Beloved for its beautiful red feathers and cheerful song, the northern cardinal is a welcome visitor to gardens across North America. Here are some fun facts about this treasured bird:
Year-Round Feathered Friends
Despite having “northern” in their name, cardinals' original range was mainly in the southern part of the eastern United States. Cardinal territories expanded northward around 1900 as cities and suburbs grew, and people began putting out birdfeeders which provided a food source during winter months. They prefer to live in small woodlands, brushy fields, wetlands, and suburban gardens.
If you want to entice cardinals into your yard, sunflower seeds are their favourite snack.
Red Food, Red Bird
Male cardinals are a stunning vibrant red colour, while females are more muted with mostly grey feathers with red accents. The trademark colour comes from their food. Some seeds and fruits contain pigments called yellow carotenoids that turn red inside the cardinals’ bodies.
To protect their babies in the nest, male cardinals will allow their feathers to dull to brown to stay hidden from predators, such as owls.
Gardening for the Birds
If you want cardinals to visit your garden, flowers such as sunflowers, marigolds, black-eyed susans, and poppies produce seeds that cardinals can’t resist. Cardinals will not roost in birdhouses; they build nests in shrubs and low trees. Planting sumac, mulberry, blueberry, dogwood, crabapple and spruce will increase your chance of attracting cardinals as neighbours.
Cardinals also require a regular supply of fresh water, such as a pond or river, so providing a birdbath will also encourage these stunning feathered visitors.