It is likely that you are aware that most birds tend to mate for life. Sure, there are some that get involved in almost human-like things like cheating and divorce, it is at a much lower rate than occurs in the human race. You probably could name a couple of the most common bird species that mate for life – eagles, cranes, swans and geese are all monogamous and all mate for life.
At BirdWatchingBuzz we love cardinal birds more than many others. They are just so stunning to look at and have a gracefulness about them.
Do they, though, mate for life or are they one of the few birds that don’t?
That is what we are going to discuss in this post, as well as looking at what happens in the sad situation when one half of a cardinal couple dies. Do they move on? We will answer that question too.
First things first.
Do Cardinal Birds, Like Many Other Species, Mate for Life?
Generally speaking, northern cardinals are a monogamous bird species, where there is one male mate to one female mate. While many will stick together from one breeding season to another, others, choose a different mate with each new breeding season.
They start forming pairs during the early stages of spring, where the male cardinals try to attract females with dazzling courtship displays involving his vibrant red feathers and bright crest, showing them off and swaying from side to side while singing a soft song. To really hit home to a potential mate that he is the right man for the job, he will start feeding the female to prove he will be a good provider for her and her young.
Breeding takes place from March to September and most pairs raise 2 or 3 broods each year, with one around March and the second at some point between late May and July. When it’s time, female cardinal will lay roughly 3 or 4 eggs and begin incubation which tends to last between 11 and 13 days until the eggs hatch. While this is happening, the male cardinal brings the female her food.
Once the chicks hatch, the mother cardinal will brood them during the first 2 days of their lives. Both parents tend to the feeding of their chicks and even once they can be a bit more independent and can leave the nest, they will continue to provide them with food for anything from 25 to 56 days.
When They Don’t Stay Together
There are exceptions to every rule, especially when it comes to birds, as any birder will tell you. There are some birds who leave a specific nesting territory, for instance, and join up with a winter flock. However, it is often the case that the same pair will reconnect at the same nesting territory when spring comes around again.
There are some cardinal pairs that do break-up and start looking for new mates. This even occurs while a nesting season is still in full swing.
What Happens When A Cardinal Loses their Mate?
Although birds like cardinals do mate for life, to a certain extent, when one of their lives ends, so too does their bond. Around 60% of cardinals on average survive every year, which sadly means around 40% of all cardinals die every year.
While many of these deaths do occur during breeding season, they mostly happen during the cold and harsh wintertime.
So, what happens if they lose their mate? Female cardinals often separate from the flock they associate with if during the last season their mate was killed. Cardinals always join their flocks during the non-breeding seasons.
As these flocks are only temporary groups and have a constantly changing membership, when the surviving cardinal rejoins the flock, they will take the opportunity to assess the qualities of potential mates, so they are ready for next breeding season.
I don’t know about you readers, but the more I learn about birds, the more I realize how much they are like humans. Yes, they have odd behaviors and eat way too many insects to be humans, but a lot of how they handle relationships, grief and moving on is very similar.