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Northern cardinal's color brightens winter

Backyard Safari

Friday, January 01, 2010

Media contact: Jessica Basham

Most gardens and woods look faded and empty in winter. We don't see as many animals as we do in summertime. The cold air makes animals seek warmth under leaves, logs or low-lying branches. However, one animal keeps busy and brightens nature during winter. The Northern cardinal is hard to miss flittering and flying around. He is bright red, so he stands out when perched on bare tree branches.

Cardinals do not migrate like other birds. They don't seem to mind the cold, so they stay put. That may be one reason the cardinal is considered a Christmas bird. Images of the bird can be seen on ornaments, cards and many other winter decorations.

The male cardinal is bright ruby red. Its face and throat are black, and he has a bright orange beak. The female cardinal is very different in color. She is mostly brown, but the same ruby red colors of the male dust her wings and tail. Her beak is not as bright as the male's and looks almost pink. Both have a telltale crest or pointed tuft of head feathers.

Northern cardinals are one of many birds that have learned to live in cities.  They especially like parks and garden areas. They also live in the country, in wooded areas or areas with lots of shrubs and bushes. Northern cardinals make their nests from twigs and grasses and build them low to the ground in thickets and bushes. When the females lay eggs, they lay 2-5 whitish eggs marked with browns and grays.

During winter, look out your window and you may see many at once. During the warmer mating season, you may see only one female and one male at a time.

Ask your mom or dad if you can go outside and lay down in the grass so you can look up into the trees. Don't be disappointed if you don't see one right away. You may need to ask your mom or dad to put out some sunflower seeds. They love them!  Northern cardinals also eat fruit and small insects.

Cardinals are not the only winter bird in Florida.  If you like watching birds, ask if you can borrow some binoculars. Binoculars are a neat way to see birds up close. Start keeping a journal of the birds you see. If you write down their colors and other things about them, you will be able to look them up. You can also visit for some fun birding activities and to become a junior birder by joining the Wings Over Florida Junior Birder Program!

If you see a cardinal, it is said you will have luck. So next time you see one, make a wish!

FWC Facts:
The St. Johns River hosts the southernmost population of spawning American shad in North America.

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