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BIRDS

Female Cardinal - Ruston

NORTHERN CARDINALS

Cardinalis cardinalis

AT A GLANCE

  • IDENTIFICATION: Males are bright red with a red beak,reddish gray feet, and a black mask at the eyes and throat; females are brown with orange bills, black/gray feet, and black mask at the eyes and throat
  • COMMONLY CONFUSED WITH: Tanagers
  • CONSERVATION STATUS: Least Conern - Population Stable
  • DIET: Fruits, grains, sunflower seeds, weeds, and insects
  • HABITAT: Forests, grasslands, shrubbery, and thickets
  • BREEDING: Lay 3 to 4 eggs up to 5 times per year in spring and summer, each clutch hatches 12-13 days later
  • BEHAVIOR: Most active during the day, especially morning and evening when they forage in trees and on the ground for food, mate for life, only use nests once, do not migrate during winter
  • SPECIAL SKILLS: Flight and song
  • THREATS: Cats, dogs, owls, squirrels
  • SEASONS FOR VIEWING IN NORTH LOUISIANA: Yearround

Our Take on North Louisiana Cardinals

Cardinals, along with blue jays, are one of the most recognized species of bird in North Louisiana. Like blue jays, cardinals are terrestrial songbirds. Unlike blue jays, cardinals are not known to eat eggs or baby birds. They are omnivores that prefer sunflower seeds and grains to other foods, but also eat berries, flowers, and invertebrates, including spiders and flies.

Cardinals are finches that live in shrubs and evergreens and cohabitate with humans. Because they hang around our neighborhoods and parks, you’ve probably seen numerous cardinals in your lifetime. Females build the nests, usually in shrubs, but they will also build them in trees and vine tangles. You can often find both male and female cardinals in shrubs and on low tree branches, and on low hanging utility lines near their nests, but please don’t disturb the nest. That’s just rude.

Cardinals are unlike most other birds in that they don’t migrate. Unless relocated or chased away, cardinals stay in the same area for their entire lives. If you follow our advice and don’t disturb the nest, you’ll likely be able to enjoy the birds for years. They may be more visible during colder weather, when they may spend more time on the ground foraging.

As is the case with many other birds, male cardinals are brighter than females of the species. The stereotypical cardinal image, think St. Louis Cardinals, is that of a male: a red bird with a black mask that stretches around his eyes and beak. Because cardinals don’t molt, male cardinals stay the same shade of red throughout the year. Likewise, females are soft brown year round. Most females also have a smaller, lighter black mask around their eyes and beak.

Both male and female cardinals have a tufted plume at the top of their heads to indicate the bird’s mood. These birds exhibit aggression by raising their voices and their plumes. When the males are in defensive mode, the plumes on their heads stand up—you could say, they get their feathers in a bunch.

Bad puns aside, these beautiful birds can be incredibly violent toward other birds that enter their territory during the nesting period in the spring and early summer, even to the point of fighting their own reflections! That beautiful song that the male sings is a warning that this piece of land is his. He sings this song from the highest point in his home tree so that he can see potential intruders, and he will fight any other male cardinal who enters their territory at any time during the year.

Cardinals are one of the few songbird species in which the female also sings. For many species, such as blue jays, songs are a form of territorialism, and are limited to males. Female cardinals, however, often sing from the nest to tell the male when to bring food home.

Where to Find North Louisiana Cardinals

Odds are you've seen North Louisiana cardinals in your yard. If not, you’ve probably seen them throughout your town; they tend to live near people.