The Cardinal

The northern cardinal is generally known by its bright red plumage, and was so named by early American colonists for the red-cloaked catholic clergy.  Everyone seems to know the red male but not as many recognize the female cardinal who sports plumage of a softer red, tan, silver, olive and bits of blue.  

Female Cardinal
Female in Snow

Collective nouns for cardinals?  Not surprisingly, they include “college”, “conclave” and “Vatican”.

The Cardinal is the official state bird of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.  This bird gets around!  And it has been spreading north in recent decades, blanketing the eastern US and parts of eastern Canada.  Out west, it appears only in the south western desserts.  Nonetheless there is a continuing debate as to whether the northern cardinal appellation actually incorporates as many as 19 distinguishable species.  That is WAY beyond the scope of these remarks.  

Juvenile Cardinal

The cardinal eats mostly seeds, insects and berries, but feeds its young primarily with protein rich insects. It forages in bushes and on the ground but is not too shy as indulge in the occasional feeder.  

Male Cardinal
Female Cardinal

Males are territorial and will attack intruding males (including its own reflection in a mirror).  Males sing to communicate the extent of their territory; females sing mainly in the spring before start of nesting.  Nests are usually well hidden although typically only 3-10′ above ground. Nests(built by the female) are open bowls built of customary forest detritus including bark, twigs, weeds and leaves, and usually lined with grasses, tufts of fur or hair. 

Taking Flight

Many cardinals will stick around Central Park through the winter creating beautiful highlights against the occasional snows.  

Opening photo: Female Cardinal

All photos by Fred R. Cohen. See more of his work on his website.

About Fred R. Cohen (35 Articles)
Fred Cohen, a NYC-based photographer, has been taking pictures for over four decades. His work has been published by Harry N. Abrams, Time Magazine and The New York Times. He does commissioned work and sells images from his extensive library. You can see his more casual work on face book and are welcome to visit his website at