WELL RED — A cardinal sits on a branch, awaiting the arrival of spring, in this file photo. Cardinals are a colorful and welcome sight at home bird feeders. To attract them, use safflower and sunflower seeds and provide them with shrubbery for cover. (Sentinel photo by John Clifford)

Colorful cardinals a delight — whether in bush or at birdfeeder

Published Sep 10, 2017 at 9:00am

In a red topcoat 

And a black cravat,

On a snowy bough

A cardinal sat.

He fluffed his feathers

and sang for me.

A beautiful scarlet melody.

Then spreading his wings,

He flew away-

Never knowing

He’d made my day! — Author Unknown

Once known as a southern bird, the cardinal was trapped and exported to Europe as a caged bird named the “Virginia Nightingale.”

The beautiful bird was killed to provide colorful feathers for ladies hats.  Thankfully it is now protected!

Named after the red colored robes of the Cardinals of the Catholic Church.  It is the state bird for seven states.  Its range extended northward as people started backyard feeding in the winter.  

Its numbers grew and is now breeding in areas where once it was just a casual traveler.

The brilliant red feathers of the male make this bird the easiest to identify.  

The lovely female has less coloring with the tinge or red-orange on her crest, tail and wings. Her body is an olive color.  They are 8 3/4 inches long, with a heavy, stout reddish - orange bill.  The crest on their heads is used to show annoyance.

A member of the finch family, the cardinal is one of the rare songbirds that sing throughout the year.  There are at least 28 different songs in their repertoire.  The female also sings, sometimes with her mate, but her voice is softer.  

During courtship he often feeds her and sings to her all hours of the day.  He is very protective of his territory and flies at intruding males.  This is the time when they might fly into windows, it is to drive the “others” away. They see their reflections and think another male is around and try to drive him away, cover your window to block the reflection an keep them from getting hurt.

She builds their home in thickets, grapevines or low saplings.  The nest is a carefully constructed, loosely affair of small twigs, weed stems and grass lined with hair and fine grasses.

The eggs are red-brown spotted pale green.  The female sits on them for 12- 13 days. She lays from two to four eggs in each brood- having three or four broods in a breeding season.

The male lovingly delivers food to his mate while she incubates their eggs.  Both care for the young who leave the nest after 10-11 days, when they can fly.  Mother then leaves them in the care of the father who guards them for three to four more weeks while she has her second brood.

The cardinal diet consists of about 30 percent insects and 70 percent vegetable matter.  They feed while moving through the trees and hopping on the ground, eating many of the agricultures worst pests, such as the scale insects, grasshoppers, aphids, snails, and slugs.  Almost 40 species of weed seed, 33 species of wild fruits.  To draw them to the feeders they like safflower seed and sunflower seeds.  

Cardinals typically perch low in shrubs and trees and forage on or near the ground, often in pairs.

They are common at bird feeders but may be inconspicuous away from them, at least until you learn their loud, metallic chip note. Good shrubs to draw this bird to your yard are dogwoods, hollies, sumac, elderberries and viburnums.

These colorful songbirds are often the first at the feeders in the morning and the last to leave at night.

They are always a very pleasant sight.

For more information on birds, wildlife, trees, shrubs and plants visit cceoneida.com