The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

A bright red bird with a black mask perches on a twig.

NPS/Gordon Dietzman

Bird Home


Wildlife faces constant challenges in the north, including changing habitat. Wildlife populations must respond in some way to those changes. When conditions become less desirable a species must either adapt to the changes, move to find more suitable habitat, or simply disappear. When conditions become more desirable, wildlife populations may expand their range into new areas.

Northern cardinals have been finding landscapes north of their present range more to their liking and are taking advantage of that to expand their range northward. Many experts cite an increasing human population in the north country with providing cardinals suitable cover, food (urban birdfeeders and berry-producing shrubs), and water.

The cardinal’s brilliant cloak of scarlet feathers makes this bird one of our favorite backyard birds. Their clear whistled spring song that begins in late winter tells of a coming spring, even though snow still blankets the ground and bitterly cold air swirls around leafless twigs.

How far north will they expand their range? No one really knows, but it is likely that this beautiful bird will become a favorite of many more people as it moves ever further north.

Fascinating Facts

  • Cardinals are named after Roman Catholic cardinals, whose robes are brilliant red.
  • Male cardinals often offer food items to prospective mates, perhaps to prove that they are good providers. Watch for this behavior at bird feeders.


  • Key ID Features: The male is bright red with a crest and heavy red bill. A black mask covers the eyes and runs down the throat. The female is more brownish, but with tinges of red on breast, tail, and wings.
  • Present in Park: Present year round and widely spread throughout the park.
  • Habitat: Woodland edges, brushy swamps, and wooded yards/gardens. Cup-like nests are made of twigs and grasses and generally found in thickets.
  • Voice: A series of clear calls often described as "cheer, cheer, cheer", or "what-cheer, cheer, cheer."

Last updated: February 25, 2022

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

111 E. Kellogg Blvd., Suite 105
Saint Paul, MN 55101


This is the general phone line at the Mississippi River Visitor Center.

Contact Us