The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is a member of the cardinal family of birds in North America. The bird's name comes from the red-robed Roman Catholic Cardinals. Its crested head is also said to resemble a bishop's mitre. Cardinals have been also referred to as redbirds and Virginia nightingales. Cardinals were once popular cage birds for their bright color and rich, varied songs.
They eat mostly seeds, fruits, wastes, small animals, and insects. Cardinals almost always come in pairs; if one is seen, its mate will usually be nearby.
Males are bright, deep red with black faces and yellow beaks. Females are lighter, with mostly grayish-brown tones. Both possess prominent raised crests and strong beaks.
Cardinals are abundant across the eastern United States from Maine to Texas and in Canada in the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. Their range extends west to the U.S.-Mexico border and south through Mexico to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, northern Guatemala, and northern Belize. They have been introduced in Bermuda, Hawaii, and Southern California. Their natural habitats are woodlands, suburbs, gardens, swamps and thickets.
The male sings in a loud, clear whistle from a tree top to defend his territory, which he jealously guards. He will chase off other males. The pair sometimes sing together before nesting and the male may feed his mate. The female builds a cup nest in a well-concealed spot in dense shrub or a low tree. Both feed the young. Young fledged cardinals resemble adult females in coloring. The male will grow in bright red feathers as he matures and is eventually chased away by his sire.
These birds are permanent residents throughout their range, although they may relocate to avoid extreme weather or if food is scarce.
In the US, the Northern Cardinal is the state bird of North Carolina, West Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Virginia. Nationwide, this species receives special legal protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which also banned their sale as cage birds. In America, the bird is often associated with the Christmas season, appearing on many cards and decorations.
The St. Louis Cardinals of Major League Baseball are named after the Northern Cardinal, and the team's mascot Fredbird is an anthropomorphized Northern Cardinal. The major-league team directly lends its name to three of its minor league affiliates—the Springfield Cardinals, Palm Beach Cardinals, and Johnson City Cardinals. A fourth affiliate, the Memphis Redbirds, takes its name from a decades-old alternate nickname for the major-league team. The major-league team had yet another "Cardinals" affiliate, the New Jersey Cardinals, but this team changed its nickname when it moved to State College, Pennsylvania after the 2005 season.
The bird is also the namesake of the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL.
Several colleges, mostly in the Midwest, have sports teams named for the cardinal:
*The University of Louisville
*Ball State University ("Charlie Cardinal" is the name of their mascot)
*Illinois State University (nickname is "Redbirds"; mascot is a cardinal)
* The Iowa State University Cyclones also use a cardinal as their mascot—a reference to their cardinal-red uniforms. Their mascot is named "Cy", a reference to cyclone.
* The Catholic University of America also uses a cardinal as its mascot; here, a reference to the Cardinals of the Catholic Church. See Cardinal (Catholicism)
* Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.
Stanford University's nickname, the (singular) Cardinal, is a reference to the color, not the bird.