This month’s “Bay Naturalist” column discusses how important bird feeders are for the survival of many species that hang around in the winter. One species that is sure to brighten any backyard landscape is the northern cardinal —which is particularly fond of oily sunflower seeds. How bright are you when it comes to your knowledge about the colorful cardinal?

1. Are you more likely to sight a cardinal in the interior of a woodland or along its edge?

2. Male cardinals are brilliant red with a black face and throat. Female cardinals are gray olive above and buff below with tinges of orangish red on her wings, crest and tail. Juvenile males are similar to adult females. Juvenile females look like their brothers, although one color is often absent from their plumage. Which color is it?

3. While many birds sing mostly during the spring breeding season, cardinals are known for their singing:

A. In summer
B. In fall
C. In winter
D. Year-round

4. Which of these is NOT a description of the cardinal’s song?

A. Cheer-cheer-cheer
B. Purty-purty-purty
C. Twit-twit-twit
D. Wheet-wheet-wheet

5. Which of these most accurately describes the courtship between a male and female cardinal?

A. They take turns singing to each other. Then he presents her with a seed.
B. He sings and presents her with seeds until she responds.
C. He sings and presents her with twigs for their nest until she responds.
D. He sings and flies in circles around the female, displaying his plumage.

6. Which of these are eaten by cardinals?

A. Fruit
B. Insects
C. Seeds
D. All of the above

7. Cardinals may produce more than one brood per summer. What does the male often do while the female is incubating the second brood?

A. Build a nest for the third brood
B. Finish caring for the first brood
C. Search for another mate
D. Sing to her

8. True or false? The feeding instinct of a parent cardinal is so strong that should it lose its brood, it will feed the gaping mouths of other cardinal nestlings or even other species.

9. When trying to attract cardinals to one’s property, why should one widely scatter the seed about or in several locations?

A. It takes more time for the birds to eat their food, which aids their digestion.
B. It provides more opportunities for cardinals to spot the seed.
C. It mimics the scattered nature of seeds in the wild.
D. Cardinals are very aggressive and territorial. The more widely scattered the seed, the more cardinals one is likely to attract.

10. The age record for a cardinal living in captivity is 22 years. What is the maximum recorded lifespan for a cardinal in the wild?

A. 5 years, 9 months
B. 10 years, 9 months
C. 15 years, 9 months
D. 20 years, 9 months


1. Edge 2. Red 3. D. 4. C 5. A 6. D 7. B 8. True 9. D 10. C