16 Interesting Facts About Cardinal Birds

cardinal bird

Have you seen a bright red bird with a tall crest hopping around in your neighborhood? No, it probably wasn’t an escaped tropical bird from the zoo but rather America’s own Northern Cardinal.

If you ask me, this is one of the best-looking birds out there, and in my quest to learn more about them, I’ve found some pretty amazing facts. If you want to know more, read along and learn 16 interesting facts about the amazing Cardinal bird

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16 Interesting Facts About Cardinal Birds

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1. Cardinal Symbolism

Traditionally, many native American tribes believed Cardinal birds were good omens, particularly in the Southeast. Some tribes also believed these birds were associated with lightning and could predict the weather and rain. 

Cardinals are still seen to represent devotion and love and are associated with the number 12. Many people also believe that seeing a Cardinal is a sign from a lost loved one. 

2. What Does A Cardinal Bird Mean

cardinal bird call

The original meaning of the word Cardinal is to describe the group of people who nominate the Pope in the Roman-Catholic religion. The Cardinal bird takes its name from these senior figures in the Catholic church. 

But what do the pretty Northern Cardinal bird and Catholic church officials have in common? Their color of course. Just like cardinal birds have bright red plumage, Catholic cardinals wear red robes. 

3. Cardinals Are The State Bird Of 7 States

Cardinals are such beloved birds that they were chosen as the U.S. state bird for an amazing 7 states. These states are Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina. 

The first state to select the northern cardinal as its state bird was Kentucky in 1926 and the last state to the party was Virginia in 1950. 

The Cardinal bird isn’t the only bird that represents more than one state though. The Western Meadowlark is the state bird for 6 states, and the Northern Mockingbird holds that honor for 5 states.

4. There Are 3 True Species Of Cardinals

You’re probably familiar with the bold red Northern Cardinal, but did you know there are 2 other closely related cardinals

The Pyrrhuloxia, also known as the ‘pyro’ is found in the American southwest and Mexico and used to be called the Arizona Cardinal. These birds aren’t as red as the Northern Cardinal but are still colorful birds with males being red and grey with a solid yellow bill. 

The third Cardinal species is the Vermillion Cardinal from Colombia and Venezuela These birds are every bit as colorful as the Northern Cardinal but they differ in having a grey bill, less black on the face, and a sharper crest. 

5. Cardinals Don’t Like Mirrors

Cardinals can get pretty aggressive around spring and early summer. Being territorial birds, they don’t like sharing their space with other cardinals of the same species. Cardinals of differing species, like Northern Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxias, get along just fine though.

Cardinal birds have a funny habit of getting into fights with their own reflections. This is because they think they’ve found another cardinal intruding in their territory. 

Of course, their reflection never backs down and retreats, so this battle can go on for some time. Reflective windows and mirrors on cars are the usual targets. 

6. Cardinals Can Be Sweet

cardinal bird feeder

Even though our favorite red birds can be a little cranky sometimes, they’re also very sweet birds, and Cardinal couples often seem to be kissing. If you look closely though, you’ll notice that the male is actually feeding the female seeds or some other snack.

This behavior not only keeps the female nourished during the breeding season but also happens during courtship, signaling to females that a male is fit.

7. Cardinals Like A Balanced Diet

female cardinal bird

Cardinal birds have quite a varied diet. These birds are in fact omnivorous, which means they eat both plant and animal foods. 

Cardinal birds also eat fruits and buds, as well as insects like beetles and caterpillars. Cardinal parents mostly feed their chicks insects. This high protein diet helps them to grow quickly and they leave the nest after just 9 to 11 days

8. Cardinals Love Birdfeeders

With the right kind of bird feeder for Cardinals, you can easily have a pair of cardinals visit and feed in your very own yard. Even though Cardinals are omnivorous, they have a bill that is designed for eating seeds and they really love birdseed

Great types of bird feeders for Cardinals are hopper and platform-style feeders. Cardinals will also enjoy feeding from window feeders, where you can get a really great look at these brightly colored birds.  

9. Cardinal Couples Work Together

Raising Cardinal chicks is a lot of work, and to give their babies the best start in life, some real teamwork is necessary. Both male and female cardinals work together to build the nest

Both parents have their own jobs to do though. Male cardinals gather the building materials and pass them to the females who do the actual building. Cardinal nests are usually built inside dense bushes in thickets. 

10. Male Cardinals Know How To Dance

Impressing female cardinals is not easy. As if having beautiful red feathers and a cool, pointy crest isn’t enough, male cardinals also do an interesting dance to impress their partners. 

These ‘dancing’ birds will shift their weight from side to side while singing, it’s quite a sight! Before putting on this show, the male bird will usually spread out his feathers into a fan shape and lifts his crest.

11. Cardinals Have Different Calls For Different Occasions

Cardinals have as many as 16 different calls according to some scientists. These Cardinal calls are used in different situations such as chasing other birds from their territories or warning their partners about nearby predators. 

Cardinals also sing and both male and female birds can be heard in singing. The song of the cardinal usually lasts around 3 seconds. Apart from their singing, the call most often heard from cardinals is described as a loud metallic sound. 

12. Female Cardinals Sing While They Sit

The female Cardinal bird will sing from the nest to her partner when she’s feeling hungry and wants some food. Interestingly, she might also sing to tell the male when not to come, because males with their bright colors could easily show predators where the nest is hidden. 

This might not be the case for all cardinal couples, but scientists have figured out that the type of response call by a female, to the call of a male, will tell him whether to make his delivery or to stay away.

13. Cardinals Are Survivors

 cardinal bird meaning

Cardinals are tough little birds and can be found across most of the central and eastern parts of the United States and some parts of the southwest as well. These birds don’t migrate, which means they have to survive all four seasons in the places they live.

These amazing little red birds can be found living happily in icy conditions up north in the winters of southern Canada all the way south to the tropical heat of southern Mexico.

14. Cardinals Can Be Found In Unexpected Places 

You might also spot a Cardinal outside of mainland America because people often like to take their favorite animals with them to new places. Cardinals were first introduced to Hawaii in 1929 and are now common there on all the southeastern islands and also some of the northwestern islands. 

They were also introduced to Bermuda way back around 1800 and can still be seen there today. It seems these birds like the island lifestyle.  

15. Sometimes Red Birds Aren’t Red At All

Although it’s very rare, some Cardinals are yellow rather than red. Scientists aren’t completely sure why this happens but some believe the strange coloration is due to a condition that is known as xanthochroism. 

This condition causes the pigments (colors) that birds get from their food, to show up as yellow in their feathers, rather than the usual bright red we’re used to.  

16. Cardinals Play Baseball And Football

red cardinal bird

Well, of course, birds don’t really play ball sports although that would be pretty funny. You might see some very strange-looking man-sized cardinal birds running around on sports fields though.

The St. Louis Cardinals, a professional baseball team from Missouri, and the Arizona Cardinals, a professional football team are both named after these feisty birds. Go cardinals!

Final Thoughts

Cardinal birds are amazing, aren’t they? Now you know more about these wonderful creatures it might just make having them around even more exciting. 

Next time you see a bright flash of red in your yard, or even a pair of these beautiful birds visiting your feeders, remember these amazing facts. 

3 thoughts on “16 Interesting Facts About Cardinal Birds”

  1. Thank you very much for this very informative article. There were so many things that I did not know. This knowledge makes me even entranced by this amazing bird. I’ve seen the car mirror antic. It is quite the sight especially when one cardinal will stay busy for a long time crossing the street back and forth between two or more cars.

    • Thank you for your feedback and for sharing your experience with cardinals and their behavior around cars, it is quite fascinating to observe!


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