All About Female Cardinal

female cardinal

When it comes to birds, many people immediately think of the bright red plumage of the male cardinal. The vibrant colouration is hard to miss, and it’s no wonder that the male cardinal is often the show’s star. However, it’s important to remember that the female cardinal is just as fascinating and deserving of attention.

In this article, you will learn about the female cardinals, exploring their unique characteristics, habits, and behaviours. By the end of this article, you’ll be well-equipped to appreciate the female cardinal for the remarkable bird she is.

The Female Cardinal: A Bird of Beauty and Strength

The female cardinal, also known as the cardinalis cardinalis, is a medium-sized songbird with a distinctive shape and colouration. While she may not be as brightly coloured as her male counterpart, the female cardinal is still a stunning bird with a unique beauty. 

Her plumage is a warm, brown colour with a reddish tint, which helps her blend in with her surroundings. This camouflage is important for her survival, allowing her to sneak up on potential predators and protect her young.

One of the most striking features of the female cardinal is her massive seed-cracking beak. This powerful beak is perfectly adapted for cracking open seeds and nuts, a staple of her diet. The beak is also incredibly strong, allowing her to crack open even the toughest seeds and shells. This impressive beak is a testament to the female cardinal’s strength and resourcefulness.

Role in the Courtship Ritual

The female cardinal plays a vital role in the northern cardinal’s courtship ritual. As part of this ritual, males often bring food to their potential mates, a behaviour known as “mate guarding.” 

This behaviour is crucial for the female cardinal, as it allows her to assess the quality of the male and his ability to provide for her and their young.

The female cardinal also often receives food treats from the male, which helps strengthen their bond and establish a sense of trust.

In addition to mate guarding, the female cardinal plays a crucial role in incubation. She will spend nearly two weeks sitting on her eggs, keeping them warm and safe from predators. 

This dedication to her young is a testament to her maternal instincts and commitment to raising a healthy and thriving family.


The female cardinal is a skilled builder, constructing intricate nests using twigs, grasses, and other plant material. These nests are typically cup-shaped and are designed to provide a safe and cozy space for her young. 

The female cardinal will often line the nest with soft materials like moss and feathers, creating a comfortable and secure environment for her eggs.

The female cardinal will typically lay two to four eggs per clutch, which she will incubate for nearly two weeks. After the eggs hatch, she will continue to care for her young, feeding and protecting them until they are old enough to fend for themselves. 

This process can take several weeks, during which time the female cardinal will work tirelessly to ensure the survival of her young.

Unique Characteristics

One of the most fascinating things about the female cardinal is her unique characteristics. Unlike many other birds, the female cardinal has a distinctive crest of feathers on her head, which she can raise and lower at will. This crest is thought to be used for communication and mating, and it’s a key identifier for the species.

The female cardinal also has a distinctive song, often described as a series of whistled notes. This song is used for communication and territorial defence, and it’s a key way for the female cardinal to establish her presence in her territory.


The female cardinal is a remarkable bird with a unique beauty, strength, and dedication to her young. By understanding her habits, behaviours, and characteristics, we can better appreciate this often-overlooked bird. 

Whether you are a seasoned birder or just starting out, the female cardinal is a bird worth getting to know.

Some Questions

What does it mean to let a female cardinal fly under the radar? 

It means to overlook or underestimate the importance and uniqueness of the female cardinal, often focusing solely on the male cardinal’s bright plumage and distinctive song.

What are some key characteristics of a female cardinal?

Female cardinals are brownish-gray with a red wash along their tail, wings, and head. They have a sharp crest and warm red accents, making them just as striking as their male counterparts.

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