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The Cardinal: A Southerner Moves North

A colorful presence in bleak Northern winters, but…
© Nick Lee View Large

Holiday cards often feature gorgeous red cardinals against a snowy landscape. So it’s easy to assume the birds have always been a colorful presence in bleak Northern winters. But cardinals used to be Southern birds. By the second half of the 20th century, though, they were nesting as far north as Maine, the northern Midwest, and even southern Canada.

Today's show brought to you by the Bobolink Foundation.

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Transcript: 

BirdNote®  

The Cardinal: A Southerner Moves North

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

[Northern Cardinal song, https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/49062, .05-.09]

Holiday cards often feature gorgeous red cardinals against a snowy landscape. So it’s easy to assume the birds have always been a colorful presence in bleak Northern winters.

But cardinals used to be Southern birds. In fact, they were rarely seen north of Pennsylvania. By the second half of the 20th century, though, they were being spotted year round throughout New York. And they were nesting as far north as Maine, the northern Midwest, and even southern Canada.

[another Northern Cardinal song type, https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/145331581, 0.10-.13]

There are three key reasons for the cardinal’s northern march. Rising temperatures have reduced snowfall, so cardinals can continue to forage for food on the ground during winter months. Then there’s human development: cardinals are drawn to suburban habitat, so as people convert forests and prairies to cul-de-sacs, the birds soon follow. And finally, backyard bird feeders. By supplying bird seed, we humans help cardinals survive the harsh winters of higher latitudes.

By the 1980s, as if to fully cement the bird’s new turf, its official name was changed from just “Cardinal” to “Northern Cardinal.”

But the southeastern states — topped by Louisiana — still have the most cardinals per acre. The Redbird — as Southerners call it — will always be a Southerner.

For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann.

[Northern Cardinal song, https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/49062, .05-.09]

Today's show brought to you by the Bobolink Foundation.
                                                             ###
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Sallie Bodie
Editor: Ashley Ahearn
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
Assistant Producer: Mark Bramhill
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. LNS #49062 recorded by Gregory Budney. LNS # 145331581 recorded by Darrell Peterson.
BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
© 2019 BirdNote   December 2019

ID#  NOCA-03-2019-12-19     NOCA-03    Narrator: Mary McCann

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