Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bird Profile: Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal
Male Northern Cardinal, in all his glory.
Another brilliantly colored resident here in Western North Carolina, the Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis, stands out in the foliage as a bright red fruit does hanging from a green tree. Cardinals are a popular and well-loved bird, and the state bird of 7 U.S. states, including North Carolina. You may see them hopping around the lower branches of bushes around the academic buildings or shooting out across the trail along the River--a quick flash of vermilion across your vision. Cardinals make a loud high-pitched metallic "chnkkk" call, which sounds to me like two round pieces of metal clinking together. Their song is quite beautiful and, unlike most other species, the female sings as well as the male, sometimes from the nest! To listen to the song and call of the Cardinal, click HERE.


Female Northern Cardinal
The male Cardinal is all red with a black face and a reddish bill. The female is brown-bodied with many red tints on its tail, wings, and crest, and it shares the reddish bill. Male Cardinals do not molt into drab plumage for the winter like most residents, so a Cardinal feeding in a snowy white yard is a sight to behold! Cardinals eat seeds and berries, and occasionally insects. They are also aggressive territory defenders. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, "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 Cardinal raises his crest in aggression, which can cause him to look like a punk-rocker with a dyed red mohawk.

Cardinals in popular culture:
Are you a baseball fan? The St. Louis Cardinals won the 2011 World Series in October!

For more information on Northern Cardinals, go to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website "All About Birds".

All information taken from

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