Species in Focus: Northern Cardinal

Spring is right around the corner — in some places in the Northeast it has arrived. Warmer weather means more time spent outdoors, and for many a renewed interest in birdwatching/birding. The species in focus this week is the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).

Male Northern Cardinal. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

The Northern Cardinal might just be one of the easiest birds to ID in the northeast. The plumage of a Northern Cardinal is a bright-scarlet, or cardinal, red. Unlike the American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) which molts its vibrant summer plumage, the Northern Cardinal’s plumage color remains the same throughout the year.

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Male Northern Cardinal. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

A female Northern Cardinal’s body feathers are a drab-olive tone which rich orange-red highlights on the crest, tail, and wing feathers. Both adult male and female have large near-neon orange beak, while young birds are drab all over and lack the colorful vibrance of their adult counterparts.

Juvenile Male Northern Cardinal. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

Cardinals are in the same a family as Grosbeaks and Buntings, probably the most visual clue is their beak — they all tend to have large beaks.

Female Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

Female Cardinals build their own nests and lay a clutch of 2-5 eggs, but more often 3-4. A female Cardinal incubates the eggs on her own, but once they hatch (just under two weeks) the male Cardinal contributes to feeding the nestlings. Egg color, shape, and pattern can vary. Cardinals can raise 2-3 broods per year.

Northern Cardinal
Male Northern Cardinal. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

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