Northern Cardinal

Cardinalis cardinalis

Cardinalidae (cardinals, grosbeaks, buntings) in the order Passeriformes


Adult male upperparts are bright red with darker wings and tail. The head is crested. The area around the bill is black, and the large conical bill is red. Underparts are bright red. Females are buffy tan below and grayish brown above. Otherwise, they are similar to males, with reddish tinges in wings, tail, and crest. Immatures have a dark bill, and immature females lack the reddish tint to the plumage. Songs are clear, up- or down-slurred whistles. The call is a sharp “chip.”


Length: 8¾ inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).


Photo of female northern cardinal
Northern Cardinal (Female)


Photo of molting, bald-headed male northern cardinal
Northern Cardinal Molting


Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal

Newly-hatched cardinals

Two newly-hatched chicks in a nest with a brown speckled egg. The chicks have tufts of feathers on their heads, backs and wings. One bird has its beak open like it is asking for food.
Newly-hatched cardinals in Hermann, MO

Cardinal hatchlings

Two cardinal hatchlings in a nest. They are growing feathers, and the wing feather spines are prominent.
Cardinal hatchlings growing feathers
Habitat and conservation

"Redbirds" can be found in nearly every hedge, thicket, or berry patch during the summer whether in rural areas, towns, or suburbs. Sometimes people see bald-headed cardinals—cardinals without feathers on their heads. This condition usually is reported in summer and fall, when cardinals are molting, and new feathers usually grow in soon after.


Forages on the ground or in shrubs for insects, spiders, seeds, fruits, and berries. It is a frequent visitor to bird feeders for sunflower and other seeds.

image of Northern Cardinal distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide. They don’t migrate, though they may move around locally when conditions are bad.


Common permanent resident.

Life cycle

Cardinals sing from early February through August. Males whistle from the tops of saplings and, often, big trees. Cardinals nest in thickets, dense shrubs, and undergrowth, laying 3–4 eggs in a nest built of stems, twigs, bark, grass, and paper, lined with fine grass and hair. Incubation lasts 12–13 days, and the young are fledged in 9–10 days. There are usually two broods a year, though up to four are possible.

Human connections

This striking, common, conspicuous bird is especially loved in the St. Louis area, where it has been the mascot of that city’s professional baseball team since 1900. It is also the state bird of seven states and the mascot of many other sports teams as well.

Ecosystem connections

Many predators eat cardinals and their eggs and young. Cardinals and other birds that eat seeds and fruits play an important role in helping to disperse seeds, which can pass through the bird’s digestive system intact some distance from the parent plant.