Northern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalis

February 10, 2014

Northern Cardinals are a permanent, year round fixture of the bird-scape where I live. So ubiquitous that it is easy to take their striking appearance and song for granted. In winter, and especially this winter, their scarlet red plumage is a welcome shock of color. The bright red of the males is beautiful, of course, but I love the female plumage just as much: brown with the tail, crest, and wing tips dipped in crimson. 

For the last several years I have been trying to mentally mark the first day in late winter that I hear a cardinal sing their melodic, dipping hymn. Weeks, and months of seeming silence as fall darkens towards winter solstice, and then the days begin their slow creep towards longer hours of light. Supposedly both male and female Northern Cardinals sing all year. Around here, however, in the darkest winter days I never hear their songs; often a sharp string of "chips", but not the swooping melodies of spring and summer.

Today, was the first day of 2014 I heard that song return. I was leaving my local cafe, coffee in hand, rushing across a dingy snowed covered street when I paused to listen. Springtime, in this part of the world at least, is still a ways off, but that cardinal let me know there is hope in the air.


  1. I heard a chickadee song on my walk to the train this morning and had the same thought! Of course I don't know that I haven't been hearing them already, but the way that clear two-note song hit me made me suddenly realize how much I'd missed it. And with the temperature still at -1, it seemed just that much more incredible.

  2. I love cardinals. There is a beautiful pair that visits our backyard regularly and mostly I hear the polite and sweet sounds they make when they are checking if I have left seeds out for them. I found this recording tonight of the song I think you are referring to. It's quite beautiful although it disturbed Meeko a little bit to hear it coming from our dining room. ;) I'll have to keep my ears open in the weeks ahead.

  3. Diana, I haven't gotten the pleasure yet to hear their song, but I'm not outside for extended periods of time either. Before the trees get their leaves I try to follow the song and find the cardinal way at the top singing his heart out. Will this print be available?
    Robin from Indiana

  4. Cardinals seem so bright and exotic to me, I think you are very lucky.I shall have to find that tune that Kathleen has mentioned. Our little robins change their tunes from a mournful winter one to a more spring like brighter ditty, we have heard this already as it's been mild here (snow today though)?


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