Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Important Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalis

By Brittany Friedel, Outdoor Education Intern

Few birds are as distinctive as the bright red cardinal. Even if you can’t tell a titmouse from a nuthatch, you can identify a cardinal.  Cardinals are medium sized birds, with prominent crests, and red bills.  Males are all red, with a black area surrounding their bills.  Females are olive to buffy brown colored, with red wings and tail.

The males’ red plumage is particularly striking in winter time, when they can often be seen sitting on a branch against a stark backdrop of white.  

Interestingly, the cardinal got its name from associations between the red robes of the cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church and their bright plumage.  Cardinal originally meant important, and to at least seven states, the cardinal is very important.  Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia all have the cardinal as their state bird.

Cardinals are often seen in edge habitats, areas that have both trees, shrubs, and open grasses.  They nest in thickets, vines, or shrubs and breed from March through August.  They will pick a home range and heartily defend their territory against other cardinals during the breeding season.  For this reason, you may see more cardinals at your feeder in the winter versus spring and summer.

Cardinals are monogamous and will sing beautiful duets with their mates, strengthening their bond.  Cardinals are one of a few species in which the females sing as well as the males. It's not unusual to hear them singing “cheer, cheer, cheer; purty-purty-purty-purty or sweet-sweet-sweet-sweet” together in the early spring mornings.

Winter is the perfect time to coax cardinals to your backyard with some strategically placed feeders.  Sunflower seeds are the top choice of cardinals.  They use their strong beaks to crack the case open after manipulating it sideways with their tongue.   They then spit the shell and swallow the seed.  cardinals prefer seed on trays, platforms, or even spread out on the ground.  Consider distance from your house or walkways, food type, weather protection, and possible predation when setting up a bird feeding station.  You might have to experiment with feeders and locations to determine the best combination for your particular situation.

It is also important to regularly check and clean your feeders.  Poorly maintained feeders and water stations can spread disease among the very birds you are trying to help and enjoy.

Get Out , Go Wild and enjoy some of Ohio’s native wildlife!