Northern Cardinal

The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis, trans. ‘I’m too tired for this; let’s just throw some letters on the end of it to make it look Latinate, repeat it twice, and go home already.’) is a bird in the Family Cardinalae (lit: ‘Listen, it’s fine – they’re all basically Cardinals, right?  So let’s just get this over with. Please.‘) and can be found in southern Canada, most parts of the eastern half of the United States, parts of California, New Mexico, and Arizona (where it often moves either to retire or to open an auto dealership), as well as Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize (where the Cardinal got its scuba diving certification).


‘Hola. Soy el Cardenal, un pájaro rojo. ¿Te gusta diving de scuba?’

Known for their distinctive black masks and pronounced head crests, Cardinals are most famous for their bright red color, though in fact only the male is red; females are a dull gray-brown-red color.  This type of split in gender appearance is known as sexual dimorphism, and, as with most things male, the male Cardinal’s choices in vibrant coloring – along with the scuba lessons and several other behaviors – ultimately center around trying to meet girls.

For instance, the male Northern Cardinal is fiercely territorial, and will even attack its own reflection in a mirror.1 Given that Cardinals rarely venture far from where they were born and are non-migratory, this aggressiveness is probably born in large part from personal insecurity (of course, this suspicion is only increased by their habit of donning the bird equivalent of a sports car).


Watcha bench?

Unlike most northern songbirds, the female cardinal also sings, and since Northern Cardinals learn their songs (and as a result the songs vary by region), there is all the more pressure on the male to come up with something impressive. It is not uncommon to hear the ‘cheer, cheer, cheer’ call of a Cardinal mixed in with the opening chords of Stairway to Heaven during a walk in the woods in the first few days of Spring; nor is it uncommon to see a bright red bird violently attacking its reflection in a mirror for no apparent reason.


‘Anyone wanna hear some Journey?’

To improve their chances, males will often sing duets with female Cardinals, all the while stretching their necks and rocking (both physically and musically). During courtship, the male Cardinal often collects food and feeds it to the female on whom he’s set his sights, even feeding her beak-to-beak as a way of wearing down her defenses. He’s also memorized a couple Robert Frost poems so as soon as he sees an opening he can say, ‘Oh, that reminds me of my favorite poem’ and recite the one that fits best, trying hard to seem like he wasn’t rehearsing this whole routine in the bird bath right before their date.


‘ “…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, and that has made a pretty big difference.”  Sorry, I was just reminded of The Road Less Traveled when you mentioned your new gym membership.’

The male Cardinal will do almost anything to convince the female cardinal to like him, including going to her Pilates class with her, tagging along to museums that he pretends to think are interesting, and encouraging her to work on her children’s book.  And whenever female cardinal comes around, the male cardinal always finds a way to be out in the driveway, working on the house with his shirt off.


‘Oh, hey.  Didn’t see you there. Just cleaning the gutters. Sure is hot out, huh?’

Eventually the female cardinal gives in to his charms and starts liking him.  Of course, the male Cardinal soon regrets everything, though he’s not really sure why.  He starts remembering really important business dinners that he just has to get to.  When the female Cardinal asks him if he has dinner plans, he replies that tonight’s his ‘late day’ at work (regardless of the day) and he probably won’t be leaving the office until midnight.  Then the male Cardinal calls his friend and tells him the whole story.  They hang on the phone for awhile and come to an agreement that this whole thing was a bad idea from the start and that the male Cardinal needs to get out of it somehow.  The two of them will conjure up a plan to that effect, but then the male Cardinal chickens out and agrees to be the female Cardinal’s date to a work party, and soon enough, she thinks they’re dating, and that’s that.

Next thing he knows, the male Cardinal is helping to raise the young and participating in feeding. Since Cardinals are socially monogamous, the male Cardinal will soon find himself buying a minivan and getting a massive mortgage, all the while reminiscing about how great his lost bachelorhood was, even though when he was a bachelor he spent all his free time doing very little of great consequence.  All in all, this is probably just as well, since all of the male Cardinal’s friends are starting families, and he has fewer and fewer buddies with whom to play video games online anyway.


1 This is just sad.

11 responses to “Northern Cardinal

  1. Damn, the whole thing just seems, I don’t know, not tragic, but inexorable.

    Oh well, nobody will remember the refs years from now, and the Cardinals will still be the Cardinals.

    Wait, what was this about again?

  2. I say, remove Cardinals from Holiday cards.

  3. Funny, that cardinal DOES look a lot like Steve Perry.

  4. How about a report on the female cardinal’s point of view?

  5. I always thought Cardinals looked like bouncers or footballers with no necks. The first photo proves it.

    I suspect female Cardinals are distinguished from other dull gray-brown-red coloured birds by the lower back tattoo/tramp stamp and their impractical choice of footwear which they end up breaking in some manner during a night out with fellow female Cardinals while pretending to not be out on the prowl for male Cardinals.

  6. I think this is one of the funniest reviews yet, but then I am a bird freak.

  7. I was outside early morning, March 15th and saw a bright green bird playing in the bushes. I thought someone’s parakeet escaped, but when the bird hopped onto a branch and turned around it had an orange beak with the black surrounding it and had all the features of a cardinal. Then a second one came over. I watched them interact for about three minutes (staring in disbelief and wondering if I was hallucinating). Then the flew off. I observed them enough to know they had all the characteristics of a cardinal except they were green with orange beaks. Were these really cardinals?
    In the last picture on this page, the bird on the right looks similar to the two I saw, but the ones I saw were a much brighter green with orange beaks.

  8. I say cardinals are adrenalin junkies. Drive down a two-lane road with shrubbery or trees alongside it, and large numbers of cardinals will zip in front of your car, just missing it, a la train-dodging. Maybe they’re bored living in the country?

  9. I believe you left out the political acumen of the Cardinal. Not only have they weaseled their way into Major League Baseball and the National Football Leagues (and possibly college, but we’re not really sure what’s going on with the Stanford Cardinal), it has also become the State Bird for Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. That sort of popularity could lead it to a Supreme Court nomination, easily.

  10. The first picture shows that cardinals look like Tony Siragusa, who was a Raven, a Baltimore one.

  11. NFL football playing cardinals are very migratory birds… from Chicago to St. Louis (to join their baseball-playing brothers) in 1960, then on to Arizona in 1987. Apparently their collegiate football cousins in Louisville are content to just stay put.

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