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do cardinals migrate in winter

do cardinals migrate in winter

do cardinals migrate in winter

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do cardinals migrate in winter
do cardinals migrate in winter

These beautiful songbirds won’t leave home just because it gets cold.

Whether you are an amateur bird watcher or a seasoned ornithologist, everyone enjoys watching the beautiful Northern Cardinal. Colorful and musical, this lively and popular songbird (it is the state bird of seven states) won’t leave home just because it gets a little cold down South. Our region is home to many permanent resident birds, meaning they are present throughout the year; mourning doves, bobwhites, goldfinches, and various types of hawks and owls are just a few types of fowl that stay close to home in the winter. None, however, are as eye-catching as the bright red Northern Cardinal. So while it may be too blustery for you to go outside, pour a mug of coffee, sit down by a window, and watch these beautifully colored cardinals light up the winter sky.


They Brighten a Winter Day

Unlike other types of birds the Northern Cardinal does not migrate during the winter. With their brilliant red plumage, they are easy to spot and fun to watch as they hunt and play in the cold. Even the more subtly colored females, with lovely red highlights in their light brown feathers, can be seen flitting among the branches. Cardinals are equally as beautiful perched on a barren tree branch as they are sitting amongst the bright evergreen branches.

They Make a Joyful Noise

Unlike many other songbirds in North America, both the male and female cardinals can sing, and they have a number of different songs they will perform throughout the day. (In most songbird species, it is only the male that is capable of singing.) When a female cardinal sings from the nest, it usually means she’s telling the male she needs more food.

They Are Good Providers

The female cardinal builds the nest while the male keeps a close eye on her and the surrounding territory for predators and other males. The female will be the only one incubating the eggs. The male’s duty during this time is to feed her at the nest and protect their territory from intruders. Once the young hatch, both Mom and Dad will feed them.

do cardinals migrate in winter
do cardinals migrate in winter

Loyal To Each Other (usually)

If you watch cardinals for any length of time, you may see a ritual that is referred to as mate-feeding. The male will pick up a seed, hop over to the female, and the two will quickly touch beaks as she takes the food. Mate-feeding continues through the egg-laying and incubation phases of breeding. Typically Northern Cardinal pairs remain together the whole year and, often but not always, pairs will stay together until one dies at which time the surviving mate will look for another partner.

They Are Year-Round Neighbors

Because these birds do not typically migrate—though they may travel if food becomes scarce—you can enjoy Northern Cardinals in your yard throughout the year, including the winter months. To keep them from moving on, make sure your property has adequate shelter and nesting sites, as well as food sources. Cardinals may look showy, but they prefer discreet, secluded areas for shelter and nesting. Thickets of dense vines and shrubs will provide good cover so the birds feel secure. Some of their preferred plants include blueberry, clematis, grapevines and hawthorn. Evergreens such as pines and spruces also provide comfortable winter shelter. Essential nesting materials like small twigs, pine needles and grass clippings will encourage cardinals to build nests nearby, though they will not use bird houses. Keep a supply of songbird feed available when natural food sources get slim—among the food items cardinals enjoy are sunflower and safflower seeds, cracked corn, and fresh berries.

Population Range

Cardinals, also called “redbirds,” do not migrate and have traditionally been more common in warmer climes such as the U.S. southeast. However, in recent decades they have expanded their common range north through the United States and even into Canada. This population growth may be due to an increase in winter birdfeeders and to the bird’s ability to adapt to parks and suburban human habitats.


Only males sport the brilliant red plumage for which their species is known. The color is a key to mating success—the brighter the better. Females are an attractive tan/gray.


do cardinals migrate in winter
do cardinals migrate in winter

Cardinals are active songbirds and sing a variety of different melodies.

Males can be aggressive when defending their territory, and they frequently attack other males who intrude. This tendency sometimes leads cardinals to fly into glass windows, when they charge an “intruding bird” that is really their own reflection.

Cardinals are fairly social and join in flocks that may even include birds of other species. During mating season, however, groups dissolve into pairs. Male birds feed their monogamous partners as they incubate clutches of eggs—typically three per season.

During the spring, you might see a male Northern Cardinal attacking a window. It’s actually attacking his reflection in the glass because he will fiercely defend his breeding territory from intruding males.

  • The Northern Cardinal is a fairly large, long-tailed songbird with a short, very thick bill and a prominent crest. Cardinals often sit with a hunched-over posture and with the tail pointed straight down.


    Slightly smaller than an American Robin

    between sparrow and robin


    • Both Sexes
      • Length: 8.3-9.1 in (21-23 cm)
      • Weight: 1.5-1.7 oz (42-48 g)
      • Wingspan: 9.8-12.2 in (25-31 cm)
    • do cardinals migrate in winter
      do cardinals migrate in winter
      • Size & Shap
      • Male cardinals are brilliant red all over, with a reddish bill and black face immediately around the bill. Females are pale brown overall with warm reddish tinges in the wings, tail, and crest. They have the same black face and red-orange bill.
  • Behavior
    Northern Cardinals tend to sit low in shrubs and trees or forage on or near the ground, often in pairs. They are common at bird feeders but may be inconspicuous away from them, at least until you learn their loud, metallic chip note.
  • Habitat
    Look for Northern Cardinals in inhabited areas such as backyards, parks, woodlots, and shrubby forest edges. Northern Cardinals nest in dense tangles of shrubs and vines.
    Backyard Tips


    Nearly any bird feeder you put out ought to attract Northern Cardinals (as long as you live within their range), but they particularly seem to use sunflower seeds. Leave undergrowth in your backyard or around the edges, and you may have cardinals nesting on your property. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.


    • Cool Facts
      • Only a few female North American songbirds sing, but the female Northern Cardinal does, and often while sitting on the nest. This may give the male information about when to bring food to the nest. A mated pair shares song phrases, but the female may sing a longer and slightly more complex song than the male.
      • Many people are perplexed each spring by the sight of a cardinal attacking its reflection in a window, car mirror, or shiny bumper. Both males and females do this, and most often in spring and early summer when they are obsessed with defending their territory against any intruders. Birds may spend hours fighting these intruders without giving up. A few weeks later, as levels of aggressive hormones subside, these attacks should end (though one female kept up this behavior every day or so for six months without stopping).
      • The male cardinal fiercely defends its breeding territory from other males. When a male sees its reflection in glass surfaces, it frequently will spend hours fighting the imaginary intruder.
      • A perennial favorite among people, the Northern Cardinal is the state bird of seven states.
      • The oldest recorded Northern Cardinal was a female, and was 15 years, 9 months old when she was found in Pennsylvania.
      do cardinals migrate in winter
      do cardinals migrate in winter
      Bird of the World!

      Among the most abundant species on the continent, the Northern Cardinal is broadly distributed in eastern, central, and portions of southwestern North America, from southern Canada to northern Central America, and has been introduced to Hawaii, southern California, and Bermuda.



      Random Posts

      A member of family Cardinalidae, it is one of 3 species of Cardinalis, the others being Pyrrhuloxia (C. sinuatus) and Vermilion Cardinal (C. phoeniceus). This year-round resident has been expanding its range northward since at least the mid-1800s, taking advantage of moderate temperatures, human habitation, and provisioning at bird feeders. It is a popular visitor to bird feeders and is the state bird for seven states in the United States.

Did you know?

Our word cardinal goes back to the Latin adjective cardinalis, which meant “serving as a hinge.” The root of this word is the noun cardo, meaning “hinge.” Since a hinge is the device on which a door turns, cardo came to mean “something on which a development turns” or “something very important.” Later the Roman Catholic Church used the adjective cardinalis to refer to principal churches and priests and then to mean “a clergyman of the highest rank, next to the pope.” When borrowed into English, cardinalis became cardinal. A cardinal’s robes are a deep red color, and this color influenced the naming of the bird whose color was like that of a cardinal’s robes.



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