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10 Fascinating Facts About Northern Cardinals: The Beloved Songbirds of North America

The Bee Hummingbird, or Mellisuga helenae, is the smallest bird in the world and is native to Cuba. In this article, we will learn more about the identification of this bird, its plumages, and molts.


Field Identification:

The Bee Hummingbird measures around 5-6 centimeters in length, and it has a wingspan of around 7.5 centimeters. The upperparts of the bird are iridescent green, while the underparts are grayish-white with reddish-brown markings around the throat.

The male Bee Hummingbird, which is smaller than the female, has a deep violet-blue cap, whereas the female has a green crown. Similar Species:

The Bee Hummingbird resembles some other bird species, such as the Purple-throated Carib and the Emerald Hummingbird, both of which have the same iridescent green upperparts and reddish-brown markings.

Nevertheless, these birds are much larger than the Bee Hummingbird, and they do not have the same distinguishing characteristics, such as the violet-blue cap in the male Bee Hummingbird. Plumages:

The Bee Hummingbird has various plumages throughout its life cycle, and these can give clues about their age and sex.

Juvenile Plumage:

After hatching, the juveniles have uniformed brownish-gray feathers that cover their entire body. Adult Plumage:

In the male Bee Hummingbirds, their adult plumage is simply dark iridescent green and deep violet-blue on their forehead, neck, and throat.

In contrast, the female Bee Hummingbirds have multifaceted grey, white, and tan-colored feathers, with a green crown on their heads. Molts:

Molts refer to the process of birds replacing their feathers.

The Bee Hummingbird goes through two molts a year: the Pre-Breeding molt and Post-Breeding molt. Pre-Breeding Molt:

The Pre-Breeding molt starts at the end of March and ends in May or June, where the process of growing new feathers begins.

These new feathers, which are brighter and more colorful than the old ones, are essential for attracting mates during the breeding season. Thus, males in their prime breeding age, from the second year onwards, have the most prominent colors, as their feathers are newer and brighter.

Post-Breeding Molt:

The Post-Breeding molt takes place in August and September, where adult feathers are replaced to maintain the bird’s health. In conclusion, the Bee Hummingbird is a fascinating bird species that is unique due to its small size.

Its distinguishing features, such as the iridescent green underparts, reddish-brown markings, and the deep violet-blue cap in males, set it apart from other bird species. Understanding the various plumages and molts of the Bee Hummingbird can provide valuable insights into the bird’s life cycle and help us learn more about this amazing species.

Systematics History:

The Northern Cardinal, or Cardinalis cardinalis, is a bird species that belongs to the family Cardinalidae and is native to North and Central America. The first scientific description of the Northern Cardinal was by Carl Linnaeus in 1758.

However, the systematics history of the Northern Cardinal has undergone several changes over time. Geographic Variation:

The Northern Cardinal exhibits geographic variation in its physical characteristics, such as its body size, beak size and shape, and coloration.

These variations are shaped by environmental factors such as food availability, temperature, and humidity. For example, birds that live in wetter regions tend to have more robust beaks for cracking open hard seeds, which are abundant in those areas.


Over the years, several subspecies of the Northern Cardinal have been described. However, the systematics and validity of some of these subspecies are still a topic of debate among ornithologists.

Currently, there are six recognized subspecies of the Northern Cardinal:

1. Cardinalis cardinalis cardinalis – Eastern United States


Cardinalis cardinalis canicaudus – Florida, the Bahamas, Cuba

3. Cardinalis cardinalis floridanus – Southern Florida


Cardinalis cardinalis igneus – Texas and the western Gulf Coast

5. Cardinalis cardinalis littoralis – Southeastern California and Baja California


Cardinalis cardinalis superbus – Western and Central Mexico

Related Species:

The Northern Cardinal is a member of the Cardinalidae family, which includes birds such as the Pyrrhuloxia, the Vermilion Cardinal, and the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Despite their similarities, these birds have physical and behavioral differences that distinguish them from one another and make them unique.

For example, the Pyrrhuloxia has a distinctive beak that is adapted to eating prickly pear fruits, while the Vermilion Cardinal is smaller in size and has a brighter red plumage. Historical Changes to Distribution:

Over the years, the distribution of the Northern Cardinal has undergone significant changes.

Before the European colonization of North America, the Northern Cardinal was primarily restricted to the southeastern United States. However, with the expansion of human settlement and agriculture, the population of the Northern Cardinal has grown, and the bird has spread northward, westward, and even into urban areas.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Northern Cardinal began to expand its range northward into Canada and westward into the Great Plains. This expansion was aided by the planting of hedgerows and other woody vegetation, which provided suitable habitat for the birds.

Today, the Northern Cardinal is a common sight in many parts of the United States, and it can even be found as far north as southern Canada. In recent years, there has been concern about the impact of climate change on the distribution of the Northern Cardinal.

Rising temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns could alter the bird’s habitat and food availability, which could have a significant impact on the species. Scientists are closely monitoring these changes to better understand how they may affect the Northern Cardinal and other bird species in the future.

In conclusion, the Northern Cardinal is an iconic bird species that has undergone significant changes in its systematics history and distribution. The geographic variation and subspecies of the Northern Cardinal have added to our understanding of the bird’s evolution and adaptation to different environments.

The expansion of the Northern Cardinal’s range and the impact of climate change highlights the interconnectedness of all living organisms and the importance of protecting our natural world. Habitat:

The Northern Cardinal is a bird species that is commonly found in North and Central America.

Cardinals have adjusted to living in many different environments, from deserts to deciduous forests to thickets. They are known for their strong preference for areas with cover for protection and easy access to food and water.

The northern cardinal is a non-migratory bird that can adapt to various habitats, including hedgerows, grasslands, woodlands, and suburban landscapes. Shrubbery and dense vegetation provide excellent habitats for these birds, and they are often found near urban parks, gardens, and lawn areas.

Cardinals typically build their nests around shrub-cover and dense vegetation near backyards where there is food sources available.

Movements and Migration:

The Northern Cardinal is primarily a non-migratory bird, which means they do not undertake extensive seasonal migrations.

Cardinals are known for their territorial behavior and will often defend their nesting areas against predators and other birds year-round. However, some northern cardinals may move small distances during breeding seasons, although most movements are shorter and more local than the migrations of other bird species.

But while Northern Cardinals may not undertake long-distance seasonal migrations, they might engage in shorter journeys when food sources dwindle, or their regular habitats prove unsuitable. Inhabiting such diverse geography in terms of latitude, Cardinals have flexible migratory behaviors; some populations from the northern part of the range will migrate into the southern regions, where food is abundant during cold weather.

Some birds will move between habitats as changing climate conditions make them more or less suitable for breeding or survival. Cardinals that reside in more unpredictable weather patterns, such as Western Canada and the Midwest United States, may exhibit some limited migratory behaviors.

In the winter, some birds may spread out beyond their breeding range into the northern fringes, while others may venture south toward warm coastal areas in Florida and Mexico. In conclusion, while Northern Cardinals are primarily non-migratory birds, they exhibit a range of movements and adaptation behaviors to meet their needs of food and habitat requirements.

Their distribution shows a dynamic response to climate conditions, with movements of populations taking place over time in response to changes in habitat suitability and food availability. Cardinals have adapted well to human-influenced habitats and have become a common sight in urban settings, provided there is access to essential resources such as food, water, and shelter.

Understanding the movements and habitat preferences of the Northern Cardinal is essential to developing effective conservation strategies that will ensure their survival for years to come. Diet and Foraging:


The Northern Cardinal is primarily a seed-eating bird, but supplements its diet with insects, fruit, and berries, especially during the breeding season.

Cardinals are ground feeders and primarily search for food on the ground, so they spend a lot of time searching for seeds, berries, and other small food items.

During the winter when food is scarce, Cardinals rely more on seeds, especially those from trees such as mulberry, dogwood, and redbud.

When the breeding season arrives, the Northern Cardinal also includes insects in its diet, which provide the essential nutrients for its growth and reproductive success. Diet:

When it comes to nesting, female Northern Cardinals will seek out higher protein and fat sources, meaning that they spend less time feeding on grass and more time hunting insects.

Some of the most common insect meals include beetles, flies, ants, cicadas, and grasshoppers. Young Northern cardinals feed mainly on insects, and a diet rich in small, large insects and seeds supplemented with fruit is essential for healthy growth and feather development.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation:

Northern Cardinals are endothermic, meaning they generate their own body heat to maintain their internal temperature without relying on external conditions. These birds have an efficient metabolic rate, which allows them to maintain their body temperature even during the cold winter temperatures.

Their metabolism is necessary for sustaining their active lifestyles and allow them to regulate their body temperature.

During the cold season, Northern Cardinals will look for shelter to maintain metabolism rates as ambient temperature affects the birds’ functions.

Their feathers also help preserve heat since it traps the warmed air close to their bodies, thus conserving the energy and heat loss. Sounds and Vocal Behavior:


The vocalizations of the Northern Cardinal are well known, as these birds are often heard before they are seen.

Their songs consist of varied, melodious whistles, with a range of different notes arranged in an organized and distinct pattern. Northern Cardinals also incorporate other calls, including alarms, flight calls, and contact calls into their vocal repertoire.

Male Northern Cardinals sing not only to attract females but also to mark their territories. They sing from an elevated branch, and their high pitched, sharp clear song is strong and distinctive.

Although their songs are similar, each bird has a distinctive voice, which they often use to announce their presence and their territory.

Females produce a quiet “chip” sound that is often heard during the nesting season when they are protecting their young.

These birds also use different calls to alert one another to the presence of danger or to communicate with other birds in their group. In conclusion, the Northern Cardinal’s diet primarily comprises seeds, insects, fruit, and berries, all of which provide essential nutrients for meeting their metabolic needs.

In addition, their efficient metabolic rates allow them to maintain their body temperature, while thick feathers help reduce heat loss during colder temperatures. When it comes to vocalizations, the Northern Cardinal has a variety of different calls and songs.

Their elaborate whistles and songs play multiple roles, from attracting mates to marking territories and communicating in the flock. Observing and understanding the diet and vocal behavior of the Northern Cardinal is key to gaining insights into their lifestyle and ecological role.



Northern Cardinals are not strong fliers. Instead, they mainly travel short distances by hopping or gliding from one branch to another.

Cardinals are also capable of walking and running along branches or the ground, which they do quite well due to their powerful legs and feet.

Moreover, when they take off, their wings flap in strong, labored beats, which helps them gain enough momentum to keep them aloft.

Compared to other bird species that fly more often, Northern Cardinals prefer shorter hops and limits their travel to short distances from their preferred habitats. Self Maintenance:

Northern Cardinals are fastidious in their grooming, and they spend a considerable amount of time preening their feathers to maintain proper functioning and appearance.

They keep their bills clean by wiping them on their perches or using their feathers, which also helps prevent infection and disease.

These birds also use an oil gland near their tail to secrete oil, which they spread over their feathers, making them more water-resistant and aiding in flight.

Northern Cardinals also have a unique behavior of ‘sunbathing,’ tilting their bodies and exposing their breast feathers to the sun- this behavior is considered as the bird thermoregulating and keeping itself free from feather lice or mites. Agonistic Behavior:

Northern Cardinals are known for their territorial behavior and are often seen defending their breeding and feeding territories against other Cardinals or predator birds.

Male Cardinals use visual, vocal, and physical displays, such as fluffing their feathers, standing tall, and lunging at the threat.

Females also defend the nest site and their young in the presence of intruding birds or predators by calling out warnings while continuing to incubate their eggs or feed their young.

Sexual Behavior:

Male Northern Cardinals use their bright red plumage and distinctive songs to attract females and establish their territory. Males often perch in exposed areas and sing loudly to announce their presence to female birds in the area.

When a female bird responds, the male will court her with elaborate displays. This can involve presenting her with food or performing a “courtship dance” to make himself look attractive.


The Northern Cardinal breeding season is mostly from March to September, with breeding pairs typically producing two or three clutches of eggs over the course of a season. The nesting site is selected by the female, and the male will bring nesting materials to assist in building their nest together.

Once the nest is complete, the female will lay one to five eggs, which she incubates for around 12-13 days. After hatching, both parents work together to feed the newly hatched chicks an invertebrate-based diet.

Demography and Populations:

The Northern Cardinal is a relatively common bird species, with robust populations throughout its range. Populations of Northern Cardinals have benefited from human disturbance and urbanization.

Humans provided them with supplemental food sources and habitat in gardens, which are suitable for their foraging habits. Cardinals have also adapted to urban green spaces and parks that are typically scattered throughout sprawling cities.

As a result, populations of Northern Cardinals have remained relatively stable over the years. However, some studies indicate that populations may be declining in more rural areas due to habitat degradation, fragmentation, and conversion to agricultural landscapes.

In conclusion, the Northern Cardinal’s behavior, including its locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic behavior, sexual behavior, breeding, demography and populations, highlights their fascinating lifestyle. Northern Cardinals are social birds, active year-round, and have a rich dialect and communication system among themselves.

Their adaptability, territorial behavior, and nesting habits exhibit much of their ecology and role within their ecosystems. Finally, understanding their behavior pattern provides us important knowledge that helps research, conservation, management, and breeding strategies.

In conclusion, this article delved into various aspects of the Northern Cardinals, one of the most recognizable and beloved songbirds native to North and Central America. We learned about the various topics covering everything from identification to behavior, diet, breeding, population, and demography, highlighting their ecological and behavioral significance and impact on the surrounding environment.

The study of the Northern Cardinals’ behavior ecology tells us how stressful environmental changes influence bird populations and how human interventions and urbanization alter ecosystems’ dynamics. Understanding the Northern Cardinals’ behavior and ecology can help protect and manage their populations, safeguard their habitats, and support their role in maintaining the entire ecosystem’s biodiversity.

With more observation, research, and conservation management, we can maintain healthy populations and sustain the rich biodiversity that Northern Cardinals and many other bird species exhibit.

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