Return to Main Page   Dakota Birder Blog    

Northern Cardinal

Cardinalis cardinalis

Length: 9 inches Wingspan: 11.5 inches Seasonality: Permanent Resident
ID Keys: Male unmistakable, with all red body and crest.  Female also easily identified, with generally gray body with red washes, and distinctive crest.

Northern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisA favorite of many, the Northern Cardinal is the state bird of 7 states. A common bird of the eastern and southeastern U.S., the Northern Cardinal has expanded its range westward and northward in the past few decades, possibly due to availability of sunflower seeds and other items at residential feeders. South Dakota currently lies at the northwestern edge of its range.

Habitat: Wide variety of semi-open habitats with nearby thickets for nesting, including woodland edges and clearings, shelterbelts, parks, and residential areas.

Diet: Wide variety of items, including seeds, buds, flowers, waste grain, fruits and berries, and insects.

Behavior: Primarily feeds on the ground, or while moving through low brush and undergrowth. Will also readily adapt to using feeders. Males can be very aggressive when defending nesting territories.

Nesting: May through August.  The nest of a Northern Cardinal is a cup of grasses, twigs, weeds, strips of bark, and other plant materialo, lined with finer bits of plants.  The female usually lays 3 or 4 eggs, and she alone incubates them, although the male will bring her food during the incubation period.  When the eggs hatch, both parents help to feed them.  The young fledge after about 12 days.

Song: Northern Cardinal Song, also Northern Cardinal Call

Migration: Permanent Resident

Interactive eBird Map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Northern Cardinal sightings

Similar Species: Pyrrhuloxia of the southwestern U.S. is similar. No similar species in South Dakota.

Bird Feeders: Will attend feeders for sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, and various other seeds.

South Dakota "Hotspot": Not a difficult species to find in the state in proper habitat in the eastern part of the state. Numbers are highest in the southeastern part of South Dakota, where they can easily be found along riparian woodlands, city parks and suburban areas, and the state parks of the area such as Newton Hills State Park, Union Grove State Park, or the Big Sioux Recreation Area.

Conservation Status: Common and widespread, with range expanding over the last century. Range has expanded to the north and west in the Great Plains, including in South Dakota. Two potential causes have been given.  The first is a large increase in tree cover since European settlement began in North America.  Prior to human settlement, regular fire ensured that tree cover in the Great Plains was limited to riparian areas, draws, or other protected areas. Fire has been removed from the landscape, leading to substantial encroachment of woody plants in the Great Plains. Tree cover has also increased substantially because of the association of planted trees with human development, with cities and towns having extensive tree cover where none existed before, and even farming activity leading to many farmsteads with shelterbelts.  The second potential reason for the increase is climate change, as there's no doubt a warming climate has made the northern fringes of their range more hospitable.  Whatever the reasons, populations are strong and expanding, and the IUCN lists the Northern Cardinal as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Northern Cardinal

2) Texas Parks and Wildlife - Northern Cardinal

3) WhatBird - Northern Cardinal

Photo Information: May 9th, 2004 -- Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls -- Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Northern Cardinal photos.

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Northern Cardinal - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Northern Cardinal populations have been expanding their range to the north and west, a trend that also seems to be occurring in South Dakota.  Has now been occasionally found as far west as the Black Hills.

Additional Northern Cardinal Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Northern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalisNorthern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalis