the redbird or common cardinal. It can be found in southern Canada, through the eastern United States from Maine to Texas and south through Mexico. It is found in woodlands, gardens, shrublands, and swamps.

The Northern Cardinal is a mid-sized songbird with a body length of 21 cm (8.3 in). It has a distinctive crest on the head and a mask on the face which is black in the male and gray in the female. The male is a vibrant red, while the female is a dull red-brown shade. The Northern Cardinal is mainly granivorous, but also feeds on insects and fruit. The male behaves territorially, marking out his territory with song. During courtship, the male feeds seed to the female beak-to-beak. A clutch of three to four eggs is laid, and two to four clutches are produced each year. It was once prized as a pet, but its sale as a cage bird is now banned in the United States by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Taxonomy[edit]

The Northern Cardinal is one of three birds in the genus Cardinalis and is included in the family Cardinalidae, which is made up of passerine birds found in North and South America.

The Northern Cardinal was one of the many species originally described by Linnaeus in his 18th century work, Systema Naturae.[2] It was initially included in the genus Loxia, which now contains only crossbills. In 1838, it was placed in the genus Cardinalis and given the scientific name Cardinalis virginianus, which means "Virginia Cardinal". In 1918, the scientific name was changed to Richmondena cardinalis to honor Charles Wallace Richmond, an American ornithologist.[3] In 1983, the scientific name was changed again to Cardinalis cardinalis and the common name was changed to "Northern Cardinal", to avoid confusion with the seven other species also termed cardinals.[4]

The common name, as well as the scientific name, of the Northern Cardinal refers to the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, who wear distinctive red robes and caps.[5] The term "Northern" in the common name refers to its range, as it is the northernmost cardinal species.[5]

Subspecies[edit]

19 subspecies:[6]

  • C. c. cardinalis (Linnaeus, 1758)
  • C. c. affinis Nelson, 1899
  • C. c. canicaudus Chapman, 1891
  • C. c. carneus (Lesson, 1842)
  • C. c. clintoni (Banks, 1963)
  • C. c. coccineus Ridgway, 1873
  • C. c. flammiger J.L. Peters, 1913
  • C. c. floridanus Ridgway, 1896
  • C. c. igneus S.F. Baird, 1860
  • C. c. littoralis Nelson, 1897
  • C. c. magnirostris Bangs, 1903
  • C. c. mariae Nelson, 1898
  • C. c. phillipsi Parkes, 1997
  • C. c. saturatus Ridgway, 1885
  • C. c. seftoni (Huey, 1940)
  • C. c. sinaloensis Nelson, 1899
  • C. c. superbus Ridgway, 1885
  • C. c. townsendi (van Rossem, 1932)
  • C. c. yucatanicus Ridgway, 1887

Description[edit]

The Northern Cardinal is a mid-sized songbird with a body length of 20–23.5 cm (7.9–9.3 in) and a wingspan of 25–31 cm (9.8–12.2 in). The adult weighs from 33.6–65 g (1.19–2.29 oz), with an average 44.8 g (1.58 oz).[7] The male averages slightly larger than the female.[8] The adult male is a brilliant crimson red color with a black face mask over the eyes, extending to the upper chest. The color becomes duller and darker on the back and wings.[9] The female is fawn, with mostly grayish-brown tones and a slight reddish tint on the wings, the crest, and the tail feathers.[10] The face mask of the female is gray to black and is less defined than that of the male. Both sexes possess prominent raised crests and bright coral-colored beaks. The beak is cone-shaped and strong.[9] Young birds, both male and female, show the coloring similar to the adult female until the fall, when they molt and grow adult feathers.[11] They are brown above and red-brown below, with brick-colored crest, forehead, wings, and tail.[4] The legs and feet are a dark pink-brown. The iris of the eye is brown.[4] The plumage color of the males is produced from carotenoid pigments in the diet.[12] Coloration is produced from both red pigments and yellow carotenoid pigments.[13] Northern Cardinal males possess the ability to metabolize carotenoid pigments to create plumage pigmentation of a color different from the ingested pigment. When fed only yellow pigments, males become a pale red color, rather than a yellow.[13] However, there are rare "yellow morph" cardinals, where all feathers (except for black face mask) and beak are a moderate yellow color.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Northern Cardinals are numerous across the eastern United States from Maine to Texas and in Canada in the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Its range extends west to the U.S.–Mexico border and south through Mexico to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, northern Guatemala, and northern Belize. An allopatric population is found on the Pacific slope of Mexico from Jalisco to Oaxaca; note that this population is not shown on the range map. The species was introduced to Bermuda in 1700. It has also been introduced in Hawaii and southern California. Its natural habitat is woodlands, gardens, shrublands, and swamps.[1]

Ecology[edit]

Song[edit]

The Northern Cardinal is a territorial song bird. The male sings in a loud, clear whistle from the top of a tree or another high location to defend his territory. He will chase off other males entering his territory. He may mistake his image on various reflective surfaces as an invading male, and will fight his reflection relentlessly. The Northern Cardinal learns its songs, and as a result the songs vary regionally. It is able to easily distinguish the sex of another singing Northern Cardinal by its song alone.[14] Mated pairs often travel together.[15]

Male often feeds the female as part of their courtship behavior

Both sexes sing clear, whistled song patterns, which are repeated several times, then varied. Some common phrases are described as cheeeer-a-dote, cheeer-a-dote-dote-dote, purdy, purdy, purdy...whoit, whoit, whoit, whoit, what-cheer, what-cheer... wheet, wheet, wheet, wheet[16] and cheer, cheer, cheer, what, what, what, what[17] The Northern Cardinal has a distinctive alarm call, a short metallic 'chip' sound. This call often is given when predators approach the nest, in order to give warning to the female and nestlings.[4] In some cases it will also utter a series of chipping notes. The frequency and volume of these notes increases as the threat becomes greater.[4] This chipping noise is also used by a Cardinal pair to locate each other, especially during dusk hours when visibility wanes.

Predators[edit]

Song of the Northern Cardinal

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Northern Cardinals are preyed upon by a wide variety of predators native to North America, including falcons, all Accipiter hawks, shrikes, and several owls, including long-eared owls, and eastern screech owls. Predators of chicks and eggs include: milk snakes, coluber constrictors, blue jays, eastern gray squirrels, fox squirrels, eastern chipmunks,[8] and domestic cat.

Diet[edit]

Male Cardinal at Feeder

The diet of the Northern Cardinal consists mainly (up to 90%) of weed seeds, grains, and fruits. It is a ground feeder and finds food while hopping on the ground through trees or shrubbery. It eats beetles, cicadas, grasshoppers, snails, wild fruit and berries, corn (maize) and oats, sunflower seeds, the blossoms and bark of elm trees, and drinks maple sap from holes made by sapsuckers, an example of commensalism.[18] During the summer months, it shows preference for seeds that are easily husked, but is less selective during winter, when food is scarce. Northern Cardinals also will consume insects and feed their young almost exclusively on insects.[19]

Reproduction[edit]

Newly hatched
At one week old
Female feeding a chick

Pairs mate for life, and they stay together year-round. Mated pairs sometimes sing together before nesting. During courtship they may also participate in a bonding behavior where the male collects food and brings it to the female, feeding her beak-to-beak.[16] If the mating is successful, this mate-feeding may continue throughout the period of incubation.

Males sometimes bring nest material to the female cardinal, who does most of the building. She crushes twigs with her beak until they are pliable, then turns in the nest to bend the twigs around her body and push them into a cup shape with her feet. The cup has four layers: coarse twigs (and sometimes bits of trash) covered in a leafy mat, then lined with grapevine bark and finally grasses, stems, rootlets, and pine needles. The nest typically takes 3 to 9 days to build; the finished product is 5.1–7.6 cm (2.0–3.0 in) tall, 10.1 cm (4.0 in) across, with an inner diameter of about 7.6 cm (3.0 in). Cardinals do not usually use their nests more than once. The female builds a cup nest in a well-concealed spot in dense shrub or a low tree 1–3 m (3.3–9.8 ft) off the ground. The nest is made of thin twigs, bark strips, and grasses, lined with grasses or other plant fibers.[20] Eggs are laid one to six days following the completion of the nest. The eggs are white, with a tint of green, blue or brown, and are marked with lavender, gray, or brown blotches which are thicker around the larger end.[12] The shell is smooth and slightly glossy.[20] Three or four eggs are laid in each clutch. Eggs measure approximately 26 mm × 19 mm (1.02 in × 0.75 in) in size.[12] The female generally incubates the eggs, though, rarely, the male will incubate for brief periods of time. Incubation takes 12 to 13 days.[20] Young fledge 10 to 11 days after hatching. Two to three, and even four, broods are raised each year.[20] The male cares for and feeds each brood as the female incubates the next clutch of eggs.[18]

The oldest wild Cardinal banded by researchers lived at least 15 years and 9 months, although 28.5 years was achieved by a captive bird. Annual survival rates for adult Northern Cardinals have been estimated at 60 to 65%;[21] however, as with other passerine birds, the high mortality of juveniles means that the average lifespan is only about a year.

Relationship with humans[edit]

Fledgling at a box feeder
Juvenile male northern cardinal (left) at feeder with female house finch

The Northern Cardinal is found in residential areas throughout its range. Backyard birders attract it using feeders containing seeds, particularly sunflower seeds and safflower seeds. Although some controversy surrounds bird feeding (see bird feeder for details), an increase in backyard feeding by humans has generally been beneficial to this species. It is listed as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN Red List. It has an estimated global range of 5,800,000 km2 (2,200,000 sq mi) and a global population estimated to be about 100,000,000 individuals.[1] Populations appear to remain stable and it has not reached the threshold of inclusion as a threatened species, which requires a decline of more than 30% in ten years or three generations.[1] It was once prized as a pet due to its bright color and distinctive song.[10] In the United States, this species receives special legal protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which also banned their sale as cage birds.[22] It is also protected by the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds in Canada.[23] It is illegal to take, kill, or possess Northern Cardinals, and violation of the law is punishable by a fine of up to US $15,000 and imprisonment of up to six months.[24]

In the United States, the Northern Cardinal is the mascot of numerous athletic teams; however, most teams portray the bird with a yellow beak and legs. In professional sports, it is the mascot of the St. Louis Cardinals of Major League Baseball's National League and the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League. In college athletics, it is the mascot of many schools, including the University of Louisville, the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, Ball State University, Illinois State University, Lamar University, The Catholic University of America, Wesleyan University, Wheeling Jesuit University, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, North Idaho College and Saint John Fisher College.

State bird[edit]

The Northern Cardinal is the state bird of seven states, more than any other species: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It was also a candidate to become the state bird of Delaware, but lost to the Blue Hen of Delaware.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d BirdLife International (2012). "Cardinalis cardinalis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ (Latin) Linnaeus, C (1758). Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata.. Holmiae. (Laurentii Salvii). p. 824. 
  3. ^ Bailey, Florence Merriam (1921). Handbook of Birds of the Western United States. Houghton Mifflin. p. 500. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Ritchison, Gary (1997). Northern Cardinal. Stackpole Books. p. 2. ISBN 0-8117-3100-6. 
  5. ^ a b Holloway, Joel Ellis (2003). Dictionary of Birds of the United States: Scientific and Common Names. Timber Press. p. 59. ISBN 0-88192-600-0. 
  6. ^ Tanagers, Cardinals and allies, IOC World Bird List
  7. ^ CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses by John B. Dunning Jr. (Editor). CRC Press (1992), ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5.
  8. ^ a b Dewey, T.; J. Crane and K. Kirschbaum (2002). "Cardinalis cardinalis". University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Retrieved 2007-08-24. 
  9. ^ a b "Northern cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis". United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  10. ^ a b Wright, Mabel Osgood (1907). Birdcraft: A Field Book of Two Hundred Song, Game, and Water Birds. Macmillan. p. 161. 
  11. ^ Cornell Lab of Ornithology. "Cardinalis cardinalis". Cornell University. Retrieved 2007-08-24. 
  12. ^ a b c Krinsky, Norman I; Mayne, Susan T. & Sies, Helmut (2004). Carotenoids In Health And Disease. CRC Press. p. 258. ISBN 0-8247-5416-6. 
  13. ^ a b McGraw, Kevin J; Hill, Geoffrey E.; Stradi, Riccardo & Parker, Robert S (2001). "The Influence of Carotenoid Acquisition and Utilization on the Maintenance of Species-Typical Plumage Pigmentation in Male American Goldfinches (Carduelis tristis) and Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis)" (abstract). Physiological and Biochemical Zoology (the University of Chicago Press) 74 (6): 843–852. doi:10.1086/323797. PMID 11731975. Retrieved 2007-11-06. 
  14. ^ Snowdon, Charles T; Hausberger, Martine (1997). Social Influences on Vocal Development. Cambridge University Press. p. 119. ISBN 0-521-49526-1. 
  15. ^ Robison, B C; Tveten, John L (1990). Birds of Houston. University of Texas Press. p. 59. ISBN 0-89263-303-4. 
  16. ^ a b Elliott, Lang; Read, Marie (1998). Common Birds and Their Songs. Houghton Mifflin Field Guides. p. 28. ISBN 0-395-91238-5. 
  17. ^ Halkins, S. L. "All About Birds: Northern Cardinal". Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  18. ^ a b Terres, J. K. (1980). The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. New York, NY: Knopf. p. 293. ISBN 0-394-46651-9. 
  19. ^ Cardinalis cardinalis: Information Animal Diversity
  20. ^ a b c d Harrison, Hal H. (1979). A Field Guide to Western Birds' Nests. Houghton Mifflin Field. p. 228. ISBN 0-618-16437-5. 
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ "Birds Protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act". US Fish & Wildlife Service. Archived from the original on 2007-10-10. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  23. ^ "Game and Wild Birds: Preservation". US Code Collection. Cornell Law School. Retrieved 2007-10-29. 
  24. ^ "Migratory Bird Treaty Act". US Code Collection. Cornell Law School. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Composed of two groups: Cardinalis (Common Cardinal) and CARNEUS (Long-crested Cardinal) (AOU 1998). May constitute a superspecies with C. PHOENICEUS (AOU 1998). See Banks and Browning (1995) for information on the former generic name RICHMONDENA.

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