Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

About the Bird

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Seen/Heard at
Decorah, Decorah North

Northern Cardinals are ground foragers. They eat primarily seeds and fruit, including dogwood, wild grape, buckwheat, grasses, sedges, mulberries, hackberries, blackberries, sumac, tulip-tree, corn, and many kinds of birdseed. They supplement their diet with insects during the summer and feed insects to nestlings.

Northern Cardinals breed from mid-April through mid-August. Females build cup-shaped nests by constructing a framework of coarse twigs and lining it with a carpet of leaves, an outer lining of pliable bark, and an inner lining of grass, stems, rootlets, and pine needles. Cardinals lay two to five tan eggs speckled with brown per clutch and may produce up to two broods per year. Females and males incubate eggs for 11-13 days and young stay in the nest for 7-13 days before fledging. If the female decides to build a second nest, the male will feed the young from the first nest by himself. To learn more, visit Cornell’s website.

In the mid-19th century, a cardinal would have been a remarkable sighting in the northern United States. Cardinalis cardinalis was considered a Southern species. Their spread has been well-documented thanks to Project FeederWatch, a citizen science program of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. You can learn more about it here:

Bird Range Maps of North America
Ridgely, R.S., T.F. Allnutt, T. Brooks, D.K. McNicol, D.W. Mehlman, B.E. Young, and J.R. Zook. 2003.
Digital Distribution Maps of the Birds of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA. Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Robert Ridgely, James Zook, The Nature Conservancy – Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International – CABS, World Wildlife Fund – US, and Environment Canada – WILDSPACE.
Web Link:
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Birds of North America:
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General Description
Male Northern Cardinals are a vivid red, with slightly darker backs, wings, and tails. They have red-orange beaks and black face masks. Females are tan with reddish tinges in their wings, tail, and crest. Like males, they have a black face and red-orange beak, although their markings may be less vivid than males.

Northern Cardinals do not migrate. They are year-round Decorah residents.

Length: 8.3-9.1 in/21-23 cm
Wingspan: 9.8-12.2 in/25-31 cm
Weight: 1.5-1.7 oz/42-48 g

Wing Design
Elliptical. Optimized for bursts of fast, tightly controlled flight. Excellent at taking off quickly, maneuvering through branches, and avoiding predators.
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Range Map

Range Map