Northern Cardinal

Common Name: Northern Cardinal
Cardinalis cardinalis

photo Ivan Andrijevic



The Northern Cardinal is a member of the Order Passeriformes which means perching birds. It is in the family Cardinalidae, which is made up of Cardinals and Grosbeaks. It is also in the Genus Cardinalis which contains the Cardinals.


photo Ivan Andrijevic

The Northern Cardinal is a medium sized songbird with a large crest on the head, and a thick conical bill. The males are entirely colored bright red, except for a black “mask” on their faces. The females appear much more brown in color, but have some red areas and also have the black “mask” on their faces. Both male and female bills are colored a reddish orange.


Northern Cardinals live primarily on forest edges and hedges in populated neighborhoods since they often feed from the seeds found in human bird feeders. They tend to settle in dense brush. They are found commonly throughout eastern and central North America but are also spreading to other areas such as the west coast.
The Northern Cardinal feeds on many seeds, commonly seeds found in bird feeders in urban areas. They also eat insects and small fruits and berries.


photo Ivan Andrijevic



The Northern Cardinal will stay in the same area year-round, meaning they do not migrate. They will move in groups during the winter, but become very territorial during the summer and breeding season. When threatened at the nest, both the male and female will chirp a warning call and fly at the threat in an attempt to chase it away, however they are not aggressive.

Northern Cardinals are mostly monogamous, but are not always. They form pairs in spring when the male gives a series of displays. Pairs have been noted to sometimes remain together for many breeding seasons. The female will then build a nest in dense brush. During the months of March through September, the female will lay two broods of 1-5. The female stays at the nest the entire time, and the male brings her food. After hatching, chicks begin leaving the nest after about 10 days, but may be fed by the parents longer than that until they are chased off by the parents.

It is also noted that Northern Cardinals will tend to the young of Brown-Headed Cowbirds who lay their eggs in Northern Cardinal nests.


Northern Cardinals sing a series of high “cheer cheer cheer” and “wha-cheer wha-cheer” noises in succession. They can also make short “chip” sounds.
Where to see Northern Cardinals in WNY

Where to see them in WNY

They can often be found at backyard bird feeders, taking advantage of the easily found seeds. Another place to see them, though not as commonly as at a bird feeder, is at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge along many of the trails. is a program of Canisius College, Buffalo, NY.                                                  Web Design by Ivan Andrijevic