Embracing the Majesty of the Northern Cardinal

i Mar 26, 2024 No Comments by

Authored by Rick LaRose

This is the first of a series of blog posts to spotlight some of our native songbirds matched to the colors of the rainbow Pride flag, starting with the color red. Find more context here.

The Northern Cardinal, with its vibrant plumage and enchanting melodies, is a beloved symbol of beauty and vitality in North Carolina. Let’s delve into the captivating features and behaviors of this iconic bird, which graces our landscapes with its presence year-round.

Size and shape

– Cardinals are medium-sized songbirds, measuring around 8 to 9 inches in length.

– They have a distinctive crest on their heads and a sturdy, cone-shaped bill, perfect for cracking seeds.

Color and pattern

– Adult males are adorned with brilliant red plumage on their bodies, crest, and face, contrasting with their black masks and throat patches.

Northern Cardinal, male. Photo by Keith Kennedy.

Northern Cardinal, male. Photo by Keith Kennedy.

– Females are predominantly brown with red tinges on their wings, tails, and crests, while juveniles have a similar appearance to females but with a duller coloration.

Northern Cardinal, female. Photo by Keith Kennedy.

Northern Cardinal, female. Photo by Keith Kennedy.

Calls and songs

– The Northern Cardinal’s song is a series of clear, whistled phrases, often described as “birdie, birdie, birdie” or “cheer, cheer, cheer” which to me can sound like a rapid-fire ray gun.

– They also produce a variety of other vocalizations, including sharp chips and metallic chinks, used for communication with mates and warning of predators.


– Cardinals are adaptable birds, found in a variety of habitats including woodlands, shrubby areas, parks, and suburban gardens.

– They prefer areas with dense vegetation for nesting and perching, as well as access to open spaces for foraging.


– Northern Cardinals are primarily seed-eaters, feeding on a variety of seeds, grains, and fruits, as well as insects and spiders.

– They are often seen foraging on the ground or in low vegetation, using their strong bills to crack open seeds and extract the nutritious contents.

Migration and seasons in NC

– Cardinals are non-migratory birds, maintaining their territories year-round, and often remain paired with the same mate for several breeding seasons.

– They are most active during the breeding season in spring and early summer, when males sing to establish and defend their territories.

– Cardinals may also be more visible during the fall and winter months when food sources are scarce, often visiting backyard feeders for supplementary food.


– In many cultures, the Northern Cardinal is associated with positive attributes such as vitality, renewal, and strength.

– Its vibrant red plumage is often seen as a symbol of energy, passion, and courage, while its melodious songs are thought to bring joy and happiness.

– Some believe that spotting a Northern Cardinal can bring good luck or serve as a reminder of loved ones who have passed away. For one of my cherished friends, they’re a symbol that her departed mother is near.

The Northern Cardinal is a revered emblem of North Carolina’s natural beauty, captivating us with its striking appearance and captivating melodies, providing color and song to our landscapes throughout the year. No wonder the NC General Assembly of 1943 named this unmistakable red, crested songbird as the official State Bird of North Carolina.

A common site in North Carolina, providing color and song to our landscapes throughout the year, the Cardinal is often credited as “the red bird” that first piques the interest of backyard birders. I find them to be the first birds at my feeders in the morning, and the last to visit at dusk. Have you seen the same?

So, let’s celebrate the Northern Cardinal for vibrantly representing the color red of our rainbow flag and captivating us with their beauty and symbolism.


National Audubon Society (Guide to North American Birds | Audubon)

Cornell Lab of Ornithology (All About Birds)

Birdzilla (Bird Meaning & Symbolism)

And my own personal experiences



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