Thursday, December 22, 2016

Northern Cardinals Cheer the Landscape

Northern Cardinals, or “redbirds”, are flocking to North Texas backyard bird feeders this week, and are an especially cheery sight with their red or reddish brown plumage contrasting so well with the winter-browned trees and lawns and occasional evergreens. The bright red color makes them a favorite subject for holiday cards also.  Bird Watcher's Digest points out that the  Northern Cardinal, also known as  Cardinal grosbeak and Virginia nightingale, is not the "reddest" bird in North America.  This honor goes to the male summer tanager; the male northern cardinal is not entirely red; notice the black around his bill. The male northern cardinal is the only bright red bird with a crest on this continent, however.

Northern Cardinals at HNWR by Charlie Hernandez

Cornell’s All About Birds has this to say about Cardinals:
The male Northern Cardinal is perhaps responsible for getting more people to open up a field guide than any other bird. They’re a perfect combination of familiarity, conspicuousness, and style: a shade of red you can’t take your eyes off. Even the brown females sport a sharp crest and warm red accents.

Northern Cardinals do not migrate and are found primarily in the Eastern half of the United States, as well as in Texas and Arizona, and in Mexico and Central America. During the 2015 Christmas Bird Count at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge,  185 cardinals were reported.

Cardinals mainly eat seeds and fruit and also insects. Hands down, sunflower seed are their favorite at the backyard feeder. While large numbers of cardinals may be seen in flocks much of the year, when breeding season begins they fiercely defend their territory. They will nest in shrubs in residential areas as well as in the wild; cardinals may have one or two broods in a season, with 2 -5 eggs in a clutch.

The cardinal is a popular choice as a mascot for athletic teams and has been chosen as the state bird for seven states. According to Bird Watchers' Digest, the bird's name comes from the red-robed Roman Catholic Cardinals. Its crested head is also said to resemble a bishop's mitre.

These colorful birds were once sold for caged pets but this became illegal with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

This post was originally published in December, 2014 and has been updated.  A note about the photo - Hernandez always enjoys photographing the cardinals at the Refuge when he visits, as they are not normally seen in his home state of California.

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