by Marilyn and Keith Davis

"Why Don't We?"

Northern Cardinal

northern cardinal
        The Northern Cardinal is probably the best liked and most colorful bird in the Americas. The Cardinal is used in so many paintings and decorations that most people just assume they live close by. The question was asked, "Why don’t we have Northern Cardinals in Utah?"  Answer: There was one spotted in Ivins, Utah in 2010. Then years earlier there were sightings around Provo, Utah. It was later found that the sightings were because a college student brought  three pairs into the area and released them. At one time the Cardinal was a favored bird among bird fanciers who kept them in cages. *You should note that having Cardinals in captivity or transporting them outside their natural area is illegal!

        Northern Cardinals are non-migratory and will stay within their home range as long as food and shelter is available, but young male birds, of all species, tend to be wanderers. Northern Cardinal males are spotted because of their bright coloration. There could also be wandering females, but their muted colors make them harder to find.

        The main reason we do not have Northern Cardinals in Utah is a lack of the habitat they prefer. Utah has a vast growth of juniper, pinyon, and sagebrush which does not make an alluring home for the Northern Cardinal. Cardinals need brushy undergrowth, thickets, woodland edges, large agricultural fields, swamps, and lots of backyard gardens.  However, the range of the Cardinal is spreading. In the last few years, they have gone into parts of southern Canada from the eastern States.  Closer to us, they have been seen in southern Arizona along the many riparian areas . . . so watch out Utah!

        Birders could try filling their feeders full of sunflower seeds, for Cardinals love sunflower seeds. But remember, there are other birds already in the area with the same preference.  Unlike many songbirds, both male and female Cardinals sing, and maybe they sing because their average life span in the wild can be up to 15 years.

        Keep a close watch out for the Northern Cardinal. In the meantime, enjoy the many migrants coming our way. The artist this week is Keith Davis. If you have questions about birds or any of the Red Cliffs Audubon presentations and field trips, call 435 673-0996 or go to our website at   If you happen to find a Northern Cardinal hanging out in your backyard, give us a call.

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