The Northern Cardinal(Cardinalis cardinalis) Song

Types of songs and Calls

The song of the Northern Cardinal is 2-3 seconds long and consist of a string of slurred whistles usually getting faster and turning into a trill. The Northern Cardinal has 16 distinct calls. The most common call is a loud short metallic chip. Calls are used in a plethora of ways including warning off predators  and telling the other member of the pair when it is about to get fed.


The Northern Cardinal has many dialects do the vast region  the Northern Cardinal lives in.  An example of the vast amount of dialects, is in three forested habitats in texas Northern Cardinals songs differed in length and syllables.

Photo by Scott Clark

Photo by Scott Clark

Song Sonogram

Sonogram from The Singing Life of Birds by Donald Kroodsma 

The Song of the Northern Cardinal is dimorphic.  The songs between male and female Northern Cardinals within the amplitude of the harmonics.  There is a minimum amplitude of -33 dB to the peak.


The Male bird is the one who does most of the parental care and  during that time period teaches the young numerous Songs. Both Male and Female Northern Cardinals learn song. Both sexes learn song during the breeding season. To the human ear the song of the male and the female Northern Cardinal sound similar, but as stated above are slightly dimorphic. Young male Cardinals will learn more complex songs  to  gain their initial territory.Then  as time goes on the males will  put  less time into their songs and they will become shorter and the male Northern Cardinal will put more time in effort into care and defense for their young. There is also the ranging  hypothesis which shows cardinals learning degraded versions of neighbor songs in order to differentiate territories.

Female Song:

The Female Song trait for the Northern Cardinal is highly unusual for songbirds.  Even though Females sing and their songs are generally longer and more complicated Females sing way less then their male counterparts. In one  study the females sang an observed amount of 0.5% of time, this was out of 45,000 minutes. Females sing over a much shorter time period then males do. Females rarely sing alone as they are generally accompanied by their male partners.

This picture is from Phil Haber Photography

This picture is from Phil Haber Photography

Future Work

Female Cardinals and their involvement with courtship is a very unknown phenomena. There have been only two populations where female song-dance courtship have been observed. Through multiple samples of Northern Cardinal populations we can determine if this is more common, and what exactly  the Females role in the courtship process is. Future work with the Northern Cardinal will most likely reside in their ability to sing and  work will be done to attempt the full documentation of this process.


Work Cited:

Anderson, Mary E., and Richard N. Conner. “Northern Cardinal Song in Three Forest Habitats in Eastern Texas.” The Wilson Bulletin 97.4 (1985): 436-49. JSTOR. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.

Conner, Richard N. “Relationships among Territory Size, Habitat, Song, and Nesting Success of Northern Cardinals.” The Auk 103.1 (1986): 23-31. JSTOR. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.

DeVries, Susan, Caitlin Winters, and Jodie Jawor. “Female Performance of Male Courtship Display in Northern Cardinals.” Southeastern Naturalist (2014): 13-17. BioOne. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.

Kroodsma, Donald E. The Singing Life of Birds: The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005. Print.

Ritchison, Gary. “The Singing Behavior of Female Northern Cardinals.” The Condor 88.2 (1986): 156-59. JSTOR. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.

Yamaguchi, Ayako. “A Sexually Dimorphic Learned Birdsong in the Northern Cardinal.” The Condor 100.3 (1998): 504-11. Web.


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2 Responses to The Northern Cardinal(Cardinalis cardinalis) Song

  1. Scott Baker says:

    I have not found that cardinals in southern Maine sign the beautiful song of that the southern cardinal sings. Is this true? The birds in southern Maine in Scarborough making chirping sounds, but do not sign like the birds that are near our home in Jacksonville, Florida near the St. Johns River.

  2. Ismi says:

    is the bird can sing a song?

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