"Cardinals appear when Angels are near"

Sitting by the window, in the gray of winter, with snow flakes swirling in the air and gently falling onto the frozen ground, is a wonderful occasion for bird watching. During the breeding season, a distinct red feathered male cardinal, assists his slightly grayish-red partner pick seeds from a bird feeder.

A garden's visit from a cardinal, is a touch of magic, and, to many, signifies sighting of an angel or a visit from a loved one who passed away. Cardinals are considered monogamous, however, occasionally, they do separate in search of a more compatible mate. Males adorned with brighter plumage are more likely to woo a female. They are quite territorial and, at times, are known to attack a house or even a car window, thinking their reflecting image is another male encroaching on their space. Males mark their territory with a song, performed from 'the top of their lungs' on a tree branch. The life span of a cardinal in the wild is about three years, but on rare occasions, some are known to live up to fifteen. Their name derives from the scarlet color of the Catholic Church's robes of the cardinals; Latin word cardinalis also means "important". The brightness of our feathered friends rich plumage is influenced by chemical reaction of the carotenoid pigment in their diets. In the 1800's many cardinals in the Northeast were domesticated and kept as cage birds; they subsequently escaped or were released. It is suggested that the widespread use of bird feeders dramatically increased their population in the second half of the 20th century, and they count on humans to survive long winter months to this day.

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Favorite delicacies include sunflower and safflower seeds along with suet, crushed peanuts, berries and weed seeds, endearing them to many gardeners. Cardinals prefer to feed at dusk or dawn, but can be seen in the garden all day long. In order to attract cardinals to a bird feeder, it ought to stand no higher than 5 feet above ground as these birds forage for food in shrubs and bushes mainly at this level. They prefer wide platform feeders rather than the long tubes, however with a greater feeder variety, you will attract more wildlife. If you plan to prepare a bath for this beautiful bird, it ought to be 2-3 inches deep. Bathing helps keep the feathers clean. Various berries, ranging from mulberry and blackberry along with evergreen trees and shrubs create an excellent habitat  and shelter. Seed heads of black-eyed Susans, asters and coneflowers provide an additional food source. Since cardinals are not migratory, the same families may be visiting your garden year after year. Their household chores are fairly divided: the male usually gathers building materials for the nest, which the female diligently constructs. Their eggs are pale green and the young fledge within eleven days. A cardinal's most dangerous predators include domestic cats along with hawks, falcons and eagles.

Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia feature a cardinal as their state bird. This brightly colored song bird is an endless source of inspiration not only for thousands of American birdwatchers, but also for visual artists and poets. Holiday cards featuring cardinals are among the most beautiful.

If you would like to learn more about birds in our area, please visit a link to the Duke Farms classes included below. Next class, Discovering Birds 2018, will be held on Sunday, February 18th at 10:00 a.m.


To easily identify birds at your feeder, you can purchase a folding packet naturalist guide entitled "New Jersey Birds."