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Virginia state bird – Northern Cardinal

The Northern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalis - is found in southern Canada, through the eastern United States from Maine to Texas and south through Mexico. It is found in woodlands, gardens, shrublands, and swamps.


The male is slightly larger than the female. The male is a brilliant crimson red with a black face mask over the eyes, extending to the upper chest. The color is dullest on the back and wings. The female is fawn, with mostly grayish-brown tones and a slight reddish tint on the wings, the crest, and the tail feathers. The face mask of the female is gray to black and is less defined than that of the male. Both sexes possess prominent raised crests and bright coral-colored beaks. The beak is cone-shaped and strong. Young birds, both male and female, show the coloring similar to the adult female until the fall, when they molt and grow adult feathers.


The Northern Cardinal is a territorial song bird. The male sings in a loud, clear whistle from the top of a tree or another high location to defend his territory. He will chase off other males entering his territory. Both sexes sing clear, whistled song patterns, which are repeated several times, then varied. It has a distinctive alarm call, a short metallic 'chip' sound.


The diet of the Northern Cardinal consists mainly of weed, grains, and fruits. It is a ground feeder and finds food while hopping on the ground through trees or shrubbery. It also eats insects. During the summer months, it shows preference for seeds that are easily husked, but is less selective during winter, when food is scarce. Northern Cardinals feed their young almost exclusively on insects.


Pairs mate for life, and they stay together year-round. During courtship, the male feeds seed to the female beak-to-beak. Males sometimes bring nest material to the female, who does most of the building. The female builds a cup nest in a well-concealed spot in dense shrub or a low tree one to three meters off the ground. A clutch of three to four eggs is laid. The eggs are white, with a tint of green, blue or brown, and are marked with lavender, gray, or brown blotches which are thicker around the larger end. Incubation takes 12 to 13 days. Young fledge 10 to 11 days after hatching. Two to three, and even four, broods are raised each year. The male cares for and feeds each brood as the female incubates the next clutch.

Conservation Status – Least Concern.

It was once prized as a pet, but its sale as cage birds is now banned. It has an estimated global range of 5,800,000 square kilometers and a global population estimated to be about 100,000,000 individuals.


The Northern Cardinal is found in residential areas throughout its range. Backyard birders attract it using feeders containing seeds. A common species throughout its range.

Virginia Birding Hotspots

Chincoteague NWR

Chesapeake Bay NWR

Great Falls Park

Kliptopeke State Park

Shenandoah National Park

Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR

Harrison Lake

Eastern Virginia Rivers NWR Complex

Featherstone NWR

Fisherman Island NWR

Great Dismal Swamp NWR

James River NWR

Occoguan Bay NWR

Mason Neck NWR

Nansemond NWR

Plum Tree Island NWR

Presquile NWR

Rappahannock NWR

Wallops Island NWR

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