Family Cardinals (Cardinalidae)

Least Concern

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)


French: Cardinal rouge German: Rotkardinal Spanish: Cardenal norteño

Loxia Cardinalis


, 1758,

South Carolina, USA


Has in the past been placed in a separate genus, Richmondena. Relationship of this species and C. phoeniceus to C. sinuatus the subject of varying opinions. One documented example of a wild-bred hybrid between present species and C. sinuatus, and hybridization in captivity reported. In captivity has hybridized also with Paroaria coronata and Gubernatrix cristata, both of which are currently placed in family Thraupidae. Races fall into two groups based largely on colour of face mask of females, namely “cardinalis group” (comprising 18 races) and single-taxon “carneus group”, although a phylogeographic study identified six lineages within the species#R. In E Mexico, race coccineus intergrades with canicaudus in N coastal Veracruz and yucatanicus intergrades with phillipsi in S Yucatán Peninsula. Race carneus sometimes treated as a full species; conversely, sinaloensis treated by many authors as synonym of affinis, and floridanus sometimes subsumed into nominate. S USA populations in C Oklahoma, S Arkansas, SC Texas, all of Louisiana and SW Mississippi included in magnirostris, but some may belong with another race or represent as yet undescribed race(s). Nineteen subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • C. c. superbus Ridgway, 1885 – SW USA (extreme SE California E through Arizona to SW New Mexico) S to NW Mexico (N Sonora).
  • C. c. townsendi (van Rossem, 1932) – Tiburón I and adjacent coastal Sonora, in W Mexico.
  • C. c. affinis Nelson, 1899 – WC Mexico (SE Sonora, SW Chihuahua, Sinaloa and W Durango).
  • C. c. sinaloensis Nelson, 1899 – W Mexico (C & S Sinaloa S to Michoacán).
  • C. c. mariae Nelson, 1898 – Tres Marías Is (María Madre, María Magdalena and María Cleofas), off Nayarit, in W Mexico.
  • C. c. seftoni (Huey, 1940) – C Baja California (between c. 28° N and 27° N), in NW Mexico.
  • C. c. igneus S. F. Baird, 1860 – Baja California S of c. 27° N.
  • C. c. clintoni (Banks, 1963) – Cerralvo I, off SE Baja California.
  • C. c. cardinalis (Linnaeus, 1758) – Northern Cardinal – most of E half of USA and SE Canada from SE South Dakota S to E Oklahoma and C Louisiana, E to Atlantic coast (except SE Georgia and peninsular Florida).
  • C. c. floridanus Ridgway, 1896 – SE Georgia and peninsular Florida (SE USA).
  • C. c. magnirostris Bangs, 1903 – S USA from S Texas and C Oklahoma E to S Arkansas, Louisiana and SW Mississippi.
  • C. c. canicaudus Chapman, 1891 – W Oklahoma and C & W Texas S to C & E Mexico (from Coahuila S to E Jalisco, Guanajuato, C San Luis Potosí and Hidalgo).
  • C. c. coccineus Ridgway, 1873 – Atlantic slope of E Mexico in E San Luis Potosí, Veracruz (except extreme S), NE Puebla and N Oaxaca.
  • C. c. littoralis Nelson, 1897 – lowlands of S Veracruz and Tabasco (SE Mexico).
  • C. c. yucatanicus Ridgway, 1887 – base of Yucatán Peninsula, in SE Mexico.
  • C. c. phillipsi Parkes, 1997 – coastal scrub of Yucatán.
  • C. c. flammiger J. L. Peters, 1913 – SE Mexico (C & S Quintana Roo), N Belize and N Guatemala (Petén).
  • C. c. saturatus Ridgway, 1885 – Cozumel I (off NE Quintana Roo).
  • C. c. carneus (Lesson, 1842) – Long-crested Cardinal – W coast of Mexico from Colima S to Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
  • Introduced to Bermuda (probably nominate) and Hawaii (canicaudus); also Los Angeles, on coast of S California (probably superbus or canicaudus).

    Descriptive notes

    Male 22–23·5 cm, 37–52 g; female 21–21·6 cm, 36–51·5 g (nominate). Male nominate race has crown, elongated crest feathers, side... read more


    Vocalizations intensively studied. Both sexes sing, with broadly similar song types. Song typically... read more


    Semi-open areas with bushes, shrubs and small trees, forest edge, abandoned farmland with bushy... read more

    Food and feeding

    Mostly vegetable matter (c. 70% over year), but young fed almost exclusively (95%) with animal matter. One analysis of stomach contents... read more


    Virtually all studies have been conducted on North American populations. Start of nest-building varies according to location, from Feb in S... read more


    Generally sedentary. Occasional long-distance movements of irregular nature. Of 11,340 recoveries... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Abundant over much of range in E & C North America; listed as Species of Special Concern in SE California. Population densities in ideal habitat... read more

    Recommended citation

    Brewer, D. (2020). Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 27 January 2020).