It’s feeding time at the nest. The male and female cardinals take turns feeding their chicks. The babies wait impatiently, mouths open, chattering and tweeting. 

The father leaves the nest to find more food, leaving the mother to care for the young, although he will return soon. Both parents are involved in raising their young. 

With its instantly recognizable look, the Northern Cardinal (scientific name Cardinalis cardinalis) is a songbird that sticks out and seems to say, “Here I am!” 

You’re probably most familiar with the male cardinal. Perhaps you’ve seen one flying above or perched on a branch. The male is famously red with a long tail and very thick bill. He also has a prominent crest with a mostly black face and orange bill. 

female cardinal
Female Cardinal

In contrast, the female cardinal is less colorful. She is mainly brown, with some red highlights on the wings, tail and crest, and she also has the same black face and orange bill. 

Northern Cardinals mate with the same partner for life, and mates rarely, if ever, stray from one another, according to American Expedition.

Cardinals are seed eaters, which means they can commonly be found at bird feeders. They also eat grains, fruits and insects.  

Typically, the birds raise two broods of young a year. Their nests are cup-shaped and usually found three to eight feet off the ground. Nests are made of twigs and bark and are lined with grass, moss and other soft materials. If you spot a cardinal frequenting a low bush or a tree, you can peer in and see the nest. 

When the chicks are born, they can fly within about 20 days. Both parents hover around chicks and seem to coach them toward flight. They are very protective during this time, chirping aggressively and even attacking if a person or predator gets too close. 

Cardinals can be found in most of North America east of the Mississippi River, although the birds have been spotted as far west as California. Northern Cardinals have even been seen as far south as the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. 

Although Cardinals are a common sight throughout every Ohio county today, this was not always the case. According to Ohio History Central, the bird began inhabiting the area after settlers arrived and began deforestation. The Cardinal prefers a mixed habitat of both open plains and woodlands. 

Within its range in the United States, the Northern Cardinal has proven to be a favorite of birdwatchers. The bird is so popular it has been named the state bird of seven states, including Ohio. The other six states include Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The cardinal has also been made the mascot of several sports teams and colleges, including St. Louis Cardinals in Missouri, St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York, and Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. 

So, the next time you’re outside or at your bird feeder, keep your eyes peeled for this fairly common little songbird. There truly is more to the Northern Cardinal than just its beautiful color! — Seth Crowell

Seth Crowell is a Columbus based free-lance writer and journalist. 

Photo Credits: Sheila Brown