Optics Mag is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Read more.

18 Interesting & Fun Northern Cardinal Facts You Never Knew

Last Updated on

a northern cardinal bird on a tree trunk

Bird watching can be tons of fun, and the Northern Cardinal is one of the best choices to watch because it’s easy to find anywhere in the eastern United States and its bright-red color makes it easy to identify. If you would like to learn more about these birds, keep reading as we provide several interesting and fun Northern Cardinal facts.

hummingbird divider

The 18 Interesting and Fun Northern Cardinal Facts

1. Cardinals are early feeders

While no one is sure why, many Cardinals only visit feeders early in the morning and late at night. Some believe that it’s due to less competition at the feeder during these times, while others think that the low-light conditions help dampen the bright colors of the Cardinal to protect them from predators.

Photo Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

2. The original colonists named the Cardinal

The original colonists who arrived in the United States named the birds after the Catholic Cardinal, who wore similar bright-red colors.

3. Northern Cardinals are granivorous

The Northern Cardinal primarily eat seeds, so you can often see them at bird feeders, especially ones with sunflower seeds. These birds also enjoy safflower seeds, shelled peanuts, and cracked corn.

male northern cardinal bird eating
Photo Credit: Ami Parikh, Shutterstock

4. Male and female cardinals appear to kiss during courtship

The male Cardinal will express his love for the female by feeding her seeds beak to beak. To the casual observer, this action makes it look like the two birds are kissing.

5. Cardinals have pigment variations

While most Cardinals have bright-red feathers, a few lack the red pigment, resulting in a bright-yellow or -orange Cardinal. However, these birds are rare.

northern cardinal to perch on a log
Photo Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

6. Northern Cardinals don’t live long

Unfortunately, Cardinals in the wild usually only live about 3 years due to the many dangers that they face each day. Birds of prey often hunt Cardinals, and they are also susceptible to various diseases. Accidents and starvation can also reduce the population and shorten their lifespan.

7. The Northern Cardinal is a popular mascot

Many sports teams use the Northern Cardinal as a mascot, including the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team and the Arizona Cardinals football team. It’s also the mascot for the University of Louisville, Lamar University, Concordia University, and many others.

northern cardinal landed on a wood
Image Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

8. Cardinals are more friendly in the winter

The Northern Cardinals tend to behave territorially during the spring and summer, especially when breeding. However, once the temperature drops, they become much more friendly and congregate in flocks to work together to find food and stay warm.

9. Northern Cardinals are extremely territorial during the breeding season

The hormone levels of male Cardinals increase during the breeding season, and they become extremely territorial. They will attack any intruders, including humans that they feel are getting too close for comfort during this time. Many people have even observed them attacking themselves when they notice their reflection in a window or mirror.

male northern cardinal perching
Image Credit: FotoRequest, Shutterstock

10. Northern Cardinals have a distinctive call

When a Northern Cardinal is close by, you will hear it say “birdie-birdie-birdie” or “cheer-cheer-cheer.” These calls are easy to recognize once you hear them, so you will always know when one is nearby.

11. The word Northern in its name is in comparison to other Cardinal varieties

There are two other kinds of cardinals besides the Northern Cardinal. One is the Vermilion Cardinal and the other is the Pyrrhuloxia. Both types reside in southern climates.

northern cardinal_Miles Moody_Pixabay
Image Credit: Miles Moody, Pixabay

12. The Northern Cardinal is the state bird of seven states

Seven states — Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana — call the Northern Cardinal their state bird.

13. Northern Cardinals don’t migrate

The Northern Cardinal prefers to team up to form a community to survive the winter instead of migrating south like many other birds. It’s usually easier to find food because they primarily eat seeds and nuts instead of fruits, grains, or insects.

male northern cardinal perched
Image Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

14. Northern Cardinals are monogamous

Once the Northern Cardinal finds a mate, they stay together year-round and may stay together even longer if both birds remain healthy.

15. The female Cardinal incubates the eggs

After the female lays her eggs, she incubates them until they hatch, while the male stays vigilant about defending his territory from intruders. When the coast is clear, he will look for food to feed his family.

three northern cardinal eggs in a nest
Image Credit: Anne Kitzman, Shutterstock

16. The female sings elaborate songs

The female tends to sing frequently in the nest, and Cardinals in general tend to have elaborate songs, with some birds singing as many as two dozen different melodies. Their vocal patterns also vary slightly depending on the region where they live.

17. Northern Cardinals molt every year

Molting is a process that many birds go through to replenish their damaged feathers, and Cardinals do it every year. When molting, the birds can lose some or all of their feathers and may appear sick. However, the feathers will grow back soon, and everything will return to normal.

female northern cardinal perching
Image Credit: Shoriful_is, Shutterstock


18. The female Northern Cardinal does not have bright coloring

A female Northern Cardinal has a brown body with red highlights on the wings, tail, and cap.

eagle divider

Tips for inviting Cardinals to your property

  • Cardinals prefer large feeders that provide enough room to relax and feed. Many people set out several to see which one the Cardinal prefers and then keep the one that it likes.
  • Fill your feeder with black-oil sunflower seeds mixed with safflower and other seeds to encourage the Cardinal to visit your property.
  • Cardinals are shy, so you will need to place the feeder near trees that will provide cover and protection.
  • Adding a bird bath can also be a great way to invite Cardinals to your yard, as they enjoy a good bath. However, you’ll need to keep the water clean to avoid contaminants like bacteria and mosquitoes.
  • Remove any reflective surfaces in your yard that may trigger aggression during the breeding season.

hummingbird divider


Cardinals are attractive birds that are easy to find in the eastern United States. They will visit feeders without coaxing if you put them in well-sheltered spots and if they contain plenty of black sunflower seeds, which are their favorite. If you see both male and female Cardinals on your property, there’s a good chance that you will see them year after year. Add a birdbath, and remove any reflective surfaces to create a more comfortable environment.

You might Interested:

Featured Image Credit: TheBirdBird, Pixabay

About the Author Ed Malaker

Ed Malaker is a veteran writer who contributes to a wide range of blogs covering information on computer programming, pets, birding, tools, fitness, guitars, and optics. Outside of writing, Ed is often found working in the garden or performing DIY projects in the house. Ed is also a musician, spending his time composing music for independent films or helping people repair their guitars.