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Northern Cardinal - Meet the Cardinal

Our best-known red bird!
© Jen Goellnitz/Stephen Little CC View Large

Is there any doubt about the identity of America's best known red bird? Surely it's the cardinal or, as you'll find it in a bird book, the Northern Cardinal. The beautiful bird seen on so many bird feeders takes its name from the cardinals found in the Vatican, whose hats and robes are red. Only the male cardinal — seen right here — is red; females are a tasteful olive-brown with red highlights. Click on View large to compare. Share this show with someone who likes cardinals. Thanks!

Full Transcript



Northern Cardinal - Meet The Cardinal

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

[Northern Cardinal song]

Even without taking a poll, is there any doubt about the identity of America’s best known red bird? Surely it’s the cardinal or, as you’ll find in a bird book, the Northern Cardinal. [Northern Cardinal song]

The cardinal’s scarlet, crested image adorns Christmas cards, bags of bird seed, and any number of sports team jerseys. It is simply — and being red doesn’t hurt here — one of our best known backyard birds.
So would it surprise you to learn that cardinals are missing from back yards in nearly half of the United States? It’s the half west of the Rockies. Or that only about half of all cardinals are red? Females are olive-brown, with a few red highlights.

It’s also true that the cardinal seen on so many bird feeders takes its name from the cardinals found in the Vatican, whose hats and robes are red. [A bit of Gregorian chant]

And among the cardinal’s near relatives — the cardinal on the bird feeder, that is — two are also very red birds: the Summer Tanager and Scarlet Tanager. But despite their beauty, Tanagers are unlikely to unseat the cardinal as our best known red bird. [Northern Cardinal song]

Do you have friends who’d enjoy this BirdNote show?  Send it to them from our website. That’s I’m Mary McCann.


Sounds of Northern Cardinal 105598 provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, recorded by G.A. Keller.
Musical selection from Kyrie IV Gregorian chant, Benedictine Abbey Choir 1982 Deutschegrammophone
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2015 Tune In to     August 2017   Narrator: Mary McCann

ID#    NOCA-01-2011-08-15

 [The script reflects recent taxonomic changes that assign the North American tanagers to the same family as the cardinals, Cardinalidae. See, for example,]


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