Cardinal

 

cardinalWith its brilliant red feathers, head crest, black throat and face mask, the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is Oklahoma's most recognizable songbird.
The female is light brown to pale yellow with reddish tinted wings, tail and head crest. Her bill is also reddish-orange.

Both sexes are equally adept with song. Their call is normally a very short and sharp chink, but may vary from a what-cheer, cheer, cheer to a sweet, sweet, sweet.

Highly adaptable, cardinals inhabit woods, thickets, parks and back yards across the state. The cardinal is also at ease in urban environments and may be seen nesting from April until September. The female will nest two or three times a year in small trees, bushes, shrubs and thick vines at heights of three to eight feet.
Cardinals use a variety of materials to build their small, cup-shaped nests, including weed stems, grasses, thin twigs and vines. They finish them out with an interior lining of hair or moss. The female builds her nest alone. After constructed the external structure, she forms the cavity from the inside by turning her body and pushing out her feet.

Cardinal nests are highly susceptible to cowbird nest parasitism, a process in which a female cowbird lays her eggs in the nest of another bird after dumping the eggs of the host bird over the side. The host, in this case a female cardinal, will then incubate and hatch the cowbird eggs and raise the cowbird fledglings.

If left alone, the female cardinal will lay three or four eggs within a week of completing the nest. Cardinal eggs are glossy light green or dull gray, with reddish brown specks or blotches. The female incubates the eggs in solitude for 13 days before they hatch. Both parents share in feeding the red-mouthed, orange-skinned nestlings until they leave the nest some 11 days later. At that point, the fledglings are covered with gray down.

Fledgling cardinals can fly well within 20 days, but they seldom venture far. Nonmigratory and territorial, a cardinal may spend its entire life within a half-mile of its birthplace.

Cardinals eat a large number of seeds and insects. They also eat a variety of foods that allow them to be easily attracted to backyard feeders. Those wishing to attract cardinals to feeders can use a variety of products, especially in the winter when natural foods are scarce. One proven cardinal favorite is black oil sunflower seed. Other cardinal foods include milo, corn, peanut hearts, berries and even mealworms. Household foods may be placed in feeders or on the ground to attract cardinals, as well. Leftover cornbread, dried apples and raisins, as well as cantaloupe, watermelon, pumpkin and squash seeds, are all effective at attracting cardinals.

Whether seen at a feeder on a snowy winter day or flitting near a nest hidden in a shrubby countryside fencerow, the cardinal always stands out from its surroundings. With his brilliant red feathers and the sporty head crest, you can’t miss him.