Species Spotlight: Northern Cardinals

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Northern Cardinals, also called Cardinals or Redbirds, are one of the most widely recognized and loved birds in North America. Rightfully so, they are beautiful, mate for life and frequent backyard bird feeders. The males also keep their bright red plumage all year round, unlike many birds that trade in their mating plumage for a more drab winter look. They are a pleasure to observe and listen to. They are active songbirds, with a variety of melodies. Typically, they are seen in pairs during mating season and during winter months can be spotted in flocks. In the spring, you may see males feeding females, a sign of courtship, that sometimes looks like a Cardinal kiss! They are year-round residents which means we get to enjoy them during every season. 

Bright Male Cardinal enjoying some Bark Butter. Photo by Leanne Leblanc. 

Cardinals "kissing". Photo by Leanne Leblanc

Cardinals have actually been on the move this year. Many Northern Cardinal sightings are being noted in the north. The movement seems to be on a very wide front including Thunder Bay, Timmins, Cochrane, Iroquois Falls and Hilliardton, and Timiskaming area. The numbers are notable as Timmins had 16 different individuals being seen, and Thunder Bay and the Sault had significant numbers as well. Temperatures continue to be mild in the north and cardinals may have taken advantage of southern winds to disperse to be discovered at northern feeders. Many sightings have been noted on Ebird and several northern members of Ontario Birds by WBU Barrie and WBU Newmarket have seen cardinals at their feeders as well!

They will often join winter flocks consisting of a dozen or more local winter residents such as Downy Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Juncos, Sparrows and Finches. As each of these species prefers different foods, feeder types and feeding locations, they're able to co-exist in a large group without competition, increasing their chances by working together. Northern Cardinals are classified as granivorous animals because they live on a diet consisting of mostly seeds. Their short, stout, cone-shaped beaks are specially designed to crack open the hulls on seeds and shells on nuts. That being said, you can easily attract them to your yard with just that- seeds! 

They enjoy Sunflower Seeds, Safflower, Seed Cylinders, No Mess Blends, Supreme Blend and Bark Butter bits. 

Although the bright red males tend to attract a lot of attention, the females are quite beautiful in their own regard and I would be remiss to not spotlight their more subtle beauty. 

Female Cardinal. Photo by Shayna Hartley

Wishing you many backyard cardinals for 2021! 



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