Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
The official City Bird of London, Ontario
prepared by Brendon Samuels, Coordinator, London Bird Team. August 19, 2021
The Northern Cardinal, referred to colloquially as the Cardinal, is a mid-sized songbird from the family Cardinalidae. Cardinals can be found throughout North, Central and South America. Cardinals' preferred habitat consists of woodlands, gardens, shrublands, and wetlands. Cardinals seem to have adapted well to urban environments and readily accept food from bird feeders.
London, Ontario is known as the "Cardinal Capital of Canada" for the high abundance of Cardinals historically found here during the winter and documented by the Christmas Bird Count. In 2021, the Northern Cardinal was selected by popular vote to represent the City of London as its official bird! The Northern Cardinal also serves as the mascot for Nature London.
Cardinals can be easily distinguished by their distinct red appearance and their vocalizations.
Listen to Northern Cardinal song (left) and calls (right) below:
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Northern Cardinal male feeding a female.
Northern Cardinals occur in London year-round and do not migrate. They have dense down feathers that provide insulation during the colder months. Males and female birds can be distinguished visually by their plumage: males have bright red feathers while the female is a reddish-olive colour. Both males and females have a pointed crest on top of their heads. Cardinals are frequently observed in pairs, with males and females occupying the same territory and warding off intruders with song and chasing. Cardinals are predominantly monogamous and mate for life.
During courtship and nesting, Northern Cardinals will engage in a ritual behaviour known as allofeeding in which the male brings morsels of food to the female and will feed her directly from his beak. Despite these romantic gestures, Northern Cardinals can behave quite aggressively towards intruders during their breeding period!
Northern Cardinals mainly eat grains but will also consume insects and fruit when they are seasonally available. The bright red appearance of Cardinal feathers is derived from carotenoid pigments found in their diet. At bird feeders, Cardinals seem to prefer to eat sunflower and safflower seeds.
Cardinals lay 3-4 eggs in each clutch and produce 2-4 clutches per year. Females handle most of the incubation, but occasionally males have been observed sitting on the eggs. Young cardinals will leave the nest as fledglings and remain dependent on their parents for feeding and supervision over a period of a couple weeks.
Unlike many migratory songbird species, Northern Cardinal populations are relatively stable. However, Cardinals may still be negatively impacted by human activities.
Help make London more Cardinal friendly:
If you maintain feeders for birds, please ensure they are washed regularly to prevent disease.
Retrofit your home windows using bird-friendly materials to prevent bird-window collisions.
Keep pet cats indoors or contained while outside to prevent them from predating on wild birds.
Support the protection of natural habitats that Cardinals need for food, shelter and breeding.
Grow native plants in your yard to help support caterpillars and other insect stages that Cardinals eat. Plants that produce berries and seeds are popular with Cardinals during the winter.
Avoid use of pesticides and reduce your ecological footprint as much as possible.