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Northern Cardinal


The cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is the state bird of Ohio. It is well known for its rich, distinctive call. The cardinal's song is usually a repetition of short whistled phrases with some notes run together; for instance: What-cheer-cheer-cheer, or Who-it, who-it, who-it, or Birdy, birdy, birdy. There is also a sharp clink sound the bird makes as a call note. Cardinals can usually be found singing near the top of the tallest tree in their territory.

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The male cardinal is an unmistakable brilliant red with black facial markings and a crested head. Females also have a head crest, but overall are duller in coloration. Female cardinals are a grayish, brown-red with true red only on their wings, tail, and crest. The red bill is also a distinguishing characteristic. As with many other species of birds, the muted appearance makes the female cardinal less conspicuous to predators when nesting.


In Ohio, cardinals begin nest building in April. Females construct the nest, usually in a dense bush or thick brush pile. The nest is a loosely built structure of leaves, twigs, grasses, and strips of bark. Nests are generally less than eight feet off the ground. Females take sole responsibility for incubating the 3 or 4 eggs over 12-13 days. The male brings food to his mate while she incubates and he also feeds the young after hatching as the female is often incubating another clutch of eggs; cardinals typically hatch 2 or 3 broods each year. After leaving the nest about 10 days after hatching, the fledglings are cared for by the male for about three weeks.

Habitat & Behavior

Cardinals prefer a mixed habitat of woodlands, brush, and forest edges. They eat a variety of seeds that their thick, cone-shaped beak is well adapted to handling, as well as some insects. Cardinals do not migrate, but individuals may wander over a widespread area. As with most wildlife species, cardinals have a very short life span. Most cardinals live only one year or less; a two- or three-year-old bird is rare. The mulitple broods of young in a year help offset the loss of older birds in the population.