22 Unique Cardinal Facts You Likely Didn’t Know

Looking for some Cardinal facts to drop at your next bird trivia gathering? (That’s a thing…right?). You’ve come to the right place!

Northern Cardinals are one of the most beloved birds in the United States and there are plenty of facts to back that up. Read on for some unique facts on this beautiful bird!

I’m an avid bird feeder and the Northern Cardinal is my favorite visitor. I was inspired to do a bunch of research and share fun facts on this amazing bird! If you’re looking to draw Cardinals to a feeder, here’s a story on that topic that I wrote below.

Related: 5 Proven Ways to Attract Cardinals to a Feeder

Let’s jump in!

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Cardinal Facts #1: Cardinals are Monogamous (…Usually) and Mate For Life

A Cardinal male and female standing in the sand.
A Northern Cardinal couple looking stylish!

Cardinals make for picturesque couples. What’s even better? Northern Cardinals are usually monogamous and mate for life. That Cardinal couple you see outside of your kitchen window very well could be the same pair every single year!

Source: Penn State

Cardinals Facts #2: But They Do Cheat Sometimes

A cardinal hanging on a lawn decoration with grass in the background.
Who? Me?!

Okay…time for me to throw some cold water on Cardinal romance: Cardinals are USUALLY monogamous, but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes males will breed with multiple females. One study on breeding cardinals found that 9% to 35% of Cardinal nestlings were due to “extra-pair copulations.”

Sounds like a bird soap opera waiting to happen. Hopefully Netflix can make this happen soon.

It’s worth pointing out that this frisky behavior happens among most birds. Outside of a handful of species, very few birds are completely faithful to one mate their entire life.

Source: AnimalDiversity.com

Cardinals Facts #3: Males Court Females by Feeding Them

A male Northern Cardinal feeding a female Northern Cardinal sitting in a nest.
Male Cardinals will feed their mate food as they sit on the nest.

Alright, back to pleasant facts! Male Cardinals showcase they will be good providers for their offspring by bringing food to a female and feeding it to her beak-to-beak. Female Cardinals spend most of their time at the nest when she lays eggs. This display indicates that a male will be able to bring food to the female, giving their offspring a better chance at survival.

One of my all-time favorite sights at my bird feeder is seeing a male Cardinal snag a sunflower seed and feed it to accompanying female. It’s amazing to watch!

Video: Cornell Bird Lab

Source: Sciencing.com

Related Content: How to Attract 29+ Minnesota Birds to Your Feeders (With Photos)

Cardinal Fact #4. They Can Live to be 15-Years-Old

A bright red Northern Cardinal sitting on a deck.
As far as I know, there are no Cardinal retirement homes.

The oldest banded Northern Cardinal in the wild was a female that lived to more than 15-years-old. Their average lifespan in the wild is between 3-4 years.

There are also rumors of a 28.5-year-old Cardinal that was held in captivity, but I can’t find a source I trust to back this claim.

Source: Cornell Bird Lab

Cardinal Fact #5. Cardinals are Expanding Their Range North

The official range map of Northern Cardinals. Source: Wikipedia Commons

Cardinals are expanding their range, and it may be due to backyard bird feeders! In the past 30 years, Cardinals have arrived in more northern-Minnesota, Maine and southern Canada.

Source: Cool Green Science

Cardinal Fact #6. Cardinals Don’t Migrate

A bright red cardinal sitting on a tree stump during the winter.
The bright red color of Cardinals is especially striking in the winter.

Unlike many other birds, Cardinals don’t move to different regions for the winter or summer. In fact, most stay within one mile of where they were hatched! If you have Cardinals in your neighborhood or at your bird feeder, chances are that they will stick around the entire year!

Source: Noble Research Institute

Cardinal Fact #7. Not all Northern Cardinals Look the Same

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Bright red Cardinals are a beautiful sight in the snow.

Did you know a Cardinal will look slightly different across different sections of the country? There are 19 Cardinal subspecies. A lot of their variation is based on their size and the color of the female face masks. Cardinals in the south and central part of their range are also brighter compared to cardinals on the east coast.

There was even a proposal in 2014 to split Northern Cardinals into six species. It was voted down.

Source: Beauty of Birds

Source: Audubon

Cardinal Fact #8. They Will Attack Their Own Reflections

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Cardinals are territorial birds during the spring and summer during mating season. They’re so territorial that they’ll spend a long time fighting their own reflections on windows or car mirrors, thinking it’s another male Cardinal intruding on their turf.

To prevent Cardinals from doing this, you can buy and hang specialized birding window decals to deter reflections.

Source: The Cornell Lab

Cardinal Fact #9. They’re the State Bird of Seven States

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Cardinals are the state bird of Illinois, West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia. It’s the most popular state bird in the United States ahead of the Western Meadowlark, which is the state bird of six states.

Source: Beauty of Birds

Related Content: The Ultimate Bird Seed and Bird Food Guide (With Photos)

Cardinal Fact #10. They Get their Names from…Cardinals!

man, picture, painting-73999.jpg
These Cardinals!

I honestly used to think it was the other way around, but Cardinals got their name from the distinguished Catholic bishops by American colonists. The “Northern” part of their name comes from their ever-expanding range up north!

Source: Dictionary of Birds of the United States: Scientific and Common Names

Cardinal Fact #11. Their Feathers Are Red Due to Their Diet

male northern cardinal, perched on a log, semi-profile-4378483.jpg

Cardinals get their red color from a diet rich in carotenoids from native fruits like wild berries.

Source: The Farmer’s Almanac

Cardinal Fact #12. There are Very Rare Yellow Cardinals

Once in a blue moon, Cardinal males will be bright yellow. This is believed to be due to a genetic mutation that turns the pigments Cardinals get from food into a yellow instead of red.

Source (with images): Audubon

Cardinal Fact #13. A Group of Cardinals Are Called a College, Conclave, Radiance, or a Vatican

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Pictured: A Radiance of Cardinals.

I’m partial to a “college of Cardinals” or a “radiance of Cardinals”. That’s awesome.

Source: NPS.gov

Cardinal Fact #14. Cardinals Are Omnivores

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Cardinals are a common sight at bird feeding stations across their range.

Cardinals usually stick to eating fruits and seeds like sunflower, but they also eat insects and snails. They feed nestlings a diet almost completely made up of insects like spiders and mosquitoes (as if we needed another reason to love these birds).

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Cardinal Fact #15 Cardinals Sometime Go Bald

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This Northern Cardinal is having a bad hair day.

While going through their annual molting of feathers, some Cardinals go partially or completely bald (making them look vulture-like). If you see this happening, don’t worry…The feathers grow back within a few weeks!

Source: Tennessee Valley Audubon

Cardinal Fact #16. You Can Find Cardinals in Hawaii…and Bermuda!

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Cardinals are common across much of the United States and Mexico, but did you know you can also spot them in tropical Hawaii and Bermuda?

Cardinals were introduced to Hawaii in 1929 when a male escaped its cage in the capital of Honolulu. Eventually, its female companion was also released. Over the next couple of years more than 300 additional Cardinals were released on the islands. They are now common throughout the state. I can attest that during my honeymoon on the Big Island of Hawaii, I was greeted in the morning by the familiar sounds of a Cardinal. Neat!

Cardinal Fact #17. They May Protect Humans from West Nile Virus

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Photographed: Surpressor of the West Nile Virus

Another fact giving you more reason to love Cardinals! Researchers several years ago decided to study Cardinals and their relation to the West Nile virus in the United States. They found that even though Cardinals can be infected by the West Nile Virus, their bodies suppress the virus to the point that they’re much less likely to spread it back to mosquitoes.

Source: WebMD

Cardinal Fact #18. Female Cardinals Also Sing

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While not as red as the males, female Cardinals are also striking with orange beaks, red crests and wings!

Most female songbird species don’t sing at all. But a female Northern Cardinal does! She will often sing when she’s on her nest to communicate with her mate and signal where she is so he can deliver food. A mated pair of Cardinals share their own song phrases.

Source: Cornell Bird Lab

Cardinal Fact #19. There are 100,000,000 Cardinals in the World

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Cardinals are adaptable birds! They can live in cold or warm climates in a variety of habitat.

The population of Northern Cardinals has been steady in the last several decades. They’re adaptable to human development and may even benefit from it. Especially when bird feeders are placed outside. They are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, making it illegal to kill, capture, sell, trade, or transport Cardinals (along with other native birds).

You can also help Cardinals by avoiding or reducing your use of pesticides, cleaning your bird feeders regularly, and installing anti-window strike decals on your residence.

Related Content: Ranking the Effectiveness of Squirrel Bird Feeder Deterrents (2022)

Cardinal Fact #20. Cardinals Flock Together During the Winter

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“Put me on your Christmas Card”

As noted earlier, male Northern Cardinals are territorial during the mating season. But they calm down in the winter and will often flock with a group of Cardinals. This leads to an amazing colorful sight in the drab winter: More than a dozen bright-red Cardinals hanging out in a tree or patch of forest together. Christmas card material for sure!

Cardinal Fact #21. Their Favorite Food at Bird Feeders are Sunflower Seeds

A Female Northern Cardinal enjoying sunflower seeds on my patio during a winter afternoon.

Want to draw this beautiful bird into your yard? Put some black oil sunflower seed out on the ground or in a sturdy bird feeder! That’s all you really need to do. Cardinals are common feeder birds across their range. They quickly became my favorite visiting birds at my feeding station!

Related Content: A Quality Bird Seed Cardinals Will Love

Cardinal Fact #22. Cardinals are the Mascot for Two Professional Sports Teams and Numerous College Teams

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Definitely mascot material!

The Arizona Cardinals in the NFL and St. Louis Cardinals in MLB both have the bright red bird as their mascot. Cardinals are also the mascot for college teams like Illinois State University, University of Louisville, North Idaho College, Saint John Fisher College, and many others.