article and photo by Rose Collison
The male northern cardinal is perhaps responsible for prompting more people to open up a field guide than any other bird. They’re a perfect combination of familiarity and style, a shade of red that catches the eye. Even the brownish-red female sports a sharp crest and warm accents.
Cardinals don’t migrate, and they don’t molt into dull plumage, so they’re still breathtaking in winter’s snowy yards. In summer, their sweet whistles are one of the first sounds of the morning.
Pairs mate for life, and stay together year-round. Mated pairs sometimes sing together before nesting. During courtship they may also participate in a bonding behavior where the male collects food and brings it to the female, feeding her beak-to-beak. If the mating is successful, the mate-feeding may continue throughout the incubation.
The female usually builds a cup nest in a well concealed spot in dense shrub or a low tree, three to nine feet off the ground. The nest is made of twigs, bark strips, and grasses, lined with grasses or other plant fibers.