Birds of America – All About The Cardinal Grosbeak

This bird is also called ‘The Cardinal’ or ‘redbird’ and is one of the most popular songbirds in North America.  Their slowly dwindling numbers are giving concern and in some areas, they are nearly low enough to put them on the ‘threatened’ list.  How much do you know about the Cardinal Grosbeak?

History of the Cardinal Grosbeak

All through the early 1800’s, these birds were prized because of their beautiful scarlet color and their lovely singing.  As a result, thousands were trapped and sold in cages.  And they didn’t just stay in America.  In the late 1800’s, America made a pact with Europe, to trap and sell the birds to Europeans.  Because of this, thousands more were exported to Europe, for the pleasure of wealthy Victorians.  Happily, this was stopped by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which was passed in 1918.  Today, the Cardinal Grosbeak may not be trapped, sold or kept in a cage.

Why is it called The Cardinal?

The name is thought to originate from the Cardinals of the Catholic Church.  They wore – and still wear – scarlet red robes and the Cardinal Grosbeak is a stunning scarlet red.

The original name was the Northern Cardinal, which presumably related to it being a North American Bird, because at that time, it was only found in the South of the United States.  Now, it can be see in almost every state.

Are they completely red?

No – the male is a vibrant scarlet but has a black patch from eyes to throat.  The female bird is a duller shade of red which can go as dull as a reddish brown.  She has red areas on her breast, wings and tail.  Males and females both have quite pointed crests on their heads.  They both have short wings, long tails and stubby scarlet beaks.  They both have deep red legs and feet.  Cardinals Grosbeaks are around 8 or 9 inches long.

Why is their song so popular?

They are renowned for whistling.  When males and females are together, they whistle a duet!  The whistling is loud and clear and can vary from one area to another.


Cardinal Grosbeaks mate for life.  It’s unusual to see one without another nearby.  The mother bird lays between 3 and 5 eggs and stays on the nest (which is made from small twigs, pieces of bark, roots, and lined with soft grass) being fed by the male.  The eggs hatch in under two weeks and then both birds share the task of feeding them and keeping them safe.  One pair of breeding birds may raise as many as four families in one season.  Often, the families (broods) will overlap, with the male caring for one live batch, while the female incubates the next lot!

Baby Cardinal Grosbeaks all tend to look female when they hatch, except that their beaks are black to start with, turning cream and then scarlet as they grow.

Do they migrate?

No – Cardinals are one of the very few breeds who don’t migrate.  They do tend to clan together during the winter and at that time of year, flocks of seventy or more may be seen.

What do they eat?

They love insects, which make up almost a third of their intake during the summer.  They are often used to help areas suffering an infestation of insects.  They also enjoy seeds, fruit, berries. flowers and leaf buds.

Where can I see them?

They live anywhere that they can find insects, such as bushes, wooded areas, parks and residential areas too.

Why not put some seeds and berries on your bird feeder and see if you can attract these stunning birds into your yard?  It’s well worth the effort!

Bird Watch HQ

"If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands" - Douglas Adams

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