Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) are among the most recognizable backyard birds. They are abundant throughout nearly half of the United States. Their range spans a wide variety of habitats, from the deciduous woodlands of the east to desert scrub habitat in the southwest. So let's get into it, where do cardinals live?
The cardinal is particularly common in the southeastern United States. However, they can be found north throughout the US and have even expanded their range into parts of southern Canada. These birds also occur as far west as New Mexico and eastern Arizona, with territories reaching southward into Mexico and Central America.
The adaptable northern cardinal has been naturally expanding its range north into colder climates since the 1800s. It might be puzzling to imagine why these birds would choose to move north, where the winters are longer and harsher. We have those answers and more in the following article!
A Northern Cardinal perched, Southern Texas, USA
The cardinal has a varied habitat - enjoying everything from dense thickets to semi-open areas. These birds are found along woodland edges, marshlands, suburban gardens, or city parks. They also thrive around forest clearings, shrublands, hedgerows boarding agriculture fields, and desert scrub habitats.
Cardinals require dense shrubs or thick foliage that provides ample cover for the nestlings and themselves. The birds' habitat preferences remain much the same throughout winter. They will seek shelter in shrubs or thickets that offer protection from the elements and spend their days foraging or visiting birdfeeders.
Cardinals are abundant throughout the eastern half of the United States and are native as far west as Texas and South Dakota. The birds grow less and less common farther west. Although, they do occur in southern New Mexico and Arizona and have been introduced to southern California.
A pair of Northern cardinals pictured in Louisiana, during the early spring
Cardinals are historically most common in the warmer climates of the southeastern United States. However, these adaptable little redbirds have expanded their range northward into the New England and Great Lakes areas of the US, successfully making their way to southeastern Canada. The cardinal is also quite common in regions of Mexico and Central America.
The birds’ northern expansion is likely due to a few factors. An increase in food availability is the most important element. Cardinals can withstand longer, colder winters when food sources do not become scarce. Warmer climates and the popularity of backyard bird feeders contribute to an increase in resources for these birds.
Cardinals are not generally found in states west of South Dakota and Texas or north of Arizona and New Mexico. There are records of vagrant cardinals showing up in Utah, Nevada, and Colorado. Montana, east of the continental divide, has also documented the presence of cardinals, but the occurrence is rare.
There are no current records of these birds ever appearing in the Pacific Northwest states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
Close up of a male cardinal, pictured in Louisiana
Cardinals are not migratory. They remain in their territories year-round. As long as the birds have ample food supply, New England and midwestern winters do not have much effect on them. When the weather is particularly harsh, cardinals will seek shelter in dense, evergreen vegetation - somewhere well protected from wind and moisture.
Cardinals sleep throughout the night but do not always stay in the same place. It is often safer for a bird to mix up its sleeping arrangements lest predators become aware of the cardinal is.
At night, Cardinals like to have ample cover over their heads and enough vegetation to conceal them from predators. Trees and shrubs with thick foliage, dense thickets, or tree cavities are all suitable shelters for a cardinal.
Cardinal surrounded by green foliage in spring
Cardinals are non-migratory, meaning they are permanent residents within their range. Once these birds establish their territory, they rarely leave it, even in winter. Instead, the birds will forage for the seasonal foods available wherever they call home.
In warmer seasons, cardinals eat a variety of seeds, berries, and insects. In winter, they depend more upon berries and seeds. They are common visitors to backyard bird feeders as well. Warmer climates and greater food availability (due to the use of bird feeders) allow the cardinal to overwinter in the northernmost regions of their habitat. In southern regions, winter is barely a concern at all.
Female cardinal perched in a tree
Northern cardinals are not native to California and are not found in the Northern half of the state. However, they have been introduced to southern California and can be seen there year-round.
Northern cardinals do live in Florida. They are very common year-round residents throughout this southeastern state.
Perhaps surprisingly, cardinals do live in Arizona. They are most common in the southeastern portion of the state and rarely occur farther west than this.
Cardinals are rare in Colorado and are not native to the state. There are records of a rare vagrant cardinal showing up in Colorado, however.
Male cardinal eating seeds from a feeder, during the winter
Cardinals are not native to Utah and are not regular residents. There are records of the occasional cardinal passing through this state, though.
Cardinal sightings in Phoenix are rare. The birds’ range only reaches southeastern Arizona, whereas Phoenix is located farther west.
Cardinals have made their way into Denver and other regions of eastern Colorado. However, this occurrence is rare.
Cardinals do not live in Europe. They are native to the eastern half of the United States, as far west as South Dakota and Texas. Historically, the birds were most common in the southeast but have expanded their range north into southeastern Canada.
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