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Northern Cardinal

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Is the Northern Cardinal right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Virginia Cardinal, Redbird

Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis

The basics:
The male Northern Cardinal is one of the world's most beautiful songbirds. As one of the most beloved birds in the United States, it has been named the official state bird of seven states. Its range has always extended south into Mexico and Central America, where it was formerly collected for sale in Europe and elsewhere.. In the twentieth century, the wild birds extended their range north to take advantage of bird feeders left out for them during cold and snowy winters. Although Americans can't keep this bird in their aviary except in the rare circumstance where they hold a license to rehab wild birds, they can easily enjoy close-up looks at its life in many areas for the price of filling a bird feeder.

Appearance:
The male Northern Cardinal is the well-known deep red bird with the flashy crest and tiny black face mask. The brownish female is the same shape, complete with crest, but her faded red colors are confined to her tail, wings, and crest.

Weight:
45 grams (1.6 oz.)

Size:
21 - 23 centimeters (8 - 9 in.)

Lifespan:
15 years

Behavior/temperament:
Both male and females can sing but the male is far more likely to. The males are often caring fathers who spend a lot of time on or near the ground feeding and watching new fledglings, while females return to sit on the next batch of eggs. Northern Cardinals do recognize the people who feed them.

Housing:
As aviary birds, Northern Cardinals tend to be nervous in cages. Showcase a pair or singing male in mid-sized to large well-planted enclosures. They are somewhat territorial and do best with one pair in a mixed-species aviary of birds that can hold their own, including compatible finches and/or softbills. Males can be combative with other birds with red in their plumage-- or even their own reflections. Make sure everybody has plenty of room and cover, or else consider placing each pair in its own planted flight.

As most Americans know, this tropical-looking species can be surprisingly tolerant of cold and snow as long as they have access to plenty of oil-rich seed and a snug shelter out of the wind.

Diet:
Anyone who has experience feeding waxbills should find it fairly easy to keep Northern Cardinals well-fed. The backbone of the diet is a high quality small seed mix, fresh enough to sprout – and you should test it by sprouting regularly. They love the milky seeding heads of grasses, in addition to the sprouts. You should also supply a finely chopped salad that includes greens, apple, carrot, and broccoli, as well as eggfood and/or a high quality finch pellet that the birds will eat.

As you approach the breeding season, offer plenty of tiny white-skinned mealworms, waxworms, small crickets, and perhaps ant pupae or fly larvae to bring them into season. You may find it worthwhile to make a small homemade insect trap, to provide them with moths and other insects to add variety.

Written by Elaine Radford