Where Do Cardinals Nest? [Nesting Habits & Facts]

where do cardinals nest

Northern cardinals like to nest in lower but thickly covered foliage, often in saplings and shrubbery such as dogwood, spruce and blackberry brambles. The nest generally sits in a fork of branches or vines, anywhere between 1-15 feet from the ground.

As a relatively common North American bird, you have a good chance of spotting these red crested birds. But how do you attract cardinals to your yard during the nesting period?

Read on to learn everything you need to know about where cardinals nest. Armed with this knowledge, you can transform your backyard into a nesting oasis for Northern Cardinals.

Where Do Cardinals Usually Build Their Nest?

Cardinals are shy birds that build their nest in more secluded places with dense foliage. Quiet areas with lots of shrubbery or thickets have their preference.

These fun birds are often seen hopping around on ground level but heard higher up in the tree. Their nests lie somewhere in between. You can find cardinal nests that are as low as a 1 foot above the ground but no higher than 15 feet.

They look for dense vegetation where their nests will be well-hidden from any predators. These are water-loving birds so they will build a nest near a water source if possible.

What Kind of Trees Do Cardinals Nest In?

Since cardinals do not build their nests high up, trees are not the most likely place you will find them. When they do build in trees, it is usually in saplings or on the lower branches of tall trees.

Cardinals like to nest in the following types of trees and shrubs:

  • Pines
  • Hawthorns
  • Dogwood
  • Spruces
  • Elms
  • Sugar maples
  • Red cedar
  • Box elders
  • Blackberry brambles
  • Elderberry bush
  • Blueberry shrubs
  • Spicebush
  • Hemlock
  • Honeysuckle
  • Rose bushes

In Which States Can You Find Cardinals?

Cardinals do not migrate south for the winter which means that you can find them in the United States year-round. They are a fairly common bird and can be found in many states.

You can spot cardinals as far north as Maine and as far south as Florida. They don’t go much further north into Canada but Mexico and several Central American countries are still part of their habitat.

The only states where you won’t find cardinals are those on the west coast and the northwest. Some states in the Midwest do have cardinal sightings but their populations are sparser.

Cardinal Nesting Facts

Breeding Season Late March – Early September
Region Eastern United States, from southernmost states to northernmost states
Habitat Woodland, parks, suburban gardens
Type of Vegetation Lower dense foliage of shrubbery, saplings and vines
Nesting Materials Twigs, stems, grass, leaves, pine needles, bark, plant fibers, rootlets
Nest Dimensions Height: 2”-3”, Width: 4”, Diameter: 3”
Nest Shape Cup
Do Cardinals Reuse Nests? No
Do Cardinals Nest in Birdhouses? No
Clutch Size 2-5 eggs
Cardinal Egg Appearance Grayish or greenish white with brown or light gray specks

The Search for the Perfect Cardinal Nesting Spot

Female cardinals are in charge of finding and building a new nest but they do not do it all on their own. Most cardinals mate for life and spend most of their time in pairs, too.

The search for a new nesting spot begins approximately 2 weeks before the female is ready to nest. The female goes exploring for good sites with the male in tow.

Female Northern Cardinals look for a nesting site that has an abundance of food sources, provides cover from predators and is preferably near running water. This could be in shrubbery in an open field, the edges of a forest, in a backyard in the suburbs or even in a green city park.

The female cardinal is in charge of building the nest while the male cardinal stands on look-out. He also brings her building materials.

How to Attract Nesting Cardinals to Your Yard

To attract cardinals to build a nest in your yard you need to provide them with building materials, good cover, lots of food sources and preferably running water nearby.

Here are a few tips for making your backyard a bird-friendly nesting site.

Grow Lots of Shrubbery

Northern Cardinals like thorny shrubbery with thick foliage. They love to eat dark berries so if you have blackberry or blueberry bushes in the garden you are providing them with both a nesting spot and food source.

Place a Bird Bath

Cardinals love to freshen up in running water. Having a bird bath in the yard is the equivalent of humans buying a waterfront property.

Place Bird Feeders with Seeds

Nesting females are fed by male cardinals so it helps to keep bird feeders for cardinals in your yard. Bird feed and seeds that attract Northern Cardinals include mealworms, black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet, safflower and cracked corn.

Will Cardinals Reuse a Nest?

In the US, cardinal breeding season runs from late March to early September. During these spring and summer months, cardinals will attempt to have 2 broods or as many as 3 broods in some of the southernmost states.

Despite their busy breeding season, cardinals do not save themselves time and energy by reusing their nest. Northern cardinals always build a new nest for each brood.

However, this does not mean that you cannot keep nesting cardinals in your backyard longer. In fact, these loving parents tend to build their nests in the same area.

This makes sense – why should they look for a new location when they have already found a good spot with plenty to eat, safe shelter and bubbling water nearby? Just like humans have a favorite neighborhood, so do cardinal birds.

Also, during incubation the female cardinal relies on the male cardinal for her food. She only leaves the eggs for short intervals to be fed by the male.

Even after the female has left her fledglings, the male stays behind for up to 2 weeks to feed the young fledglings. That is why it is also more efficient to build the second nest nearby.

What Does a Cardinal Nest Look Like?

Cardinal nests have the shape of a cup with 4 distinguishable parts. Each layer is made with materials foraged nearby.

The exterior is the toughest layer, made from pliable twigs and sometimes bits of human trash. Then, a layer of leafs is laid followed by soft bark.

The inner layer where the eggs will lay is made up of pine needles, grass, rootlets or plant stems. These materials act as a cushion.

All in all, the nest is about 4 inches wide with an interior of about 3 inches. In comparison the nest is not deep, only about 2-3 inches.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Should I remove old cardinal nests?

Even though they won’t reuse it, you should not remove old cardinal nests. In fact, leaving old bird nests may encourage them to come back as they can recycle some of the materials for their new nest.

Do cardinals come back to the same nest each year?

Cardinals never reuse a nest but they might come back to the same area. If the area has favorable conditions (good foliage, food sources, water) then they might build a new nest near their old nest.

What time of year do cardinals lay eggs?

Cardinals have a long breeding seasons from late March to early September. They lay eggs twice a year during these spring and summer months. In some southern states cardinals may even have 3 broods in a year.

Summary

Cardinals are non-migratory birds which means they stay in the US throughout the year. You can find these bright red birds all along the east coast with the largest populations in the southern states.

Northern Cardinals build their nest not too high up from the ground. They look for thorny shrubs or sapling trees, between 1-15 feet from the ground, that provide enough shelter from predators.

It is the female that builds the nest but the male bird helps with gathering materials. He also stands guards to protect the nest from potential predators.

As they need lots of food to feed themselves and their young, they look for nesting spots near food sources. Cardinals eat all kinds of seeds, preferably the seeds of flowers, and all kinds or berries, preferably dark-colored berries. They also enjoy suet, peanuts, cracked corn and mealworms.

Besides providing cover and food, you can attract Northern Cardinals to your yard by installing a bird bath. You can spot the pair nesting in your yard anytime between late March and early September.

If you are lucky enough to spot a cardinal’s nest in your yard you should keep your distance. Like most birds, they can get territorial.

It is also not a good idea to remove old cardinal nests. Even though they won’t reuse it, it might encourage them to build another nest nearby.

Have you ever seen Northern Cardinals nesting in your backyard?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*