Page 133 - A Field Guide to Fairfax County's Plants and Wildlife
P. 133
thern Cardinal

(Cardinalis cardinalis)


These are medium-sized
songbirds with an average
length of 20 to 23.5
centimeters. Adult males are
brilliant red with a black face
mask; females and juveniles are
a warm red-brown and have a
less-defined mask. Both sexes have a cone-shaped orange bill and a crest
of feathers on top of the head. Song: a liquid Birdy, birdy, BIRDY, chew, chew,
CHEW. Call: a bright, cheery Chip! Pairs mate for life and stay together year-
round. The male brings nesting materials to the female, who weaves them
into a cup-like nest. The female lays three or four eggs and does most of the
incubating, although the male may help. Pairs often re-nest and lay a new
batch of eggs, sometimes while the first brood of chicks is still dependent on
the parents. Northern Cardinals may raise up to four families a year this way.

Distribution and Habitat This is the state bird of Virginia (as
well as Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky,
Northern Cardinals live year-round North Carolina, Ohio and West
in all five physiographic provinces. Virginia)!
They prefer dense shrubby areas
such as forest edges, overgrown
fields, bushes and thickets, wetlands
and backyards.

Role in Food Web

Adults eat mainly seeds, buds, grains, fruits, berries and insects (they feed
their young almost exclusively on insects). They also sip maple sap from
holes made by woodpeckers. Northern Cardinals are preyed upon by a wide
variety of predators including falcons, hawks, shrikes and owls. Predators
of chicks and eggs include snakes, Blue Jays, Gray Squirrels, Eastern
Chipmunks and cats.

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