northern cardinal

Northern Cardinal

Cardinalis cardinalis


Description

The male Northern Cardinal has a completely red body with a black face mask around the bill and eyes. The female is drab in color. She has light brown feathers with some red on the wings and tail and no face mask. Both sexes have orange bills and crests on top of their heads.

Size

The Northern Cardinal ranges from 8 to 9 inches in length with a wingspan of 10 to 12 inches. It weighs about 1.5 ounces.

Adaptations

Diet

Cardinals feed on a variety of food items including seeds, berries, and insects. Their diet changes seasonally as different foods are available. The cardinal's summer diet contains a large amount of insects, while its winter diet can be up to 90% seeds. Cardinals often find food throughout the year at backyard bird feeders. At Cosley Zoo, the cardinal is fed a varied diet that includes grapes, oranges, spinach, apples, dog food, sunflower seeds, and mealworms.

Reproduction

The typical nest of a Northern Cardinal is an open cup-shaped structure close to the ground. The female lays 2-5 eggs at a time. She incubates the eggs for 12-13 days while the male supplies her with food. The chicks leave the nest about 9 days after hatching.

Shelter and Space Needs

Northern Cardinals are yearlong residents of Illinois. Typical habitats include thickets and brushy areas, edges and clearings, woodlands, parks, and residential areas.

Life Expectancy

The life expectancy of the Northern Cardinal is uncertain, although we do know that many wild cardinals do not reach one year of age.

Importance to Man

Cardinals are attractive birds which many people enjoy watching. As seed-eaters, they help to disperse seeds and therefore enable plants to reproduce. They also feed on insect pests. In addition, cardinals are prey for many larger animals, such as owls, hawks, and foxes.

Fun Facts