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Where Do Cardinals Like To Nest?

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male northern cardinal perched

Cardinals are stunning red birds that you will quickly recognize if you encounter them. They are medium-sized, and people love them for their red plumage—although only males have this fantastic feather color. Since they are widespread in North America, there are tons of nesting spots where they can safely raise their young ones.

Female Cardinals put in a lot of effort and go through multiple nesting options until they find their perfect choice.

Seeing nestlings can be a fantastic experience, so check out the article below to find out where cardinals like to nest.

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Where can you find cardinals in the USA?

a northern cardinal bird on a tree trunk
Photo Credit: TheBirdBird, Pixabay

Cardinals are very common in the USA, and you can find them in many states, including:

  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • Texas
  • Arizona
  • New Mexico
  • California

You can also see them in other states and since they don’t migrate, you can encounter them all year round. The only states where you won’t be able to see Cardinals are those on the northwest and west coast. They are also common in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.

Common nesting spots for Cardinals

Cardinals have specific preferences when it comes to nesting. Females are usually the ones that choose the nesting location and build the nest.

The list below will provide more details about common nesting spots for Cardinals.

1. Backyards

female cardinal nesting
Photo Credit: Cathleen Wake Gorbatenko, Shutterstock

Backyards are common nesting spots for Cardinals, so you will likely attract Cardinals to nest there if you have birdhouses adapted for their needs. Like other songbirds, they like backyards set up for birds and they will spend the nesting season there. Also, if you wondered where Cardinals nest at night, backyards are their favorite choice as there are not as many predators as in the wilderness.

How to attract Cardinals to your backyard?

There are various ways you can attract cardinals to your backyard. Primarily, provides a source of food and fresh water. Cardinals are not picky eaters, but they prefer black sunflower seeds. These birds are pretty shy when nesting, so you can provide plants and trees where they will feel comfortable.

2. Woodlands

Cardinals frequently nest in woodlands, especially in the southern and eastern parts of the USA. These birds like to build their nests 1 to 15 feet off the ground, and you’ll commonly spot the nests at places that are about 4 to 5 feet high. They typically do this in the woodlands, where they will spend the winter. The trees where they like to build nests are:

  • Spruces
  • Elms
  • Pines
  • Hawthorns
  • Red cedars
  • Hemlocks
  • Sugar maples
  • Blueberry shrubs
  • Elderberry bushes
  • Rose bushes

3. Near water 

Cardinals love water, so they also nest near it. Areas near lakes, ponds, and rivers are excellent spots for making a nest. Also, if you provide a birdbath in your backyard, it will be more attractive to Cardinals and they might decide to nest there.

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

4. Thick foliage

Due to their shyness, these birds like well-hidden nesting spots, and thick foliage checks all the boxes. It provides peace, privacy, and more protection for the offspring. Also, the thick foliage provides Cardinals with shade during hot months.

hummingbird divider Choosing the nesting site

A Cardinal female will check out various locations until she makes the final decision for the nesting spot. They will give their best to find a secluded area with plenty of food and water to have everything ready when their young ones come into this world. That way, they will ensure the safety of their family.

The search for the nesting site begins about 2 weeks prior to when the female is ready to nest. 

When do Cardinals nest?

The breeding and the nesting season for Cardinals starts in March and can last until September. Cardinals are primarily monogamous, and they have two broods annually.

male and female northern cardinals perching
Image Credit: Bonnie Taylor Barry, Shutterstock

Building the nest

The female Cardinal is also in charge of building the nest, although the males will sometimes help and bring the material or watch the nesting spot while the female is looking for more material. The females try to find bark strips, twigs, paper, grass, and vine leaves.

How does the nest look?

Cardinal nests are usually cup-shaped and have four different layers. The inner layer is typically a layer of leaves, followed by a layer of soft bark. The exterior layer is the most durable, and they commonly make it from twigs.

Cardinals commonly make the layers where the female will lay eggs from grass or pine needles. Nests are around 4 inches wide and about 2 to 3 inches deep.

When the female lays eggs, she will typically incubate them for about 2 weeks. The hatchlings need about 9 to 11 days to leave the nest. Until then, both males and females take care of the young ones and provide them with food.

Will Cardinals use a nesting box?

Cardinals have specific preferences for nesting, so they may use a nesting box if it’s adapted to their needs and demands. It’s better to be on the safe side and provide plenty of plants, such as shrubs and trees with dense foliage so that the cardinals can nest there.

Related Read: 10 Best Bird Feeders for Cardinals: Reviews & Top Picks!

hummingbird divider Frequently Asked Questions 

Will cardinals use a used nest?

Cardinals won’t usually use nests they’ve already used. However, they can create a new nest near the old one. These birds like to make new nests for new hatchlings, so as long as the place where they nested before has all the needed resources, they will likely return and build a nest nearby.

Northern Cardinal hatchling on its nest
Image Credit: Sari ONeal, Shutterstock

Should I remove old Cardinal nests?

It’s best to leave the nest and not remove it. Although Cardinals likely won’t reuse it, it’s a great way to turn off predators since they may not notice multiple nests at one spot. If you notice a nest on the ground, you could pick it up and place it on a nearby tree or bush.

How can I help a Cardinal to nest?

There’s no direct way to help a Cardinal nest, but you can create a Cardinal-friendly environment in your backyard so that they can have a safe spot to nest. This will be a place where they will be protected and won’t have to worry about their young ones.

If you want to adapt your backyard to be well-suited for Cardinals, try to keep predators away and plant shrubs, bushes, and trees that will be a good hiding spot to nest without worries. Also, provide food and water sources, so that Cardinals have everything they need for the hatchlings.

hummingbird divider Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are plenty of different spots where Cardinals like to nest. The most important factors that help them decide where the new nest will be placed are privacy and security. As long as the chosen spot is well-shielded and provides water and food, Cardinals will likely nest there.

Featured Image Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.