Cardinals are of the Family: Grosbeaks and Buntings. They have the characteristic snubbed, cone-shaped bill used for feeding on seeds. The distinctive crest can be raised and pointed when agitated or lowered and barely visible while resting. A common bird at bird feeders, the cardinal is a year-round resident of its community. The adult cardinal does not molt so males presents a striking contrast to a snowy backdrop.
Cardinals tend to live at the edge of woodlands and in the vegetation near houses and gardens. Cardinals are non-migratory birds. Most cardinals live within a mile of where they were born. Found in a wide variety of brushy or semi-open habitats in the East, from forest clearings and swamps to city parks, almost wherever there are some dense bushes for nesting.
Mating & Nesting
Cardinals are song birds and the male uses its call to attract a mate. The male cardinal will aggressively defend its territory. A week or two before the female starts nest building, she starts to visit possible sites with the male following along. The pair call back and forth and hold nesting material in their bills as they assess each site. Nests tend to be wedged into a fork of small branches in a sapling, shrub, or vine tangle, 1-15 feet high and hidden in dense foliage.
Males sometimes bring nest material to the female, who does most of the building. She crushes twigs with her beak until they’re 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 2-3 inches tall, 4 inches across, with an inner diameter of about 3 inches. Cardinals usually don’t use their nests more than once.
Cardinals usually raise two broods of young a year. They mate in March and again from May to July. The female usually lays four eggs. The eggs take about 12 days to hatch. Young cardinals leave the nest after 11 days and they can fly within 20 days.