Definitive Guide to Cardinal Nesting Location, Behavior and Eggs

Cardinal Nesting
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Northern Cardinals stand as one of the most beloved backyard avian residents in America, and a single glance at their appearance reveals the charm behind their popularity. Within their genus, there are two North American species, and they can be observed throughout the central and eastern regions of the United States, with their presence stretching southward to Arizona.

For bird enthusiasts, the privilege of hosting these melodious songbirds nesting on their premises is a source of joy. With a touch of fortune, you might even witness them nesting right in your backyard. But where and when do these Cardinals build their nests?

Typically, Northern Cardinals initiate their nesting during the springtime, although nest construction often commences as early as late winter. Female Cardinals take on the task of creating a simple, cup-shaped nest within the dense tangle of shrubs or trees, placing it at an elevation of five to seven feet above the ground.

Over the course of about three weeks, Northern Cardinals employ their nests for incubating eggs and rearing their fledglings. Once this period concludes, they do not recycle their nests, making the breeding season a bustling phase for birds that can raise up to four broods annually. As the female begins preparations for the next brood, the male assumes responsibility for caring for the fledged chicks.

This article delves into the nesting behaviors of the Northern Cardinal. Continue reading to explore the locations, timings, and methodologies of these vibrant songbirds as they nest across the wild and suburban landscapes of North America.

Details about Cardinal Nesting

Nest Location:

Ever wondered about the favored nesting spots of Cardinals? These birds manifest heightened territorial tendencies during their breeding phase, making it likely that the regular visitors to your backyard are residents with a nearby nest.

Where do Cardinals choose to build their nests? Northern Cardinals commonly construct their nests in the protective forks of thorny shrubs and vines. Such impenetrable vegetation offers shelter for the eggs and fledglings against the elements and potential nest predators.

From the northern stretches of Southeastern Canada to the southern confines of Belize in Central America, Northern Cardinals are year-round inhabitants in the United States. Additionally, they have been introduced beyond their native habitat, and today, you can observe nesting Cardinals even in Hawaii and Bermuda.

These adaptable songbirds opt for various shrubby habitats, including woodlands, watercourses, and suburban areas in drier regions.

Consistency of Nesting Spots:

Nesting Cardinals exhibit fidelity to their established breeding territories from year to year. In truth, a significant number of them remain within these territories throughout. While Cardinals might not adhere to the same exact nesting spot each year, they might revisit a specific location if it has proven successful for them in the past.

Backyard Nesting:

Backyards frequently serve as nesting grounds for Northern Cardinals. Astonishingly, these birds have adeptly acclimated to suburban environments and the evolving American landscapes. This adaptability has even led to their expansion into Southern Canada over the past few decades.

Do Cardinals utilize nest boxes? Cardinals do not make use of nest boxes. Unlike species that nest within cavities, Cardinals show a preference for constructing their nests within the shelter of tree and shrub branches.

Which trees do Cardinals select for nesting? Cardinals exhibit nesting behaviors in a variety of trees and shrubs across their expansive habitat in America. You might spot their nests in the following plant species:


  • Pines
  • Maples
  • Red and White Cedars
  • American Elms
  • White Spruces
  • Black Locusts
  • Netleaf Hackberry


  • Honeysuckle
  • Hawthorn
  • Blackberry
  • Privet

How high are the nests of Cardinals? The nesting sites of Northern Cardinals are relatively close to the ground. The majority of their nests are situated at an elevation of five to seven feet, although heights can vary from one to forty feet above the ground.

Nest Appearance:

The nest-building of Northern Cardinals results in relatively standard cup-shaped structures. Delve into the details below to enhance your ability to identify a Cardinal nest within your backyard.

What are the characteristics of Cardinal nests? Northern Cardinals construct modest, bowl-like nests composed of plant materials. Keep an eye out for the delicate twig framework, which is nearly twice as wide as it is tall. The exterior of the nest might appear somewhat untidy, but its interior cup maintains a tidy and rounded shape.

Size of Cardinal Nesting:

Cardinals fabricate small, cup-shaped nests that are adequately spacious to accommodate the incubating female and her brood of two or three chicks. Let’s delve into the measurements of an average Northern Cardinal nest:

A cardinal egg generally measures around 0.8 to 0.9 inches (2 to 2.3 cm) in length and approximately 0.6 to 0.7 inches (1.5 to 1.8 cm) in width. The precise size can slightly vary depending on factors like the age and health of the female cardinal.


The nesting season of Northern Cardinals extends quite long, covering even three seasons of the year. Continue reading to discover the timing of Cardinals’ nesting behavior.

During which time of the year do Cardinals nest?

The process of Cardinal nest construction begins from late winter to mid-spring, typically between February and April. This period marks the transition from winter’s grip to longer days. Cardinals often commence nest-building even before the last traces of snow have melted and their chosen tree or shrub has begun to leaf out.

Cardinals initiate their nesting efforts early, and their breeding season lasts for an extended duration. In favorable years, these industrious birds can raise multiple broods, with the final fledging of chicks occurring as late as early September in the fall.

What is the duration of Cardinals’ nesting?

The nesting phase of Northern Cardinals can encompass up to eight months in a year. The process starts with the pair scouting for a suitable nest site, which can take over two weeks. The female Cardinals spend about a week constructing the nest, and within a week of its completion, they lay their eggs.

After an incubation period of 11 to 13 days, the eggs hatch, and the chicks leave the nest about 9 or 10 days later. The young birds continue to receive parental care, including feeding, for an additional month or even longer before achieving full independence.

During which month do Cardinals lay eggs?

Cardinals begin laying their initial eggs during the months of March and April, which are part of the spring season. The last clutch of eggs for the year is usually laid by mid-August.

Where do Cardinals nest during the winter?

Although some Cardinals remain on their breeding territories throughout the year, most begin nesting in the spring. During the winter, many Cardinals congregate in flocks and often choose trees and shrubs as communal roosting spots.

Nest Construction:

The task of constructing nests primarily falls on female Northern Cardinals, with minimal assistance from their male counterparts. Using a combination of natural and human-made materials, the construction process typically takes three to nine days to complete. Let’s delve into the details of how Cardinals build their nests.

How do Cardinals go about constructing their nests? Female Northern Cardinals establish their nests securely within the fork of a branch without any actual attachment. The nest is composed of various layers, beginning with a coarse outer layer that might appear somewhat loose and unstructured.

The interior cup, on the other hand, is crafted from softer materials to ensure comfort and insulation.

Female Cardinals shape the nest by softening twigs and arranging them around their bodies to create a cozy cup of precisely the right size. They maneuver within the nest as they work, using their feet to position the materials.

What materials do Cardinals utilize for nesting?

Cardinals employ a diverse array of natural and even unnatural materials to construct their nests. Twigs are woven together to form the outer structure, while softer components like bark strips, leaves, grass, and pine needles are incorporated for the inner layers. Additionally, Cardinals might incorporate artificial materials like plastic and paper into their nests.

Who constructs the nest among male and female Cardinals?

The responsibility for building the nest usually falls on the female Cardinals, although their male partners might assist by collecting twigs and other materials required for nest construction.

Cardinal Eggs Once the nest is prepared, female Northern Cardinals move to the next phase of the nesting process – laying eggs. Within a span of eight days, she lays her eggs and subsequently begins incubating them once they are safely nestled within the nest.

Description of Cardinal eggs Cardinal eggs are relatively small, measuring around 1 x 0.75 inches (2.5 x 2 cm). They exhibit speckles or spots in shades of gray or brown, against a backdrop of whitish, grayish, or greenish hues.

How many eggs are typically laid by Cardinals?

A Cardinal’s usual clutch consists of two or three eggs, although nest contents can vary from one to as many as five eggs.

Do male Cardinals participate in egg incubation?

Male Northern Cardinals seldom take part in nest incubation. The task of incubating the eggs predominantly rests with the female.

Fledgling and Parental Care When it comes to feeding the chicks, male Cardinals play a more active role. During the incubation stage, they may also provide food to the female, similar to their behavior during courtship.

Male Cardinals continue to feed the fledglings even as the female prepares for the next breeding cycle.

When do young Cardinals leave the nest?

Baby Northern Cardinals can begin leaving the nest as early as seven days after hatching. However, the majority of chicks fledge around nine to ten days after hatching, with some remaining in the nest until they are nearly two weeks old.

At this stage, fledgling Northern Cardinals remain reliant on their parents and stay in close proximity to the nest. The parents continue to provide nourishment for the fledglings for a period of up to eight weeks after fledging.

How many sets of offspring do Cardinals have?

Northern Cardinals are capable of producing as many as four broods per year, although two or three broods are more commonly observed.

Common Questions About Cardinal Nesting

Do Cardinals abandon their nests?

Cardinals typically abandon their nests once their nesting cycle for the year is concluded. However, they won’t readily leave a nest that contains eggs or chicks. It’s advised to avoid getting too close to a nest to prevent disturbing the mother and her young.

Do Cardinals build nests on the ground? Northern Cardinals do not construct nests on the ground. They opt for the protection of dense shrubs and trees to create their nesting sites.

Where do Cardinals rest at night?

During the nesting season, female Cardinals spend the night incubating their eggs to maintain warmth and protection. Outside of the nesting season, they sleep in trees and shrubs.

Ways to attract nesting Cardinals The most effective way to attract Cardinals to your yard is by providing suitable foraging and nesting habitats. Planting native vegetation like American Elderberry and Wild Grape creates favorable nesting opportunities for these delightful backyard birds.

Do Cardinals sleep with their nestlings?

Mother Cardinals diligently brood their nestlings in the initial days after hatching. To keep the young ones warm, she must sleep with them as they lack feathers and the ability to regulate their body temperature.

Can you relocate a Cardinal nest?

In the United States, interfering with nesting Cardinals is prohibited by law. The best course of action is to wait until the nesting process is completed before considering nest removal.

The incubation and brooding phases last approximately three weeks, after which the fledglings become independent and start flying within an additional two weeks.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many eggs do female cardinals lay?

Female cardinals usually lay clutches of 2 to 5 eggs, with the average number being around 3 to 4 eggs. If the initial eggs are lost or damaged, the female might lay another set of eggs later in the same breeding season.

How long is the incubation period for cardinal eggs?

Cardinal eggs typically take approximately 11 to 12 days to hatch following their deposition. During this incubation period, the female cardinal diligently warms the eggs to ensure proper development.

What should I do if I come across abandoned cardinal eggs?

When encountering abandoned cardinal eggs, it’s advisable to refrain from interfering. Removing bird eggs from the wild or disturbing them is against the law. Instead, observe the natural process of the cardinals’ lifecycle, knowing you’ve respected their habitat.

Why are cardinal eggs marked with speckles?

Speckling on cardinal eggs serves as a form of camouflage and protection against predators. The speckles resemble the appearance of twigs and leaves found in the female cardinal’s nest. This adaptation makes it harder for predators to detect the eggs, ensuring the survival of the upcoming generation of cardinals.

I'm Nauman Afridi, the bird enthusiast behind My lifelong passion for birds has led me to create a space where fellow bird lovers can find valuable insights and tips on caring for our feathered friends.Professionally, I'm a brand strategist and digital marketing consultant, bringing a unique perspective to the world of bird care. Whether you're a novice or an experienced bird owner, is designed to be a welcoming community for all.Feel free to explore, and reach out if you have any questions or just want to chat about birds.
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