Birdhouses 101 - Cardinal mating habits

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The Cardinal Mating Habits

The early spring is the mating season for cardinals. These songbirds are known as “socially monogamous” but there are times when they copulate with the others. There was even one study which found that nine to 35 percent of cardinal nestlings came from extra-pair copulations.

The mating season begins with pair formation that includes different physical displays of cardinals. The males show off to attract a female. They also do the courtship and mate feeding. Females choose their mates based on the male’s ornamentation such as the size of his black face mask as well as the color of his plumage and bill. Studies have found that the ornaments of male and female cardinals provide information on the bird’s condition. For instance, females with a big face mask shows that they are good defenders of nests but for males, this means that they are not highly successful in reproduction.

Mate feeding occurs when the male cardinal picks up a seed, hops near the female and the two touch beaks so the female can take the food. That is such as sweet gesture. Mate feeding will go on until the female lays eggs and incubates them. Normally, pairs of cardinals stay together throughout the year and may breed for several seasons. This bird lives an average of one year although there have been records of longer life spans.

Did you know that cardinals sing their best during the love season? They sing with great emphasis as evident in the swelling of their throat, spreading of their tail, drooping of wings and leaning from side to side as if performing on stage with much gusto. They repeat these melodies over and over again resting only for a short time to breathe.

Cardinals are believed to breed from April to September. A female cardinal lays an average of three to four eggs. The females are responsible for incubating the eggs while the males look for food for his mate and later for their young. At nine to 10 days, the young cardinals can already fly. Once they leave their nest, the male parent takes care of the fledglings and feed them with insects for three weeks while the female prepares for a second brood. It is said that the male has a strong instinct to feed such that he is capable of feeding fledglings of other species.

Cardinal parents are also quite attentive in their behavior. The female usually sings a short song and make a gurgling sound before leaving her nest. It is believed to be signal to her mate that she is about to leave because the male appears instantly after she departs. The male then takes over the nest duties until the female comes home after a short time.

Related cardinal Articles

Click to learn more about The Cardinal
Click to learn more about The Cardinal Nesting Preferences
Click to learn more about Building a Birdhouse For The Cardinal
Click to learn more about The Cardinal Feeding Preferences
Click to learn more about Interesting Cardinal Facts


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barbara slawny  4/30/2008)
I have this cardinal going back and forth between two cars and pecking at the side mirrors. I can be gone all day with my car and the bird resumes the pecking after I come home.

roberta cass  5/25/2016)
we have this cardlnal that is driving me crazy. He flies into the windows all day since last april.what cane be done to discourge this behavior? thanks for any help.

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1/26/2022  22:13:31