Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Cardinal Birds

Northern Cardinal Birds (Cardinals cardinals) are a medium-sized songbird (approximately 8.75 inches in length) with short, rounded wings, a long tail, a heavy conical bill, and a crest. Males are neatly all brilliant red; brownish-gray-tinged scapular and back feathers give the upper parts a less colorful appearance. The coral red bill is surrounded by a mask of black that extends to a dark eye and includes the chin and throat. Legs and feet are dark red. The female is soft grayish brown on the back with variable areas of red on the tail, crest and wings. The underpants are a warm pinkish brown. Her coral red bill is also surrounded by darker but not black feathers, so her mask is not at distinct as the males. Females are slightly smaller than males. The juveniles are like females but more brown in color, with shorter crest and a blackish bill. Both the sexes of the Cardinal Birds sing almost the entire year.

The cardinal birds are very common in the east. They are mostly found in woodland edges, fields, thickets, brushy undergrowth, suburbs, and gardens, feeders with sunflower seeds, swamps, desert washes, and riparian areas. They do best where there is thick and shabby growth for them to nest and roost in. They are very adaptable. A cardinal�s nest is a bulky structure of vines, leave and twigs. It is often hidden in a thicket.

Cardinal birds are monogamous. They have 2 and 3 broods and occasionally 4 broods in the same year. The mating pair with outstretched necks and erect crests sways bodies from side to side while sharing the same songs. The male Cardinal Birds fiercely defends its breeding territory from other males. Female incubates with the help from male. Incubation takes 12-13 days. Development is altricial. The female lays three to four eggs at a time and they are grayish-, bluish-, greenish-white, marked with browns, grays, purples. Both the sexes tend the young who leave the nest after 9-10 days. Female Cardinal Birds sings usually after male establishes territory but before nestling starts; likely functions in pair bonding and reproductive synchronization of pair. Male cares for the first brood while female incubates second clutch.

Cardinal birds eat insects, fruits, seeds etc. They are winter resident although some eastern birds tend to move northeast and north in late summer and early fall. The common cardinal is found in the eastern United States and parts of Mexico, is named for the color of the robes of Roman Catholic Cardinal Birds. It is a member of finch family, Fringillidae, and is slim and crested. It is resident over its range, which it has extended northward into southern Canada. It ahs a cheerful, clear song and it is the official bird of seven states. Population density and range of the Northern Cardinal has increased over the last 200 years, largely as a response to habitat changes made by people. However, it is listed as a species of special concern in California and may disappear there because of habitat loss.