Creature Feature: Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
By CG Science Editor Emma Dean
It’s easy to spot a Cardinal dodging through tree leaves because of its bright red appearance. However, only the male of the species is blessed with the vivid hue. While both genders have small black masks surrounding their bill and eyes, the female are gray or tan but the male’s coloration will dull as an act of camouflage to help fulfill his responsibility as a parent and mate.
Cardinals are social songbirds who enjoy being a part of a group even if some of the birds are of different species. During the winter, the non-migratory birds form flocks with about 70 birds in total, but during the mating season, the group mentality is replaced by the need to couple. Males attract their mate with their songs and attention-grabbing red.
Once a part of a pair, the male is an attentive mate that brings food to the female who sits on the nest and sings to alert the male when she’s hungry. The male Cardinal is also very territorial and in defending so intensely, will often mistake its reflection for another male and attack the reflective surface.
- Cardinals were kept as caged pets in the 1800s because of their vibrant red color and ability to sing several melodies.
- The United States banned the sale of Cardinals in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
- Cardinals have a life span, on average, of three to nine years. The record is 15 years.
- Cardinals know about two dozen songs.
- The Cardinal is the official state bird of seven states—Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.
- The species earned its moniker because of the similarity to the vestments worn by Catholic cardinals.
- The female Cardinal is known for having a slightly more intricate song which is unusual in songbirds.
- Urbanization is not a problem for these songbirds who are frequent visitors at bird feeders and often reside in birdhouses.