A friend tagged me in a Facebook post the other day of a funny cartoon about a Northern Cardinal.
In the cartoon, a beautiful male cardinal is singing for a group of birdwatchers, and they’re unimpressed and say, “it’s just a cardinal,” and set out to find some good birds.
The cardinal isn’t happy with the birdwatchers’ comments, so he reads a bird guide, studying his species range.
Mr. Cardinal heads to Oregon, instantly becomes a rarity, basking in the praise from local birdwatchers.
Click here to see the funny cartoon.
Cardinal is Most Easily Recognized Bird
Besides making me laugh, the cartoon makes me realize that birds we see every day can’t be seen everywhere in the U.S., yet the Northern Cardinal is one of the most familiar and easily recognizable birds in North America.
The bird is so familiar that its scientific name is Cardinalis cardinalis. The same name twice for impact.
Cardinals are easier to see in your backyard because of their breathtakingly bright red plumage.
But that’s when you can spot them.
Even though males are bright red all year round, and females are a muted, brownish version of the males, these birds can be challenging to spot as they prefer spending their time in dense shrubs where branches obscure our view.
I often hear cardinals before seeing them, and once I hear their metallic chip, chip, chip call, I scan the branches and find them.
The best times to see cardinals in the yard at your feeders are at dawn and dusk.
They’re the first birds to your feeders in the morning and the last ones to leave at night.
During these hours, the birds have less competition from other songbirds, and in the low light, the male’s vibrant coloring makes them more inconspicuous to predators.
Red Bird for Inspiration
Other birds can be challenging to identify, but the cardinal is a great way to begin birdwatching and instantly make it rewarding.
According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the male Northern Cardinal is responsible for getting more people to open up a field guide than any other bird.
Cardinals are the perfect combination of familiarity, conspicuousness, and bold style: a vibrant shade of red, you can’t take your eyes off.
The Northern Cardinal is so beloved that Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia named it their state bird.
But it’s when the holidays approach that even people who aren’t birdwatchers appreciate these beautiful birds.
The Holiday Bird
We might be singing about partridges in a pear tree, but it’s the Northern Cardinal that takes a starring role on holiday cards, ornaments, wrapping paper, clothing, neckties, and home decor.
As soon as the weather gets chilly, cardinals are in season everywhere, and for a good reason.
They look stunning in a pine tree against a backdrop of fresh snow.
These birds are hardy and survive the coldest winters living in flocks with other cardinals.
And who cannot resist that beautiful pop of color during the dull winter?
Cardinals Warm Our Hearts
But most important, these birds warm our hearts all year long if we live in their range.
Cardinals are abundant in the Southeast and have been extending their range northward for decades. These beautiful songbirds brighten dreary winter days with their bright color and beautiful whistled song as far north as southeastern Canada.
Mated pairs are strongly territorial and defend their nesting turf from rival birds, so these birds stick around.
We’ve been fortunate to have flocks of cardinals in our yard, and they’re happy tenants accepting us as their humans as much as we think we’ve adopted them.
Big Red, as we affectionately call the elder male in the flock, is a cherished gift to see every day.
It’s so enjoyable watching Big Red, and his lock raise their family that all begins with a courtship kiss when a male feeds food to a female he is romancing.
Then we get to watch their family grow and play a small part in providing them with their favorite birdseed, sunflower chips from Wild Birds Unlimited, keeping them sustained throughout the year.
I’ve read comments from people all over the world wishing a cardinal would migrate to their neck of the woods, and I’ve never taken for granted how lucky we are to have these stunning birds in North America.
So imagine someone saying, “Oh, that’s just a cardinal!”
No. That’s a magnificent songbird and an incredible gift from nature that adds color to our lives, goes out on a limb every day, speaks up, and stands out in a crowd.
Behold the spectacular Northern Cardinal.