Naturalist Carrie Szwed of the Land Between the Lakes National Recreational Area opened the Nature Center to The Cadiz Record to discuss cardinals and a chance to glimpse the scarlet bird.
“Cardinals don’t migrate. They rely on backyard feeders and alternative sources of food during the winter when there are not as many berries,” said Szwed. She added that it is not uncommon to see six or seven cardinals around a feeder in winter when they are less territorial. Their favorite foods are sunflower and safflower seeds from feeders and prefer berries and plenty of insects in the spring. The range of cardinals has expanded northward with the proliferation of backyard feeders.
“Typically cardinals begin their courtship in February, and have their nests ready by late April. They lay three-to-four eggs which face predation by raccoons and blue jays,” said Szwed. “They spend their lifetime within a couple of miles, liking open spaces but with some trees and shrubs nearby to hide and nest in. As long as food is available, they won’t venture more than a few miles.”
Szwed said that cardinals usually form tight mating bonds, though they loosen them in fall and winter, congregating with several other birds. She called both male and female “good parents,” noting that the female will often lead one clutch of fledglings in care of her male mate to construct another nest for a second clutch of eggs.
Named for senior bishops of the Catholic Church, only male cardinals bear the famous crimson plumage. Females wear a muted red and brown scheme, though still sport the orange beak.
“Males have their bright red color as a signal to females indicating reproductive success,” said Szwed. “Brighter makes pair up more frequently with females. The chance of reproductive success outweighs the risk borne by their bright colors. They pair up and produce a clutch that ensures the survival of the species.”
Szwed added that females are choosy about selection of a mate, and the males that show off have a better chance of selection. The drab female color scheme helps females hide among foliage in their nests while incubating eggs and remain safe from predators.
Males undergo a molting in August for a more muted, though still vibrant red color for winter months.
The state bird of Kentucky, and seven other states, Szwed said that cardinals were often captured and sold as caged birds in the past in the southern United States, though their numbers in the wild allow birdwatchers to observe them in ample numbers without captivity.
For the rest of this story, read this week's Cadiz Record.