Northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) are common backyard birds that we often take for granted though their family life is interesting.
Bob Kroeger photographed cardinals nesting in his Cape Cod backyard in May and June. The slideshow lets us pause and see what they’re doing.
The male is very bright red: This is good news for the family. Studies have shown that males with bright red breasts and females with bright underwings show more parental care to their young.
He feeds his mate at the birdbath: The male’s job is to feed his mate from nest building through brooding (and perhaps beyond). This makes sense because male cardinals don’t have brood patches. The females build the nest, incubate the eggs and brood the young.
She’s eating away from the nest: It’s perfectly normal for the female to spend time away from the nest, even if there are eggs in it. During incubation, which lasts 11-13 days, the female spends 30% of daylight hours away from the nest.
Two juveniles on a branch with their father: This cardinal couple beat the odds. The majority of nests fail due to predation.
How to recognize juvenile cardinals: The juveniles resemble their mother but their beaks are dark. (Adults have orange-red beaks.) The juveniles’ beaks will turn orange-red when they are 65-80 days old.
You can’t see the food in the father’s beak: The parents feed insects to their young but they carry the food far back in their large beaks. Researchers probably find this frustrating when they have to identify what the young are eating.
How long will the young depend on their parents? Juvenile cardinals are completely dependent on their parents for about 19 days. Around that time, their mother starts to build her next nest. Dad may feed the youngsters occasionally until they are 25-56 days old.