Friday 4 January 2013

The Cardinal: The Scarlet Snowbird

Unlike most brightly coloured birds that migrate to the tropics during the winter, the cardinal chooses to stay, making it an unlikely snowbird.  What is the history of this beautiful scarlet bird?

The cardinal was named after the Catholic cardinal's mitre which was a similar red to the bird's crest.  Traditionally, the cardinal has made its home in the open woodlands of the American South.  However, over time, the cardinal migrated north along the Mississippi River.  Even so, for decades it was seldom seen north of the Ohio River.

In 1895, the scarlet bird reached the Great Lakes.  In 1903 it reached Southern New York state and by 1910, Southern Ontario.  It was not until 1958 that it a cardinal was recorded in the state of Massachusetts. By the 1970's the bird was flying around the Canadian Maritimes.  Today, the cardinal fills the role of the state bird in seven states and the role of mascot for two professional American sports teams.  

In the north, the cardinal makes its home largely in the suburbs where it feeds at bird feeders.  Since it is a non-migratory bird, it has short wings.  The cardinal has a distinct call which sounds like "chew, chew, chew".  While its summer diet consists of insects (one-third) its winter diet is mainly seeds (90%).  Cardinals are largely monogamous birds that make good parents:  they have up to four clutches per year.  They are aggressive in their attempts to defend their territory.  The scarlet snowbird has difficulty camouflaging itself against the white snow and therefore stays close to its nest in winter time.  

We are blessed to have the cardinal right here in our own backyard.  The next time you go for a walk, look for the red-crested bird.  Don't forget to bring your camera!


Photo courtesy

1 comment:

  1. Hi Linda - I tried to send you an email but it bounced back to me. Last year, you wrote a great story for my blog, The Promise of Home - Daisy Blay and the Gold and Pearl Necklace. Recently, Dundurn Press has shown interest in publishing a book which would contain home child stories written by me and some written by contributing authors. If this proposed idea comes to pass, are you willing for your story to be included?
    You can contact me at
    Thanks - Rose McCormick Brandon