Indiana’s Northern Cardinal: More Than a Pretty Beak

1Seven States,100 Million Strong!


Once a popular caged pet, cardinalis cardinalis, or the northern cardinal, fell under the protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. One of eight species of cardinal, the northern cardinal thrives with a worldwide population of roughly 100 million (!) and is the state bird for seven states: Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and, of course, Indiana.

2Mars & Venus, Cardinal-Style

Only the male northern cardinal has the distinctive and brilliant red plumage. The female is a mix of gray and olive green, with only flecks of red. During courtship and incubation, the male often gathers seeds, nuts and insects and feeds the female, while she builds the nest. Cardinals are monogamous and pair bond for life.

3Cardinal Kids: Cute & Cuddly?

Cardinals lay clutches of 3-4 eggs, with an incubation period of 10 days to two weeks. Cardinals can live over 15 years in the wild and one captive bird lived almost 29 years, although the yearly survival rate for adult northern cardinals is roughly 65%.

4Cardinals: The Rabbit of the Bird World

Hatchlings turn into fledglings less than two weeks after hatching, and pairs can produce up to four broods a year! This insures that some chicks, which are hunted by squirrels, blue jays, small snakes and chipmunks, survive to maturity.

5Hair Club for Cardinals

In the late summer, bald-headed cardinals are often spotted by bird watchers. Growing brightly-colored feathers requires higher amounts of energy and with cold weather approaching, northern cardinals try to conserve nutrition. For some that means going full Telly Savalas!

6You Talking to Me?

Cardinals are among the most territorial of Midwestern birds. They often interrupt their pleasant bird song with a series of alarming chirps, given as a warning to a mate as well as to a possible invader. Size isn’t everything to cardinals, and it’s common to see them come at odds against the much larger blue jay.