Do Cardinals Migrate? Cardinal Migration Explained

Do Cardinals Migrate

The Northern cardinal mid-sized songbird with a distinctive flourishing crest on its head. The males come in a brilliant red shade while the females sport a more neutral subtle palette of pale-brown and warm tinges. 

It is about 8 to 9 inches in length and can be found all along the North American hemisphere, from southeastern Canada, through the eastern United States, south to Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. 

Amongst the many fascinating things about this bird, one of the most interesting facts is how it seems cardinals are always around, no matter how cold or hot the season is.

This, of course, raises the question of whether cardinals migrate at all. Why or why not? Well, today we are about to find out!

Do Cardinals Migrate?

No, cardinals do not migrate. They are permanent residents of their regions and don’t venture very far out even when foraging for food. 

This is certainly unlike many other birds of their size and stature, who quickly make the journeys southwards to avoid the harsh conditions of North American winters.

Fascinatingly though, this is also true with cardinals living in the northernmost areas as well. 

So it is most likely what you see when you see a splash of red in the white winter wonderland. 

If you have any idea of just how harsh the winters can get in the northern parts, then you are surely scratching your head wondering how they could stay warm in that weather.

And more importantly, why do they choose to stay instead of leave? 

Why Don’t Cardinals Migrate?

The straightforward answer here is food availability. This is also the reason birds who migrate do so. 

When food resources for a certain bed go low as it does in the winter time, or when they are unable to go out and forage for food due to the weather conditions, then they make their way southward. 

But with cardinals though, their diet means that winter does not mean scarcity of food resources.

Cardinals have a diet that consists mainly of insects, seeds, grains, wild berries, grasses, and so on. 

Thus cardinals do not find themselves deprived of food as winter comes in as many insects and some types of seeds are still available. 

Not only that, migration is no fun road trip to go on! It requires long arduous hours of flying and energy expenditure, thus they save themselves the energy required to do all that. 

They instead spent time foraging and collecting food. Food availability through bird feeders also explains how birds living in the northernmost areas can do so.

Where Do Cardinals Go In The Summer?

Many bird lovers who have put out bird feeders to attract cardinals always lament the summer season, as cardinals visit these feeders much less often during the warmer months. 

But since they are permanent residents of the region, that means that they will stay put at home no matter what, right? 

Well, not exactly. The time period when cardinals will make the most use of your bird feeder is during the winter season when other sources of food are scarce. 

But in summer though, the fruits and flowers are blooming, the bugs and beetles are crawling around, and the cardinal wants to hang along and forage for themselves!

As the summer comes to an end too, they will tend to stray away from home as they are busy preparing to stay put for the coming cold months. 

They are basically determining the best yard for them to spend the winter in. They still stay pretty close to home when they make this analysis, never straying more than a few miles away from home base.

Where Do Cardinals Go In The Winter?

As mentioned above, they stay right at home or within a few miles of home. They exhibit seasonal behavior different from many other creatures – neither do they migrate to warmer regions nor do they spend it in resting and conservation of energy. 

They actually stay active and keep their energy levels high as they want to increase their body temperature.

They also use a number of other ways to conserve their energy. The most common method is fluffing their feathers to trap heat inside the layers and help in heat conservation. 

If the conditions get harsher still, they will purposefully shiver to increase their body temperature. If the weather gets unbearable, they will seek shelter in low thickets or dense shrubbery.

What Is The Range Of A Northern Cardinal?

Cardinals have a vast and varied range that is quite impressive when you look at their stature. 

Starting from the provinces of southeastern Canada, it is found in most parts of the United States from Maine to Minnesota to Texas, New Mexico, as well as southern parts of California and Arizona. 

It does not stop there though – it further moves south towards Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.

Do Cardinals Stay In The Same Area All Their Life?

Yes, adults spend almost the entirety of their lives within their range.

If you have ever seen a rogue cardinal, it is probably a juvenile cardinal quenching its curiosity about the world beyond before succumbing to its territorial lives.

The young cardinals are fed and raised for about ten days in the nest, after which they make their way out to find their permanent territory to reside. 

This is not as difficult a task for cardinals as it is for other birds, as they are habitat generalists or in easier terms, they are low-demand birds. 

They are not particular about their nesting areas and will nest in plentiful areas like woodlands and shrubberies to tougher areas like desert lands or a busy suburban backyard.


So those are the peculiar migratory (or lack thereof!) habits of northern cardinals!

It is fascinating that a bird so tiny is capable of withstanding and adjusting to so much, but that is the beauty of nature! We hope we have answered all your questions and taught you something new along the way!

Thank you for reading!

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