Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis

Sylvia L. Halkin, Daniel P. Shustack, M. Susan DeVries, Jodie M. Jawor, and Susan U. Linville
Version: 2.0 — Published February 12, 2021


Welcome to Birds of the World!

You are currently viewing one of the free accounts available in our complimentary tour of Birds of the World. In this courtesy review, you can access all the life history articles and the multimedia galleries associated with this account.

For complete access to all accounts, a subscription is required.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign in


Throughout range found in areas with shrubs and/or small trees, including forest edges and interior, shrubby areas in logged and second-growth forests, marsh edges, grasslands with shrubs, successional fields, hedgerows in agricultural fields, plantings around buildings (190, 191, 192), peatlands (193), riparian forests (194, 195, 154, 196), mangrove forests (197, 198, 199), and desert scrub (197, 154, 200).

Needs woody plants with dense foliage for nesting, and selects nest sites that are in denser vegetation than random points in the same habitat patch (201; see Breeding: Nest Site), also needs conspicuous locations for song perches (190). In eastern Texas (50) for 27 territories: mean foliage density (m2/m3) at ground level, 0.27 ± 0.17 SD; at 1 m, 0.13 ± 0.05 SD; at 2 m, 0.12 ± 0.06 SD; at 3 m, 0.08 ± 0.04 SD; at 7–13 m, 0.04 ± 0.06 SD; at 13–20 m, 0.04 ± 0.06 SD; at > 20 m, 0.20 ± 0.37 SD; percent of territory covered by a closed tree canopy 26.9% ± 25.4 SD; vegetation height 13.4 m ± 6.7 SD; and ground cover 42.9% ± 26.7 SD.

In Sonora, common in floodplain rancheria fencerows containing mesquite (Prosopis) and graythorn (Condalia lycioides) (141), and desert scrub containing mesquite, feather tree (Lysiloma watsonii), Pithecellobium spp., acacias, and mimosas (197).

Winter habitat use is similar to summer. Summer abundance of adults is higher versus winter abundance in the same forested study plots (central Ohio, 201); occupancy rates are higher in the same shrubby plots in Alabama in summer versus winter (202). Lower numbers of adults in winter could be accounted for by cardinals leaving their territories to join foraging flocks (see Behavior: Spacing), or to visit bird feeding stations (see Diet and Foraging: Feeding: Microhabitat for Foraging). In central Ohio, winter abundance is best explained by minimum January temperatures, with higher cardinal densities in warmer urban forests than in colder rural forests (201). In south Texas (192), winter population density generally increased with shrub density and soil moisture as follows: grass-forb prairie 47/km2 (based on 12 km of transects in 4.1 km2 of habitat); scrubby grassland 2/km2 (based on 15 km of transects in 6.1 km2 of habitat); open brushland 67/km2 (based on 14 km of transects in 6.6 km2 of habitat); dense brushland 106/km2 (based on 11 km of transects in 3.6 km2 of habitat); 2–layer brushland 114/km2 (based on 12 km of transects in 2.1 km2 of habitat); oak woodland 148/km2 (based on 14 km of transects in 1.7 km2 of habitat); and riverine forest 692/km2 (based on 11 km of transects in 1.15 km2 of habitat); data from 8.33 hours of walking transects in each habitat type.

Abundant in fragmented landscapes (203), as long as local habitat characteristics are appropriate (204, 205). Higher abundances in narrower than broader strips of riparian forest, likely because of the greater abundance of edge habitat and dense vegetation (206). Urban woodlands generally support greater abundances and densities, compared to commensurate rural woodlands (51, 207).

Recommended Citation

Halkin, S. L., D. P. Shustack, M. S. DeVries, J. M. Jawor, and S. U. Linville (2021). Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald and B. K. Keeney, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.norcar.02