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.
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.
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.
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.
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.