NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)
DESCRIPTION: The northern cardinal is approximately 22 cm (9 in.) long, has a crest and a long tail. The bright red of the male is their all-season color, as those birds don’t molt. The only part of the bird that is not red is the area of the face around the bill and the throat, which is black. Females are brownish with some red on the crest, wings and tail, and have a red bill. The Northern cardinal is part of a family that includes grosbeaks, tanagers and buntings, all birds with a conical bill for seed eating.
NAME: The bird owes its name (in several languages actually) to the bright red color of the male, which is the color of the robes of cardinals in the Catholic Church. Why the repetition of the same word in the Latin name? The first word refers to the genus, the second to the species within the genus.
HABITAT: The northern cardinal has successfully adjusted to urban environments, and is a frequent user of backyard feeders. This bird feeds on the ground from seeds mainly, also fruit and insects (the latter especially when feeding their young).
DIET: Around 90% of the northern cardinal is made of seeds and grain, and berries. It will also add animals such as insects and arthropods to its diet, especially when feeding its young. It forages on the ground by hopping, not walking (just like the Blue Jay).
NESTING: Northern cardinals form lifetime pairs and stay together year-round.
ON PEI: The northern cardinal does not breed on PEI and is considered as rare or uncommon.
DISTRIBUTION: This bird’s distribution area is mostly the eastern half of the USA, Mexico and southeast Canada, so PEI is situated at the northernmost part of its range. The northern cardinal does not migrate. It has been introduced to different areas, including Hawaii (video below), where it successfully adapted.
CONSERVATION: In decades past the male northern cardinal was hunted as a caged bird for its flashy color and delightful singing, but is now a protected species.
OTHER: Because of its striking color and its presence year-round, the northern cardinal is a strong motivator for interest in bird watching. Its image is also extensively used in bird-related products such as birdseed and bird feeders. It is the mascot of several sports teams, and the state bird of the largest number of states in the USA.
How about a cardinal that is NOT red? An Alabama photographer took shots of a very rare YELLOW cardinal, which yellow color is caused by a genetic mutation.