Birds in Delaware

The Cardinal

The showiest bird at the feeder!

Have you ever seen a cardinal aggressively tapping on a window? This is not to get your attention! The colorful male, completely feathered in crimson with a red crest, is simply trying to force the "intruding male" out of his territory!

This displaying usually occurs in the spring when the birds are pairing. In some cases this combative behavior could lead the bird to sustaining serious injury. You can keep this from happening by putting a bird silhouette on the outside of the window, or hanging a windsock that moves erratically to break up the reflection. This keeps the bird away from the window and could save his life.

The female's coloring is a reddish brown. She is not as showy as her mate because she needs to be inconspicuous while incubating eggs. After a pair successfully mates, the eggs are laid in a bowl-shaped nest, built by the female. The nest is made of weed stems, strips of bark, grasses, rootlets, and even paper. A dense twiggy thicket, usually about five feet above the ground, is home.

Incubation takes about 12 to 13 days and the young leave the nest after 10 to 11 days. Both parents care for the young, but after fledging, males care for the first brood while the female incubates the next.

Cardinals are considered nonmigratory, but the young do have to wander a short distance to set up territories of their own.

Because they stay in our area over winter, we are rewarded by these beautiful birds at our feeders. A member of the finch family, cardinals have little trouble cracking open any type of seed. The thick, powerful bill indicates it is a seed eater.

One of their favorite feeder seeds is striped sunflower, but they will also eat whole kernel corn off a dried corn cob. Over the last few years, I have fastened dried corn on a screw-eye which hangs on a chain suspended from a tree limb. It was intended for the squirrels, but they never bothered with it. The cardinals and the red-bellied woodpeckers are frequent visitors. This is a winter favorite for them and needs to be replaced about once a week.

In the summer these colorful birds may not be as regular at the feeder because they eat many insects. Some favorites are moths, caterpillars, leafhoppers, dragonflies, and beetles. They will also eat wild fruit when it is ripe.

The beautiful cardinal is a feeder favorite for many backyard birdwatchers. Like any of our wild, feathered friends, habitat is important. So, if you have a "wild" spot in your yard, you may be lucky! A pair of cardinals could decide to move in.

Article by Beaty Broughton