About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

When do Northern Cardinals Nest?

I've had a steady colony of Cardinals coming to my feeder for the past six years. They live in the pines in my front yard and all spend time at the feeder in the back yard. Their number has grown from two pairs to three and now to four over these few years. Imagine my surprise that just now I looked out to see NINE pairs. I have several different feeders and they were all over them. Any thoughts? Is it nearing the time when they breed? I've always thought that once paired they stayed together - do they still group during the mating season? ~ Garden City, MI

February is the toughest month for birds to find food so that may be why you are seeing more birds at the feeders. Also most cardinals form pair bonds around February-April. Males and females that have paired up in previous seasons are often the first to pair up as the new breeding season begins, sometimes even as early as January.

When the males begin to sing they are claiming a territory. Older males usually claim their old territory while young males have to move around to find an open territory and an available mate. Extra cardinals now could also mean they are young birds looking to establish a breeding territory.

Actual nesting begins usually sometime between early April and mid-May and ends sometime between mid-July and early September depending on where you live.

Northern Cardinal Mating Rituals
Male cardinals sing to establish territories and attract mates. Females that hear singing may approach and then fly away when spotted by the male. While the male chases the female he continues to sing and spread his tail and wing feathers to give the females a good look. This may continue for several days and help the female determine the male’s health.

As the courtship continues both the male and female begin to sing duets. Cardinals can sing several different song types but during the duets they coordinate songs. Scientists think this is another way for the female to determine her potential mate’s quality.

Next the males bring tasty treats that they feed to the females. A male’s ability to forage efficiently and provide good quality food is an important consideration for a female that depends on a male to provide food for her while she is incubating eggs and later feed her babies.

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