5 Types of Cardinals Found in North America

North America is home to a variety of stunning bird species, and among them are the beautiful and charismatic cardinals. These birds are renowned for their vibrant plumage and melodic songs, captivating bird enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.

In this article, we will explore the 5 Types of Cardinals Found in North America, highlighting their unique characteristics and providing insights into their behavior and habitats.

Types of Cardinals Found in North America

Cardinals belong to the family Cardinalidae, and their striking appearance and distinctive calls make them easily recognizable.

In North America, five cardinal species stand out: the Northern Cardinal, Desert Cardinal, Summer Tanager, Red Crested-Cardinal and Vermilion Cardinal. While they share some similarities, each species has its own unique features and behaviors that set them apart.

Northern Cardinal

The Northern Cardinal is a common sight across North America, ranging from southern Canada to Mexico. These birds are versatile and adaptable, inhabiting a variety of environments including woodlands, forests, gardens, parks, and shrubby areas. They are particularly attracted to areas with dense vegetation and a good supply of food.

Physical Characteristics

Male Northern Cardinals are known for their vibrant red plumage, which extends from their crest to their wings and tail. Their striking coloration is believed to be an evolutionary advantage, as it helps them attract mates and establish their territory. Females, on the other hand, have a more subdued appearance with a reddish-brown color and hints of red on their wings and crest. Both males and females have distinctive black masks around their eyes.

Diet and Feeding Habits

Northern Cardinals are primarily seed eaters, with a preference for sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, and various types of grains. They also consume fruits, berries, and insects. These birds have strong beaks that allow them to crack open seeds and extract the nutritious contents. In addition to foraging on the ground, they are adept at clinging to branches and feeders while enjoying their meals.

Breeding and Nesting

Cardinals are monogamous birds, with pairs often forming long-lasting bonds. During the breeding season, the male showcases his vivid plumage and sings melodious songs to attract a mate.

The female builds a cup-shaped nest using twigs, grasses, and leaves, usually placed in dense shrubs or trees. The female lays a clutch of 3-4 eggs, which she incubates for about 12-13 days. Once hatched, both parents take turns feeding the chicks until they fledge after approximately 10-11 days.

Vocalizations

The Northern Cardinal is known for its rich, melodious song. The male sings to defend its territory and attract a mate. Its song consists of a series of clear whistles, often described as a sequence of phrases, such as “cheer, cheer, cheer” or “what-cheer, what-cheer.” The female also sings, but her song is softer and more subdued. Cardinals use their vocalizations as a form of communication, signaling their presence and intentions to other birds.

Desert Cardinal

The Desert Cardinal, also known as the Pyrrhuloxia, is a bird species found in the arid regions of southwestern United States and Mexico. Unlike its counterpart, the Northern Cardinal, the Desert Cardinal has adapted to survive in the harsh desert environments.

It can be found in desert scrub, thorny brushlands, and arid grasslands, where it seeks out pockets of vegetation and water sources.

Physical Characteristics

The Desert Cardinal is a medium-sized bird with a stout beak and a crest on its head. The male Desert Cardinal has a unique appearance with a grayish body, a red crown, and a red mask around its eyes.

Its wings and tail feathers are also reddish in color. The female Desert Cardinal, similar to the female Northern Cardinal, has a more subdued appearance with a grayish-brown color and hints of red on its crest and wings.

Diet and Feeding Habits

The Desert Cardinal has a diverse diet that includes seeds, fruits, insects, and even cactus fruits. It has a powerful beak that allows it to crack open hard seeds and extract the nutritious contents.

During the dry seasons, when food sources may be scarce, the Desert Cardinal relies heavily on the seeds of desert plants. It forages on the ground and in low vegetation, using its beak to probe for insects or pick up fallen seeds.

Breeding and Nesting

Similar to the Northern Cardinal, the Desert Cardinal is monogamous and forms long-term pair bonds. Breeding season usually begins in late winter or early spring. The female builds a cup-shaped nest using twigs, leaves, grasses, and other plant materials.

The nest is often placed in dense vegetation, providing protection and camouflage. The female lays a clutch of 2-5 eggs, which she incubates for about 12-14 days. Both parents take turns feeding the chicks until they fledge after approximately 10-12 days.

Vocalizations

The Desert Cardinal has a variety of vocalizations, including songs and calls. Its song is a series of clear whistles, often described as “what-cheer, what-cheer” or “cheer, cheer, cheer.” The male uses its song to establish its territory and attract a mate.

The female also sings but with a softer and less elaborate song. The Desert Cardinal also has a range of calls, including warning calls to alert other birds of potential dangers.

Red Crested-Cardinal

The Red-crested Cardinal is a bird species native to South America, specifically found in countries like Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. It is well-known for its vibrant red crest and striking appearance.

The Red-crested Cardinal prefers open habitats such as grasslands, savannas, and scrublands. It can also be found in parks, gardens, and agricultural areas where it adapts well to human-altered landscapes.

Physical Characteristics

The Red-crested Cardinal is a medium-sized bird with a distinctive red crest on its head, which contrasts beautifully with its black face, throat, and upper breast. Its wings and back are grayish-brown, while its underparts are white or pale gray.

The male and female have similar plumage, although the male typically exhibits brighter and more prominent crests.

Diet and Feeding Habits

Red-crested Cardinals have an omnivorous diet that includes a variety of food sources. They primarily feed on seeds, fruits, and insects. Seeds from grasses and shrubs form a significant portion of their diet.

They also consume berries, nectar, and even small vertebrates like lizards and frogs. With their strong beaks, they crack open seeds and extract the nutritious content. They forage on the ground and in vegetation, often hopping and pecking to find food.

Breeding and Nesting

Red-crested Cardinals are known for their monogamous breeding behavior. During courtship, the male displays his vibrant crest and sings melodious songs to attract a mate. The female constructs a cup-shaped nest using twigs, grasses, and leaves, usually placed in dense shrubs or low trees.

The female lays a clutch of 2-4 eggs, which she incubates for around 12-14 days. Both parents participate in feeding the chicks after they hatch, and the young birds fledge in approximately 10-12 days.

Vocalizations

The Red-crested Cardinal has a variety of vocalizations, including melodious songs and calls. The male uses its song to establish and defend its territory, as well as to attract a mate. The song consists of a series of clear whistles, trills, and musical notes.

The female also sings but with a softer and less elaborate song. They also communicate through calls, such as sharp chirps and alarm calls to alert others of potential threats.

Vermilion Cardinal

The Vermilion Cardinal, also known as the Cardinalis phoeniceus, is a stunning bird species found in southern Florida and the Florida Keys in the United States. Its name “vermilion” refers to the vibrant shade of red displayed by the male.

The Vermilion Cardinal prefers habitats with dense vegetation, such as mangroves, thickets, and shrubby areas near water bodies like swamps and marshes.

Physical Characteristics

The Vermilion Cardinal is a small to medium-sized bird with a striking appearance. The male Vermilion Cardinal boasts bright red plumage, covering its body, wings, and crest.

Its bill and legs are also reddish in color. In contrast, the female has a more subdued appearance, with a grayish-brown body and hints of red on its crest and wings. Both sexes have distinct black facial masks around their eyes.

Diet and Feeding Habits

The Vermilion Cardinal is primarily a seed eater, with a preference for small seeds such as those from grasses, weeds, and shrubs. It also consumes fruits and berries when available.

The bird’s strong beak enables it to crack open seeds to access the nutrient-rich contents. It forages on the ground, in low vegetation, and even in treetops, using its agile movements to locate and extract food.

Breeding and Nesting

Vermilion Cardinals are monogamous and form long-term pair bonds. During the breeding season, the male displays its vibrant plumage and sings melodious songs to attract a mate. The female constructs a cup-shaped nest using twigs, grasses, and leaves, usually placed in dense vegetation near water sources.

She lays a clutch of 2-4 eggs, which she incubates for approximately 12-14 days. Both parents share the responsibilities of feeding the chicks until they fledge after around 10-12 days.

Vocalizations

The Vermilion Cardinal has a beautiful and melodious song that is often described as a sweet, musical whistle. The male uses its song to establish and defend its territory, as well as to attract a mate. Its vocalizations can be heard echoing through the dense vegetation.

The female also sings but with a softer and less elaborate song. The bird also uses a range of calls, including contact calls and alarm calls to communicate with others in its environment.

Summer Tanager

The Summer Tanager, scientifically known as Piranga rubra, is a migratory bird species that can be found across North and South America. During the breeding season, it inhabits a range of habitats, including deciduous and mixed forests, woodlands, and open areas with scattered trees. It is particularly attracted to areas with a good supply of insects and fruit-bearing trees.

Physical Characteristics

The Summer Tanager is a medium-sized bird with a stout beak and a rounded head. The adult male is a vibrant and eye-catching red all over, while the female and immature males have a more subdued appearance, with a yellowish-green body and hints of red on the wings and tail. The Summer Tanager’s coloration helps it blend in with the green foliage, making it more challenging to spot.

Diet and Feeding Habits

Summer Tanagers primarily feed on insects, including beetles, bees, wasps, and flying ants. They are skilled aerial foragers, often catching insects on the wing or plucking them from foliage. Additionally, they have a unique feeding behavior known as “gaping.”

They use their specialized beaks to pry open the bark of trees, exposing insects and larvae hiding within. During the non-breeding season, Summer Tanagers also consume a variety of fruits and berries.

Breeding and Nesting

Summer Tanagers are monogamous birds that breed during the summer months. The male performs courtship displays, such as singing from prominent perches and spreading his wings to showcase his bright red plumage

. The female builds a cup-shaped nest using twigs, grasses, and other plant materials, usually placed in the fork of a tree branch. She lays a clutch of 2-5 eggs, which she incubates for about 12-13 days. Both parents participate in feeding the chicks until they fledge after approximately 9-12 days.

Vocalizations

The Summer Tanager has a simple but distinctive song. The male’s song is a series of short, raspy notes, often described as a “chip-burr” or “chipper-chipper-chipper.” They also have various call notes, including a sharp “pit” or “chick-burr.” These vocalizations are used for communication, establishing territory, and attracting mates.

Comparison of Five Cardinal Type

SpeciesNative RangeSizePlumage
Northern CardinalNorth America8.3-9.1 inches (21-23 cm)Bright red plumage with a crest on the head. Males have black face masks. Females are a duller red-brown.
Desert CardinalSouthwestern United States, Northwestern Mexico7.1-8.3 inches (18-21 cm)Reddish-gray plumage with a crest. Males have a black mask and a red bill. Females have a grayish-brown coloration.
Red Crested-CardinalSouth America7.1-7.9 inches (18-20 cm)Gray body with a red crest and face. Males have a black mask around the eyes. Females have a lighter gray coloration.
Vermilion CardinalCaribbean islands, northern South America7.9 inches (20 cm)Bright red plumage with a short crest. Males and females have similar coloration.
Summer TanagerNorth and South America6.7-7.5 inches (17-19 cm)Males are mostly red, while females are yellowish or olive-green. Breeding males have a darker red coloration.

Conclusion

The five cardinal types – Northern Cardinal, Desert Cardinal, Red-crested Cardinal, Vermilion Cardinal, and Summer Tanager – are remarkable bird species that captivate with their vibrant plumage, melodious songs, and unique behaviors.

Each species has its specific habitat and range, dietary preferences, and breeding habits, but they all share the common trait of adding beauty and charm to the natural world. Despite facing challenges such as habitat loss, these cardinal types are currently categorized as Least Concern in terms of conservation status.

It is essential to continue preserving their habitats and raising awareness about their importance for future generations to appreciate their presence and contributions to the ecosystem.


FAQs:-

Can the different cardinal types interbreed with each other?

No, cardinal types typically do not interbreed with each other. They maintain their distinct characteristics and breeding behaviors.

Do all cardinal types migrate?

While some cardinal types, such as the Summer Tanager, undertake long-distance migrations, others, like the Northern Cardinal, are non-migratory and reside in their habitats year-round.

Are cardinal types aggressive towards other bird species?

Cardinals, including the Northern Cardinal, can display territorial behavior and defend their nesting areas. However, they generally coexist peacefully with other bird species.

Do cardinal types have any predators?

Like many bird species, cardinals face predation from natural predators such as raptors, snakes, and mammals. Their vibrant plumage helps them blend into their habitats and provides some camouflage.

Can cardinal types be attracted to backyard bird feeders?

Yes, providing suitable food sources such as seeds, fruits, and suet can attract cardinal types to backyard feeders, allowing for closer observations and enjoyment of these beautiful birds.

4 thoughts on “5 Types of Cardinals Found in North America”

Leave a Comment