Cardinal

Cardinalis cardinalis, Piranga rubra, and others

Last updated: November 15, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Rob Palmer Photography/Shutterstock.com

There are 14 genera and 53 species in the cardinal family

Cardinal Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Passeriformes
Family
Cardinalidae
Genus
Habia, Chlorothraupis, Piranga, and others
Scientific Name
Cardinalis cardinalis, Piranga rubra, and others

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Cardinal Conservation Status

Cardinal Locations

Cardinal Locations

Cardinal Facts

Prey
Insects, fruit, nectar, sap, and seeds
Main Prey
Invertebrates
Name Of Young
chicks
Group Behavior
  • Flock
  • Pair
Fun Fact
There are 14 genera and 53 species in the cardinal family
Estimated Population Size
Unknown
Biggest Threat
Habitat loss and climate change
Most Distinctive Feature
Bright colors
Distinctive Feature
Stout bodies, short legs, and pointed wings
Incubation Period
11 to 13 days
Age Of Fledgling
1 to 2 weeks
Habitat
Forests, grasslands, scrublands
Predators
birds of prey like hawks, owls, eagles, and falcons
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
Type
Bird
Common Name
Cardinal
Number Of Species
53
Location
North America, South America
Average Clutch Size
-2
Nesting Location
High in trees
Migratory
1

Cardinal Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Red
  • Blue
  • Orange
Skin Type
Feathers
Lifespan
3 to 15 years
Weight
0.8 to 1.5 ounces
Length
4.5 and 11 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
One year

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“Cardinals have bright red, blue, or yellow feathers.”

Summary

The cardinal is a family of medium and large-sized songbirds endemic to North and South America. They inhabit many habitats, from forests to scrublands, and many species in North America migrate south for the winter. The male species are known for being brilliant shades of red, blue, yellow, and orange, while the females often look very different in their dull, brown plumage. Find out everything there is to know about this bird family, including where they live, what they eat, and how they reproduce.

5 Amazing Cardinal Facts

  • The cardinals inhabit areas from Northwest Canada to the southern tip of South America.
  • There are 14 genera and 53 species in the cardinal family.
  • Cardinals are sexually dichromatic, meaning males and females differ in appearance.
  • Species in the neotropics live in their environment year-round, while many in the United States and Canada migrate south for the winter. 
  • Over 80% of the cardinal family has a conservation status as “least concern.”

Where to Find the Cardinal

The cardinal lives across two continents: North and South America. You can find them as far north as Canada and as far south as the southern tip of South America near Argentina and Uruguay. However, Central America contains the most cardinal species. These birds live in a wide range of habitats, including forests, grasslands, and arid scrublands.

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Locations

  1. North America
  2. South America

Cardinal Nest

Most species build open-cup nests placed high in the trees. Generally, males and females build the nest together. But some female species will construct it on their own. They make it using grasses and twigs, occasionally lining the inside with softer material. 

Scientific Name

The cardinalidae family is a group of passenger birds endemic to the Americas. There are 14 genera in the family and 53 individual species: tanagers, grosbeaks, chats, cardinals, seedeaters, buntings, and one dickcissel. 

Size, Appearance, & Behavior

The cardinal family consists of medium to large songbirds. They have stout bodies, measuring between 4.5 and 11 inches long and averaging 0.8 to 1.5 ounces. Chats and buntings have small bills, while seedeaters, cardinals, and grosbeaks have large bills. Most species have large heads, short legs, and medium-sized pointed wings. Cardinalids are sexually dichromatic, meaning males and females look very different. The males can be bright red, orange, and blue, while the females are usually duller in color. Males in temperate regions will molt into their winter plumage, which resembles the female. But those in tropical areas will keep their bright colors year-round. 


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Migration Pattern and Timing

Species from the neotropics live in their environment year-round. Those in the Western United States and Canada are breeding migrants, meaning they travel further south during the winter. In fact, most North American species migrate south for the winter, some going as far as the neotropics in Central and South America.

Diet

Members of the cardinal family are omnivores who primarily forage low to the ground.

What Does the Cardinal Eat?

These birds eat insects, fruit, nectar, sap, and seeds. Most species rely heavily on invertebrates during the breeding season to refuel them and their young. Some members, like the cardinals, buntings, and grosbeaks, have thick bills for crushing seeds. While others, like the tanagers, feed on fruit, nectar, and small insects. Most forage low on trees or the ground. But some will forage in high canopies.

Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

The IUCN lists over 80% of the cardinal family as LC or “least concern.” Due to their extensive range and significant population size, most species do not reach the threshold for “threatened” status. However, several species, like the rose-bellied bunting and black-cheeked ant-tanager, are listed as NT or “near-threatened.” Certain species with a small range suffer the most. The primary concern for the cardinal family is the loss of habitat from forest fragmentation. These birds are also highly vulnerable to climate change.

What Eats the Great Cardinal?

The cardinal’s main predators include birds of prey like hawks, owls, eagles, and falcons. They are also preyed on by snakes, jays, squirrels, and domestic animals like dogs and cats. Males sing and use alarm calls to warn of nearby predators. Most male cardinal species are relatively aggressive and will defend their nest by swooping and diving.

Reproduction, Young, and Molting

Most cardinal species are monogamous, but typically only for one breeding season. They may move on to another mate during the following season. The breeding season in temperate regions is seasonal, while breeding occurs year-round in tropical areas. Cardinals lay between one and six eggs and will produce one to three broods per season. Both males and females participate in incubation, and the males often bring food. The incubation period averages 11 to 13 days. The young fledge the nest between one and two weeks. Cardinals usually reach sexual maturity around one year and can live anywhere from three to fifteen years.

Population

The global population of cardinals is unknown, but most of their population appears stable. Several species have decreasing populations, like the orange-breasted bunting and the glaucous-blue grosbeak. Habitat loss is the primary reason for their decline.

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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer and content creator focusing on nature, wildlife, food, and travel. She graduated Kappa Beta Delta from Florida State College with a business degree before realizing writing was her true passion. She lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and enjoys hiking, reading, and cooking!

Cardinal FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Where do cardinals live?

You can find them as far north as Canada and as far south as the southern tip of South America near Argentina and Uruguay.

How many species are in the cardinal family?

There are 53 species in the cardinal family.

How big are the cardinals?

The cardinal family consists of medium to large songbirds. They have stout bodies, measuring between 4.5 and 11 inches long and averaging 0.8 to 1.5 ounces.

What color are cardinals?

The males can be bright red, orange, and blue, while the females are usually duller in color. Males in temperate regions will molt into their winter plumage, which resembles the female.

Do cardinals migrate?

Species from the neotropics live in their environment year-round. Those in the Western United States and Canada are breeding migrants, meaning they travel further south during the winter.

What do cardinals eat?

These birds eat insects, fruit, nectar, sap, and seeds. Most species rely heavily on invertebrates during the breeding season to refuel them and their young.

What threatens the cardinals?

The primary concern for the cardinal family is the loss of habitat from forest fragmentation. These birds are also highly vulnerable to climate change.

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Sources
  1. The Red List, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/search?query=cardinal&searchType=species

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