A seed-eating bird found in both North and South America, the Cardinal is well-known because of its striking red color and its prominent crest atop its head. Despite being commonly recognized in the Americas, there are many facts about the cardinal species that are not so well known. When creating a school project on birds, and specifically on cardinals, these facts can be used to both entertain and educate an audience.
It is a misconception that the cardinal species was the origin of the name of Cardinals in the Catholic church; it is actually the other way around. The widely accepted story is that settlers of the Americas named the bird because the bright red colors were reminiscent of the robes of the Cardinals in the Catholic Church. Originally the cardinal only lived in warm areas, such as the southeastern United States, but within the last hundred years the cardinal has expanded its territory as far north as Canada. The cardinal was popularly kept as a pet in the Americas until it was made illegal to cage the bird by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
Cardinals are also called "redbirds," "Virginia nightingales," or "the state bird" due to the seven states in the United States that name the cardinal their state bird. These states are Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.
It is only the male cardinal that has the well-known all-over red coloring. The females have coloring somewhere between tan and grey, with red fringe on their wings, crest and tail. However, the female cardinal is unique in North America as one of the few female birds that sings. The song of a female cardinal is often performed from the nest and is thought to convey information to the male about the female's feeding needs. Cardinals are considered "song birds" and have multiple songs of varying complexity, though the female is considered to have the most complex songs. Cardinals have very gender-specific jobs when it comes to raising their children, with the male in charge of finding food, while the female incubates the eggs.
Cardinals are fiercely defensive of their nests, and are even known to spend hours fighting their own reflection in the belief that they are fighting off an intruder. Cardinals commonly come to bird feeders, and are partial to fruit, such as wild grape and blackberry, and seeds, such as black oil sunflower seeds. Cardinals prefer to make their nests in plants one to fifteen feet off the ground, such as pines, dogwood, and elms. Cardinals often form flocks of up to 100 birds. Cardinals are monogamous, and much of their lifestyle revolves around their mate and raising their young, about three eggs per season.