Making his home in much of the United States, the cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is often called the redbird, the northern cardinal and the common cardinal. The redbird is the official bird of seven states. With his bright red body, the male stands out against his surroundings, whereas the female displays red accents on a mostly brown body. Living as long as 15 years, the cardinal measures 8 to 9 inches and weighs between 1.5 and 1.8 ounces. This beautiful bird fills his surroundings with calls and songs and employs a process to find and establish the right habitat.
Although cardinals are prevalent in many United States locations, they gravitate toward the Southeast with its warmer temperatures. They have expanded their territory as far north as Canada. Unlike other birds, the cardinal does not migrate. This affords these birds a lengthy breeding season; they nest lasting from around the end of February all the way to the end of August or into September.
Within their geographic range, cardinals are fairly broad when it comes to the types of habitats they select. Not shy about living near humans, they sometimes choose more populated areas, including forest edges, woodlands, fields, parks and backyards. Food attracts cardinals to an area; their native, wild diet consists of fruit, sap, seeds and grains. Bird feeders draw cardinals to backyards.
Possible nesting sites include trees, vines, hedges, shrubs and landscaped areas. Cardinals like pines, hemlock, spruce, red cedar, sugar maples, elms, box elder, hawthorn, dogwood, rose bushes and honeysuckle. Spots for nests can be up to 15 feet off the ground. One key benefit to such a height is its distance from many predators. Dense bushes, shrubs and foliage offer further protection.
Once they settle in a particular habitat locale, cardinals get to work on the all-important task of creating nests, which takes three to nine days to complete. The male and female work as a team to build the nest, with the male bringing materials to the female, who performs most of the building work. Nest materials include twigs, stems, leaves, grasses, grapevine, pine needles and even small pieces of trash. A completed cardinal nest measures about 3 inches in height and 4 inches in diameter. In their nests, these birds produce and raise one or two broods of young each year, with each of these clutches including between two and five eggs. Cardinals stay busy making nests, because they typically only use each nest once.
Once they establish their habitat and territory, male cardinals adamantly defend it, especially against other male cardinals and during the spring and early summer. They sometimes attack intruders who attempt to enter their territory. When a cardinal sees his reflection in a glass surface, such as a window or mirror, he can mistakenly think this is another cardinal, which leads him to attack the window or mirror.
Judy Wilson has writing and editing expertise in health, technology, pets, business and travel. She has contributed to USAToday.com, SFGate.com and numerous other publications. Wilson earned a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and mass communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she completed Mini Medical School.