when do red birds lay eggs

Open WoodlandsLook for Northern Cardinals in dense shrubby areas such as forest edges, overgrown fields, hedgerows, backyards, marshy thickets, mesquite, regrowing forest, and ornamental landscaping. Cardinals nest in dense foliage and look for conspicuous, fairly high perches for singing. Growth of towns and suburbs across eastern North America has helped the cardinal expand its range northward.Back to top

SeedsNorthern Cardinals eat mainly seeds and fruit, supplementing these with insects (and feeding nestlings mostly insects). Common fruits and seeds include dogwood, wild grape, buckwheat, grasses, sedges, mulberry, hackberry, blackberry, sumac, tulip-tree, and corn. Cardinals eat many kinds of birdseed, particularly black oil sunflower seed. They also eat beetles, crickets, katydids, leafhoppers, cicadas, flies, centipedes, spiders, butterflies, and moths.Back to top

ShrubA week or two before the female starts building, she starts to visit possible nest sites with the male following along. The pair call back and forth and hold nesting material in their bills as they assess each site. Nests tend to be wedged into a fork of small branches in a sapling, shrub, or vine tangle, 1-15 feet high and hidden in dense foliage. They use many kinds of trees and shrubs, including dogwood, honeysuckle, hawthorn, grape, redcedar, spruce, pines, hemlock, rose bushes, blackberry brambles, elms, sugar maples, and box elders.

Males sometimes bring nest material to the female, who does most of the building. She crushes twigs with her beak until they’re pliable, then turns in the nest to bend the twigs around her body and push them into a cup shape with her feet. The cup has four layers: coarse twigs (and sometimes bits of trash) covered in a leafy mat, then lined with grapevine bark and finally grasses, stems, rootlets, and pine needles. The nest typically takes 3 to 9 days to build; the finished product is 2-3 inches tall, 4 inches across, with an inner diameter of about 3 inches. Cardinals usually don’t use their nests more than once.

Ground ForagerNorthern Cardinals hop through low branches and forage on or near the ground. Cardinals commonly sing and preen from a high branch of a shrub. The distinctive crest can be raised and pointed when agitated or lowered and barely visible while resting. You typically see cardinals moving around in pairs during the breeding season, but in fall and winter they can form fairly large flocks of a dozen to several dozen birds. During foraging, young birds give way to adults and females tend to give way to males. Cardinals sometimes forage with other species, including Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, other sparrow species, Tufted Titmice, goldfinches, and Pyrrhuloxias. They fly somewhat reluctantly on their short, round wings, taking short trips between thickets while foraging. Pairs may stay together throughout winter, but up to 20 percent of pairs split up by the next season.Back to top

The expansion of agricultural and suburban habitat over the last two centuries has been good for Northern Cardinals which are abundant in eastern and central North America. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, their numbers have increased by an estimated 0.32% per year since 1966. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 130 million and rates them 5 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern.

Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye (1988). The Birders Handbook. A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds, Including All Species That Regularly Breed North of Mexico. Simon and Schuster Inc., New York, NY, USA.

Halkin, Sylvia L. and Susan U. Linville. (1999). Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

How do they reproduce?

Northern cardinals are monogamous (one male mates with one female). However, they often choose a different mate each breeding season.

Northern cardinals begin forming breeding pairs in early spring. The male makes courtship displays that flaunt his crest and bright red feathers in an attempt to entice a mate. He will lift his crown and rock back and forth while crooning softly. The male feeds the female he finds who might be interested in him, demonstrating to her that he would be a suitable parent for the young cardinals. (Halkin and Linville, 1999).

  • Mating System
  • monogamous

Northern cardinals breed between March and September. Typically, they raise two broods annually, the first starting in March and the second in late May or early July. In thick bushes and vines, the female constructs a cup-shaped nest. The nest is lined with leaves, grass, or hair and constructed from twigs, bark strips, and grass. She then lays three to four white to greenish eggs, which she will then incubate for eleven to thirteen days until they hatch. The male feeds the female while she incubates the eggs. The female raises the chicks for the first two days after they hatch. Both parents feed insects to the chicks. When the chicks are nine or ten days old, they leave the nest. When the infants are independent and have learned to feed themselves, the parents continue to feed them for a further 25 to 56 days. Young cardinals often join flocks with other young birds. They may begin breeding the next spring. (Halkin and Linville, 1999).

  • How often do northern cardinals reproduce? Typically, they raise two broods a year, one starting in March and the second in late May or early July.
  • Breeding season
    Northern cardinals breed between March and September.
  • Range eggs per season
    1 to 5
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    11 to 13 days
  • Range fledging age
    7 to 13 days
  • Average fledging age
    9.5 days
  • Range time to independence
    25 to 56 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

The nest is constructed and the eggs are incubated by the female northern cardinal. The female broods the chicks for at least two days in order to protect and keep them warm because when they hatch they have no down or feathers. Both parents feed the chicks a diet of insects. The parents feed the chicks for 25 to 56 days after they learn to fly and leave the nest. (Halkin and Linville, 1999).

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female

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What do they eat?

Northern cardinals primarily consume weeds, sunflower seeds, grains, and fruits. The purpose of the large, powerful beaks on northern cardinals is to crack open seeds. They prefer seeds that are easily husked. They feed nearly only insects to their young, and they will also occasionally consume insects. Due to the difficulty in obtaining food in the winter, northern cardinals are less picky.

When drinking water, northern cardinals tilt their heads back and collect the liquid in their bills. They drink freshwater from streams, ponds, or even birdbaths. (Halkin and Linville, 1999).

  • Primary Diet
  • herbivore
    • granivore
  • Animal Foods
  • carrion
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit


Do cardinals return to the same nest?

The nest typically takes 3 to 9 days to build; the finished product is 2-3 inches tall, 4 inches across, with an inner diameter of about 3 inches. Cardinals usually don’t use their nests more than once.

What time of year do cardinals have eggs?

Northern cardinals usually raise two broods a year, one beginning around March and the second in late May to July. Northern cardinals breed between March and September.

Where do cardinals build their nest?

Nest: Usually well hidden in dense shrubs, vines, or low trees, placed 3-10′ above ground, sometimes higher. Nest (built by female) is open cup made of twigs, weeds, grass, bark strips, leaves, rootlets, lined with fine grass or hair.

What does it mean when a cardinal nests in your yard?

The most likely explanation is that your front yard is a safe place with access to food and water. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be excited about it. It’s a blessing to have such lovely birds nesting right beside your door!