Spring is finally here! Or at least that is what the calendar tells us. The snow is finally starting to melt, the songbirds are singing in the morning, and soon enough we will begin to see spring plants emerging from the ground.
But we may have a few weeks left to enjoy winter. Many of us may be a bit tired of the snow, the wind, and the sub-zero temperatures. But, we all must admit, that a snowy winter is a beautiful sight with the brilliant white snow and the glistening ice. We also have so many birds that do not migrate but remain in Michigan throughout the winter, including the perfect bird to pair with a backdrop of white snow, the vividly red northern cardinal.
The cardinal gets its name due to its bright red plumage resembling the red robes of the Roman Catholic cardinals. But only the male cardinal has the full red coloring, with the female as a more muted, yet equally lovely light brown.
Cardinals stay with us throughout the winter perching in the trees and eating from our backyard bird feeders. To attract cardinals to your backyard, entice them with black oil sunflower seeds or better yet, plant fruiting native shrubs to encourage them to feed on the berries, such as dogwood, wild grape, blackberry and even herbaceous plants, including grasses and sedges. Including native plantings on your landscape will also encourage insects to the area which are also food for the cardinal as they will also feast on beetles, crickets, katydids, butterflies, moths and more. These are particularly important if you want to encourage cardinals to nest around you since these insects are what they feed to their young.
The female cardinal will build her nest over three to nine days using twigs, leaves, bark, pine needles and grass. The nest may be built in the same shrubs from which they feed such as dogwood but they will also use many other shrubs or saplings including hawthorn, cedar, hemlock, pines, rose bushes, elm or sugar maple.
Male cardinals are aggressive and territorial, staking their territory in the early spring, so look for this interesting behavior now. Cardinals are also typically monogamous and a pair will attempt two broods per season, one in the spring and the second in the summer, and summer can't come too soon!
For more information:
Cornell Lab of Ornithology:
(Ten audio clips are on this website)
One Minute Mini-Documentary on the Northern Cardinal:
Penn State Kensington: