The cardinal gets its name from the fact that its bright red colour closely resembled the robes worn by Roman Catholic cardinals, states the "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds." The cardinal is a common sight at bird feeders in winter and a year-round resident in most of its range. The cardinal is the state bird in no less than seven states and lives in much of the United States.
Also called a northern cardinal, this bird inhabits thick, shrubby regions like the borders between forests and fields, grown-up hedgerows and mesquite thickets. The cardinal will live in backyards, regenerating woodlands, swamps and ornamental tree species such as cedars. Both sexes are accomplished singers, and they will typically find a high limb to perch on while in the act of singing. The cardinal often lives in close proximity to people.
The cardinal is the rare bird that has actually seen an expansion in its range, as the bird exists as far north as New England and New York State in the East. The bird now lives from New England westward through the Great Lakes and into the Great Plains as far west as eastern Colorado. Cardinals reside all the way through the Deep South and recently made advances into the Southwest, with some as far west as Southern California.
The habitat of the cardinal must provide the bird with access to the types of foods it consumes. Cardinals will devour seeds such as those of dogwoods, sedges, grasses and buckwheat. Insects are also part of a cardinal's diet, with beetles, flies, butterflies, cicadas and moths all edible. Berries like hackberries, blackberries and mulberries all are on the bird's menu. Black oil sunflower seeds will appeal to cardinals at bird feeders when the snow flies.
The female cardinal has the responsibility of finding a suitable nesting site and then constructing the nest. The male helps with the nest, with the site often in the fork of a tangle of vines or in shrubs with dense branches. The nest may be only a foot off the ground or can be as high as 15 feet. Among the types of trees that cardinals build a nest in are species such as hawthorn, red cedar, spruce, pine, hemlock, box elders and elms. Blackberry brambles offer a safe habitat for a cardinal's budding family, as the thorns deter large intruders.
Cardinals are hardy birds and will not fly south in winter when living in northern ecosystems. Nature Works says many cardinals will live within a mile of the spot of their own birth. Male cardinals will vigorously defend their habitat from any other birds and potential predators. The bird will sometimes spend hours fighting with its own reflection in a garage window or automobile hubcap.