In my last post I mentioned that in the bird kingdom all the beauty and color was handed down to the males, while the females were given just a drab old brown color. Not so in the case of the cardinals.
Although the females do not have the beautiful red color of the males, they are not totally lusterless either.
Females are pale brown overall with warm reddish tinges in the wings, tail, and crest. They have the same black face and red-orange bill as the male cardinal, except.....
..... the males are brilliant red all over, with a reddish bill and black face immediately around the bill.
The Northern Cardinal's bright red plumage reminded early European settlers of the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, high-ranking bishops who wear red robes and caps. Both this bird's common name and its scientific moniker Cardinalis cardinalis refer to these church officials. A group of Northern Cardinals is called a "college," "conclave," or "Vatican."
Illinois was the first of seven states to select the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) as its State Bird. The cardinal was chosen in 1929. Illinois schoolchildren voted for the State Bird.
Both the male and female can be identified by the large, pointed crest on the head. A cardinal has a thick beak, too. The average length of an adult cardinal is about eight inches.
Cardinals live in Illinois all year. It is a beautiful sight to see a bright red cardinal against a snowy background in winter. They live in forest edges, thickets, parks, gardens and suburban areas. Cardinals are even found in our large cities.
In spring, the female and male work together to build the nest of grasses, bark, vines, sticks and other plant materials. Cardinals make their loose, cup-shaped nest in shrubs, bushes and thickets. The nest is usually placed from three to 20 feet above the ground. The female lays two to five pale, blue-white eggs. The eggs have red-brown speckles. Cardinals can raise more than one brood in a year.
The female cardinal sings duets with her mate during courtship and while she's on the nest. During that time, her singing tells her mate when to bring food — and also when to stay away. This warning keeps the more conspicuous male's visits to a minimum, lest his flashy color expose the nest to predators.
Cardinals forages mostly while hopping on ground or in low bushes, sometimes higher in trees. Readily comes to bird feeders, where it favors sunflower seeds.