Northern Candinal male and female in winter

Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis

One of the most popular birds in Wisconsin, the Northern Cardinal is abundant and it now brightens winter days with its color and its whistled song.

  Cardinal Calls


Northern Cardinal
Cardinalis cardinalis
Lifespan 3 years
Weight 1.58 ounces
Length 8.3 – 9.3 inches
Color Male: brilliant red
Female: pale brown
with reddish tinges
Sexual Maturity 1 year
Number of Broods 2 -3 broods
Gestation Period 9 - 11 days
Clutch Size 2 - 5 chicks
Adult Predators Hawks, squirrels,
owls, snakes, blue
jays, and dogs

Mostly seeds, insects, berries athough it diet is quite varied. Feeds on many insects, including beetles, true bugs, grasshoppers, caterpillars, ants, flies, and many others, also spiders, centipedes, and snails. Most of diet is vegetable matter, including seeds of weeds and grasses, waste grain, leaf buds, flowers, and many berries and wild fruits. Young are fed mostly insects.

  Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly while hopping on ground or in low bushes, sometimes higher in trees. Readily comes to bird feeders, where it favors sunflower seeds.


Usually well hidden in dense shrubs, vines, or low trees, placed 3-10 feet above ground, sometimes higher. Nest which is built by the female is open cup made of twigs, weeds, grass, bark strips, leaves, rootlets, lined with fine grass or hair.

Read more: How to provide spring nesting material for birds.

  Mating Behavior

Northern cardinal chicks in their nest.

Male cardinals, with red body feathers as opposed to the tan body feathers of females, have been known to show courtship behaviors, like turning and twisting their bodies while a female cardinal is present.

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.

  Care For Young

Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest about 9-11 days after hatching. Male may feed fledglings while female begins next nesting attempt. Norther cardinals have 2-3 broods per year, rarely 4.

  Conservation Status

Least concern.


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