Cardinals are a wonderful and popular bird, which tend to be found in dense shrubby areas including forests, hedgerows, overgrown fields, and backyards. They are generally medium to large songbirds and are a common visitor to backyard bird feeders.
Cardinals are loved for their vibrant colors, of blue, red, or yellow, which is often seen in breeding males.
Finding bird eggs or seeing baby birds of any species in your garden is exciting, but it can be even more special if they are cardinal baby birds or cardinal eggs. If you have some cardinals in your garden, and you are interested in finding out if and when they might lay some eggs this article will provide you with all you need to know.
Cardinal Nesting Overview
Cardinal birds are an ever-popular species, but surprisingly given their popularity, many know little about the birds themselves or their nesting and breeding regimes. Helpfully, this article provides detail on the nesting and growing process cardinal baby birds go through. As a useful snapshot the key information is:
- Number of Broods Per Season: 2-4
- Breeding Season: February-September
- Nesting Season: March-August
- Number of Eggs Per Brood: 1-5 eggs
- Number of Eggs Per Season: Up to 20
- Egg Description: About 1 long, and 0.75 wide
- Variety of colors – either light gray, ivory, or light green, with specs which are gray or brown in color
- Incubation period: 12-13 days
What Month Do Cardinals Lay Eggs?
Female cardinals have a very long breeding season. They can lay their eggs between the months of February and September, which is much longer than many other wild birds. They are known to lay eggs well into late September.
Cardinals can have a long breeding season because they do not migrate, leaving them with more time and energy to breed and look after their young.
Cardinals can have between 2 and 4 broods per season, and up to 5 eggs per brood. This means a single female cardinal bird could lay more than 20 eggs per season, meaning that the number of cardinal birds you have in your garden can increase rapidly through the season.
Cardinal nests are around 4″ by 3″ and are made up of twigs, bark, leaves, and grass stems, and are made by the female cardinal birds. Cardinal birds do not normally use their nest more than once, and as soon as one brood has left the nest, the female cardinal bird will begin looking for the next one.
When building a nest, the female cardinal adapts her building technique to the season and the temperature. In spring, the female cardinal will add more insulation to the nest, which is needed to give her offspring the best chance of survival in the cooler temperatures.
In summer, the female cardinal will include less insulation, as with the warmer weather, there is a chance that the offspring could overheat. When searching for a location for the next nest, the female cardinal will assess many areas for its potential. Primarily they will be looking for areas that are safe from predators, and concealment is key for this.
Areas, where nests are normally located, are on the edge of wooded areas, or in thick shrubs, hedges, or vegetation.
Interestingly, the location of the nest varies depending on where in the season the brood takes place. For the first brood of the season, the female cardinal birds tend to select nesting places that are closer to the ground. As the season goes on and vegetation growth is fuller, the female cardinal birds tend to select nesting sites that are higher up.
However, the cardinal bird nests are still relatively low compared to other birds, located approximately 4 to 8 feet off the ground. If you want to encourage cardinal birds to nest in your backyard, it can be a great idea to keep some undergrowth around the edges. This will give the nest the protection it needs.
Expert Tip: Outside of the breeding season, female cardinals join large flocks and will forage for food and water with the new flock. Generally, they tend to stay relatively close to the area where they spent their breeding season.
Then when January and February come round again, the female cardinal bird will pair up with her mate from last year or find a new one. and start the breeding process all over again.
What Color And Size Are Cardinal Eggs?
Cardinal eggs are as varied and diverse as cardinal birds themselves. The same female cardinal bird can even lay different colors from brood to brood. However, each brood will contain eggs of a similar color.
Cardinal eggs tend to be much more subdued in color when compared to the cardinal birds themselves. Possible colors of cardinal bird eggs include light gray with brown or gray specs, light green with brown or gray specs, or ivory with brown or gray specs.
Cardinal bird eggs are approximately 1 long, and 0.75 wide. This makes them a similar size eggs to Brown Thrashers. Hairy Woodpecker and a Red-winged Blackbird.
How Long Does It Take For Cardinal Eggs To Hatch?
It takes about 12-13 days for cardinal eggs to hatch after the female cardinal bird begins to incubate the eggs. Female cardinal birds have developed brood patches a bare area of loose skin covering their belly and most of their breast area. This helps keep the eggs warm until they hatch.
During this period, the female cardinal birds will stay with their eggs and the male will bring food to the female cardinal bird. For each of the 12-13 day incubation periods, the female cardinal will incubate the eggs for around 40 minutes at a time. She will then take a short break of around 5-15 minutes, before returning for another 40-minute spell.
When the female cardinal is incubating the eggs, she is constantly on high alert, keeping an eye out for any potential predators. Baby cardinals do not produce their own body heat until they are at least 4 days old, meaning that the nest and the female cardinal bird are the only heat source for the baby cardinals.
At this stage, the female cardinal bird will be especially wary of predators, such as ospreys, hawks, snakes, raccoons, and other birds.
Cardinal Development Stages
Baby cardinal birds go through 5 distinct development stages. They are:
- Hatchling: 0-3 days old. At this stage, they are completely dependent on their parents and cannot open their eyes. They do not have any feathers, making them look naked in appearance. This means they need to be kept warm.
- Nestling: 3-13 days old. As they get older, baby cardinal birds will begin growing feathers on their wings and opening their eyes. However, they are still fully dependent on their parents.
- Fledgling: 7-13 days old. In the fledgling stage, baby cardinal birds will begin to leave the nest and start learning to fly. At this stage, the dad cardinal will begin to take over the caring responsibilities, but the mom cardinal still helps out.
- Juvenile: At this stage, the cardinal bird can go and gather food on its own. However, they still retain their juvenile plumage.
- Adult: When cardinals become adults they molt and lose their juvenile feathers, which are replaced by adult feathers.
Expert Tip: Baby cardinal birds tend to stay with their parents for around 40 days after they leave the nest. In total, this is around 50-60 days old. In some instances, parent cardinals may kick their babies out of the nest early, because they could be on to the next brood to feed.
Whilst this may seem like a heartless action, it is vitally important to give the later broods the best chance of survival. Cardinals are known to live for on average around 3 years, however, some cardinals have been known to live for a staggering 28 1/2 years.
What Do Baby Cardinals Look Like?
The appearance of baby cardinals will depend heavily on what stage of development they are in. As with most baby animals, their appearance changes rapidly, even over a couple of days.
As above, at the hatchling stage, baby cardinal birds are born naked with no feathers. At this stage, they tend to be balled up in a fetal position. They do this to try to keep warm, in the absence of feathers. After three days, baby cardinals will start to grow feathers New feathers normally begin on the wings.
When cardinal birds first begin to leave the nest, they have what looks like messy hair around their head. This means that many refer to them as looking like they have bedhead. Both female and male juvenile cardinal birds have brown fluffy down. This has some streaks of red a wide, stubby beak, and a short tail.
By the time cardinals become juvenile cardinals, they begin to look a lot more like their moms. They have a buff tan color with streaks of orange, subtle red highlights on feathers with a brown beak. At this stage, their crown begins to lay flat. As they get older, the color of juvenile cardinals’ beaks begins to change from black to orange.
Over time, the differences between male and female cardinal birds will begin to show their differences. Male juvenile cardinal birds begin to change from buff-brown bodies to bright red color. At the same time, female juvenile cardinal birds will begin to show streaks of red on their body.
At this stage juvenile cardinals, of both sexes, will have developed bright orange beaks. It is thought that the red streaks of cardinals have come from red pigments in the berries that they eat as they grow older.
What Do Baby Cardinals Eat?
When they are babies, cardinals are predominantly fed insects by their mom. In the first few days, the baby cardinal’s digestive system wouldn’t have developed, so the mom cardinal needs to break up and regurgitate insects for their babies. Caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects are a favorite food for female cardinals to feed their young babies.
This is because they provide a good amount of protein, those young cardinals will need to grow muscles. The soft-bodied nature of caterpillars means that it is easy for the female cardinal to chew and regurgitate the food and for the baby cardinals to eat.
After 4 days, baby cardinals are developing more.
They can begin to eat their own food and open their eyes. At this stage, the mom will still need to catch insects, but the baby cardinals can eat the insects themselves, so they don’t need to regurgitate them.
If you want to help provide a plentiful supply of food to the tired and weary female cardinal bird, it can be a good idea to include plants that attract butterflies into your gardens such as dill and fennel.
Once the baby cardinals begin leaving the nest at around 7-13 days, they are far more active. However, they still need some help with feeding, and mom cardinals will find insects for their babies.
Once baby cardinals grow into adults, if you live in the right areas, you will very likely see cardinal birds being attracted to your bird feeder. They have wider jaws than many other songbirds, and as a result, when they become adults they can eat much bigger seeds than other species.
When they are adults they especially seem to love sunflower seeds, but they also enjoy cracked corn, peanut, and millet. They are equally happy taking food from a large tube feeder, the ground, or a platform feeder.
In the winter months, Cardinal baby birds develop quickly, and watching them grow into fully-fledged adult cardinal birds is a beautiful and fascinating thing to watch. Thankfully, cardinal birds are of low conservation concern, and their numbers are actually increasing year on year.
However, it is important to leave baby cardinal birds undisturbed, as mom and dad cardinal knows best.