50 Interesting Facts About Northern Cardinal

Last updated on July 21st, 2023

39. Scientists also studied northern cardinal mortality in the wild. They estimate that adults have an annual survival rate of 60 to 65%, which leaves enough parents to reproduce and care for the next generations.

40. The abundance of bird feeders helps cardinal populations thrive, but people must allow them to come and go as they want. It is illegal to take, kill, or possess these creatures. Violations are punishable by fines of up to $15,000 and jail time of up to six months.


41. Cardinals form bonds that can last for years. Strong families help young birds survive in the wild. Pairs often mate exclusively for life. When one dies, the surviving bird may choose a new mate.

42. Mating arrangements encourage monogamy, but the reality is more messy. DNA studies show that up to 35% of nestlings had questionable paternity. It suggests that some birds can sneak in when bonded pairs are in separate areas.

male Northern Cardinal during a midwest winter.
Photo © Gerald Deboer

43. Cardinal couples don’t always work out. Some pairs divorce and change partners between seasons. They form new bonds and continue to produce more offspring.

44. Every construction starts with a survey. Females visit possible nest sites while males tag along. They check out available materials in the area, calling each other back and forth while they conduct their assessments.

45. Preferred sites are just a foot off the ground and hidden from view. They may go higher if necessary. They typically wedge the nest into the fork of a small branch, possibly a shrub, a sapling, or a tangled vine.

46. Female cardinals are busy builders, making a new nest every breeding season. The four-layer open-cup design has coarse twigs, leafy mats, grapevine bark, and grasses. Males support them by bringing some materials. However, they stay out of the way during construction.

47. Cardinals are productive parents, which helps to stabilize their population in the wild. They can breed two to four times a year, with each clutch usually containing three to four eggs. Some may only manage two, while others get as many as five.

48. The job is not done after laying. Females are almost always in charge of incubation. It is rare for males to shoulder the task. This process takes 12 to 13 days, after which the chicks hatch to greet their mother.

Male Cardinal feeds new born birds
Photo © David Wood

49. Hungry baby cardinals need their parents to feed them constantly, opening their beaks to receive meals. Males often take over when females are out building new nests. It takes the chicks another ten days to fledge after hatching.

50. Juvenile cardinals have small bodies and dull plumage, much like adult females. Their bill color gives them away. Is it gray or black instead of pale red? That’s a young cardinal. Expect it to change its appearance going into adulthood.