Are Cardinals Territorial?

are cardinals territorial

To look at, you wouldn’t think it was true. That the lovable and cute looking northern cardinal would be anything but friendly. Surely Angry Birds, which features the character Red, an angry northern cardinal, is exaggerating or has flat-out got it completely wrong. It’s the only real explanation. Northern cardinals never seem aggressive or angry.

Given how popular they are among birders old and new, they always look remarkably classy and can hold a decent tune, both the male and the female. They even have the distinction of being named the state bird for more states than any other bird. Currently they are the state bird for West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois.

While I hate to burst your bubble, the truth is, in certain situations, the male northern cardinal can become highly territorial.

Why Are Northern Cardinals Territorial?

If you’ve never seen an angry northern cardinal, you’ve probably never seen one during nesting and breeding season. There is a marked difference in their behavior and demeanor around this time.

They become territorial over their range during those periods because they are protecting it, as well as their mate and future spawn from intruders. It’s nothing personal, just stay off their land, particularly during that special time of the year when nesting and breeding is happening. Especially if you are another male northern cardinal.

Keep your distance from a protective cardinal and you will be alright.

They surely can’t be that bad, though, can they? I mean, what’s the worst a little cute bird like a cardinal can do?


Are They Really Aggressive?

It is true that they are not the biggest birds in the world, but that doesn’t stop them from letting the world know when they have their own territory to protect. Male cardinals will sing songs as warnings to any intruders looking to overstep the mark into an area that’s not their own.

Cardinals aren’t just all talk and no trousers, so to speak, however. If and when push comes to shove, they will attack and fight off any intruders on their territory.

This rather humorously extends to the fact that during the breeding season, cardinals will fight their own reflection, mistaking it for an intruder. There have been cases, because of this, where a cardinal has been fighting with its own reflection in a shiny bumper, car mirror or even window for hours on end. Even females have been known to do this.

So, if you ever see a cardinal fighting against a piece of reflective material, it’s not insane, it’s just in defensive territorial mode.

Cardinals Are Incredibly Sociable (At Other Points of the Year)

The funny thing is cardinals are not aggressive birds all year round. They are quite nice. For instance, once mating and breeding season has passed, their aggressive hormones will start to subside. This is particularly true during wintertime when the temperature drops, and food is scarcer than it is during other parts of the year. This is normally when they return to their flocks and play nicely. It’s only when they pair up with a mate and they are becoming a parent that their ferocious side comes out.

So, when you set up your cardinal bird feeders, and especially if you have set up space in your backyard to encourage these beautiful birds to nest there when it’s time, you may get a first glimpse of how angry they can be.

If not, there are plenty of YouTube videos out there or you could simply download and play a bit of Angry Birds!

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