Sunday, July 18, 2010

New Bird!

This immature northern cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis, showed up on the porch this week. It looks like its dad -- crested and thick-billed -- but it has not yet acquired its adult colors.

This bright male is probably the father. He has been visiting our porch for seeds and peanuts for a few years, especially during winter when food is hard to find and for the last few weeks while he has been feeding his new family. 

The female cardinal is mainly brown like the immature, but she has a bright orange bill and red highlights.

During mating season males often feed females, passing a bit of food from his beak to hers. Cardinal form pairs in spring, when males define and begin to defend territories – like the garden behind our building.

Females build bowl-shaped nests in privet and rose bushes, briars, lilacs, honeysuckle, hardwood saplings, young evergreens, and shrubs. The nest is usually placed between four and five feet from the ground. They build with weed stems, small flexible twigs, bark strips, grass, vines, rootlets, leaves and paper.

Cardinal eggs are dotted, spotted, and blotched with brown on a grayish-white background. Females incubate while males bring food. It's a perilous business; many eggs are lost to cats, blue jays, nest collapse, wind, and other accidents. But cardinals are persistent. It they lose a nest, they build another.

When a clutch of eggs hatches, the female often starts a new nest while the father takes over raising the hatchlings. Two nests mean twice as many trips to my window! Over the last month, the male cardinal has been visiting a few times a day; he sits on the sill looking in, chipping loudly, and waving his wings for attention.

Cardinals are famous for using the same feeding and nesting spots year after year. They can live for more than ten years. We have lots of visits to look forward to!

There is more information about urban birds in my book, A Field Guide to Urban Wildlife of North America, which will be published by Stackpole Books in spring 2011. 


  1. Julie, I found your blog when I was looking for other people talking about urban and suburban wildlife. I am enjoying it very much and am looking forward to your book.
    I recently saw a cardinal fledgling that was under close supervision of a male and managed to fly into and land on my bean plants while I was picking them. (S)he seemed slightly browner than the bird in your photo.

  2. Hi Bill,

    I'm glad you like the blog. Our male cardinal has been showing up with the fledgling regularly and feeding him pieces of peanuts. They are a noisy pair with the parent announcing himself and the fledgling begging. Julie

  3. What a great blog you have!!!! We are watching our back yard cardinals
    empty our bird feeder every day!