Lady Cardinal

Lisa G. Putman

Joined November 2007

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Female Northern Cardinal.

Canon EOS 30D 70-200mm f/2.8 L with 2x Ext.; 1/400 of a sec.; F/7.1; ISO Rating 400; llens focal length 400 mm; Handheld; No Flash; 5:55 p.m. 3/23/2010; Memphis, TN, USA

The Northern Cardinal or “Redbird” is probably one of most popular visitors to backyard bird feeders. Its range extends over most of the eastern USA, parts of extreme southeastern Canada, and south through Mexico to Belize. It has also been introduced to Hawaii. Its variable call, a loud “cheer cheer cheer” or “purty purty purty,” is sung by both sexes and can be heard year round. Cardinals are nonmigratory, but some movement does occur in the later summer and fall. The adult male is bright red with a black face and red bill. The adult female is buff-brown with a red tinge to the crest, wings and tail. Like the male, the face is black and the bill orange. The powerful cone shaped bill is adapted for its diet of seeds and insects. In areas of the southwest and Mexico, this bill shape can be used to distinguish female and juvenile Northern Cardinals from the similar Pyrrhuloxia. The bill of the Pyrrhuloxia is strongly downcurved. Juveniles are similar to the adult female. The bill of the juvenile is black, changing to a horn or cream color before attaining its bright red adult color. Upper wing coverts of the adult male are red. Those of the female are duller. Cardinals have 9 primary feathers. They become worn and broken and are replaced during the next molt occurring in the later summer and fall.

The female builds a nest of small twigs and grasses in a shrub or brushy tangle. From 3 to 4 eggs, incubated by the female, hatch in just under two weeks. Both parents tend the young. Two, three or four broods may be raised in a breeding season. The male will tend the brood while the female starts the next brood.

Even though Northern Cardinal nests are frequently parasitized by Cowbirds, their populations are increasing, and their range is expanding northward and westward. There can be little doubt that the popularity of backyard bird feeding is contributing to the population and range increases of this species.

Artwork Comments

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