The Regal Cardinal


As one of the most recognized songbirds in North America, the cardinals are also known for many virtues. They are one of the few wild birds that are monogamous throughout the year. They assist in pest control by feeding on destructive insects such as potato beetles, cotton boil weevils and cucumber beetles. Their natural diet consists of over 100 different weed seeds so this brilliant bird could also be considered economically valuable to many gardeners.

Have you ever noticed a cardinal eating at your feeder? These unique songbirds prefer black oil sunflower and safflower seeds. They roll the seed around with their tongue until it is sideways in their strong, cone-shaped beaks. Then they crack it open along the seam and ditch the hull before swallowing the meat of each seed.

Cardinals enjoy approaching each feeder with a royal attitude. They do not join in the chatter other species create in gatherings, such as sparrows or finches. Cardinals simply dine with their mate in a sort of majestic splendor.

The word “cardinal” originally meant important and was applied to the official rank in the Catholic Church. Cardinal became associated with the bright red robes and the pointed red hat of that impressive office. Upon seeing this red bird with the pointed crest for the first time, early American naturalists were reminded of the church officials and began to name this regal bird, the cardinal.

During the cold months, the male cardinal will dominate the feeders. His mate will usually ignore him and simply do her own feeding. Come springtime, however, the male turns into a doting partner. The cardinal courtship ritual involves mate feeding. The male hops over to her, tilts his head sideways and places the morsel in her bill. Her acceptance of this offering completes their unique ritual.

Cardinals breed from March to August, with up to four broods in a season. Two broods, however, are the accepted norm. While the female begins the next nest, the male takes on the feeding responsibilities for the last brood. This species of songbirds truly compliment each other in the rearing of the young.

The cardinal is the official State bird for seven states. Rarely seen as far north as Pennsylvania in the early 20th century, its year round range now includes the Canadian border. They live generally in areas where both trees and berry producing shrubs exist. This habitat closely resembles the average home owner’s backyard, hence the success of the expansion of the cardinals realm. So, kudos to all backyard birders.

Enjoy your birds!

Wild Bird Depot is located on Rt 11 in Gilford, NH. Steve is a contributing author in major publications, a guest lecturer at major conventions in Atlanta and St. Louis as well as the host of WEZS 1350AM radio show “Bird Calls” with Lakes Region Newsday @ 8:30AM. Wild Bird Depot has donated over $5,000 to local rehabilitators and local nature centers since 1996. Be sure to check out our blog “Bird Droppings” via our website Like us on Facebook for great contests and prizes.