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For Love of the Northern Cardinal

October 04, 2022
Male and Female Northern Cardinals in Arkansas


Perhaps our most iconic songbird, the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is easily recognized and appreciated throughout its range.  The brilliant red of male northern cardinals stands out during all seasons of the year.  However, the warm browns and red to orange accents of the female birds are equally as beautiful and eye-catching.

For many, there is a spiritual or symbolic attachment to northern cardinals.  Their appearance is a reminder that those who have passed on will live forever in our hearts as long as memories remain.  During the dull, dark days of winter, the northern cardinal's brilliant red color is a symbol of hope and joy.  It's not surprising that this beloved bird graces the front of greeting cards and is often part of art displayed in homes and offices.  Northern cardinal Christmas cards and prints are certainly popular offerings in my store.

Considering that the northern cardinal is a resident bird throughout its rather extensive range, it's not surprising that it has been adopted as the state bird in seven states - Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.  These birds are common visitors at bird feeders, and can be attracted to your yard with sunflower and safflower seeds.  They don't seem terribly picky about feeder type.  I have watched them feed from tube, hopper, and platform feeders.  Don't be alarmed by the infighting that occurs among cardinals at, and around, your bird feeders.  These are extremely territorial songbirds, and the skirmishes are just part of who they are.  Infighting is typically at its height during mating season in the spring, and tapers off dramatically by fall and during the winter months.  Northern cardinals will produce one to two broods per year, so you can expect to see fledglings around your bird feeders at some point during the summer months.

This seems to have been a good and prolific year for northern cardinals.  I have dozens enjoying the bird bath and what the feeders have to offer.  As we enter the fall season, infighting is at a minimum, and these birds calmly rotate in and out as they eat and drink, as if knowing they must take turns.  My favorite northern cardinal feeding behavior is that they tend to be the first ones at the feeders in the morning, and the last ones feeding at the end of the day.  There are few things more relaxing than sitting outdoors and enjoying the peace and quiet with northern cardinals as the last rays of sunshine dip below the western horizon.