Do Cardinals Migrate

Do Cardinals Migrate


From the rustling leaves of autumn to the budding flowers of spring, the changing seasons drive a spectacular event witnessed worldwide – bird migration. Many avian species undertake this arduous journey in search of warmer climes and abundant food. However, amidst this migratory marvel, the Northern Cardinal, known for its vibrant red plumage and enchanting melodies, invites curiosity. Unlike many of its feathered counterparts, does this vividly hued bird heed the call of the migratory route, or does it choose to defy the norm? In this article, we aim to address this very question: Do Cardinals migrate? As we delve into the fascinating life and habits of these radiant birds, we’ll uncover how they adapt to the harsh winter, revealing an intriguing tale of survival and adaptation. So, sit back and join us as we embark on this exploratory journey into the world of Cardinals.

1. Winter Range, Habitat and Movements

Uncommon among many bird species, Northern Cardinals do not migrate. They’re year-round denizens, extending their territory from southeastern Canada through eastern and central North America to as far south as Guatemala and Belize. In all seasons, they choose dense shrubbery and evergreen foliage, like fir, cedar, and pine trees, as their homes. These natural habitats serve as excellent shelters and ample food resources, even during winter.

In urban landscapes, Cardinals often frequent backyards, provided they are equipped with well-stocked feeders. They’re a regular sight where bird enthusiasts consistently refill feeders with their preferred seeds. Hence, no matter how chilly it gets, Cardinals remain steadfast, standing out in their scarlet brilliance amidst the winter gloom.

2. Winter Survival Strategies

Surviving the harsh winter is no small feat, but Northern Cardinals are well-suited for the task. A series of adaptations equips them to withstand the cold. Shivering, for instance, helps generate heat to keep their bodies warm. During extreme cold, Cardinals can lower their body temperature by 3 to 6°F, a survival mechanism known as regulated hypothermia, to conserve energy.

Another essential survival strategy is group foraging. By seeking food in groups, they increase their chances of locating food sources while also providing safety in numbers against predators. Consuming high-calorie foods such as seeds and berries helps them maintain their energy levels and stay warm through winter’s duration.

3. Winter Diet and Foraging

Northern Cardinals are not picky eaters. Their winter diet varies, adapting to the available food sources. Their primary food during the winter consists of seeds and berries. They are particularly fond of sunflower and safflower seeds, peanuts, and suet. When available, they feed on insects, adding necessary protein to their diet.

Backyard feeders can serve as crucial lifelines for Cardinals during winter when natural food sources become sparse. Therefore, if you hope to see these vibrant birds in your backyard during winter, keeping your feeder stocked with their preferred foods will surely attract them.

4. Winter Behavior

Despite the frigid temperatures, Northern Cardinals remain active during winter. However, they modify their behavior to conserve energy. They forage for longer periods, taking full advantage of daylight hours to find food and store energy.

During winter, Cardinals display a different social behavior, forming flocks. This stands in stark contrast to their territorial demeanor during the breeding season. These communal groups help the Cardinals stay warm and reduce the risk of predation. Their bright plumage, easily noticeable in the winter landscape, also aids in attracting mates.

5. How Cardinals Survive Winter

Survival in winter is not purely coincidental for Cardinals; they employ various strategies. To trap body heat, they fluff out their feathers, and they huddle in communal roosts for shared warmth. These birds remain vigilant and alert for predators, which are more visible and active during winter due to food scarcity.

Cardinals’ winter diet primarily relies on the available food sources in their environment. They prefer grains and seeds but also consume fruits, insects, and spiders when available. If you wish to aid these resilient birds through the winter, set up a bird feeder filled with their preferred food in your backyard. Ensure the feeder’s location is safe, ideally under a tree or near shrubs for easy access and predator evasion. Planting native trees and shrubs can provide shelter, while a heated bird bath can offer a source for drinking.

6. Why Northern Cardinals Are Favorite Winter Birds

Northern Cardinals hold a special charm for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. Their vibrant red plumage, easy to spot against a snowy backdrop, combined with their active nature, makes them a delight to observe.

These birds are not only attractive; they are musical too. Both male and female Cardinals sing, offering a melodic respite in the otherwise quiet winter landscape. Cardinals are excellent providers; while the female constructs the nest, the male assists in gathering food and defending the nest from predators. Once the eggs hatch, both parents participate in feeding and caring for the young.

Among Cardinals’ endearing traits is their monogamy. Cardinal pairs typically mate for life, assisting each other in rearing their young. The fact that Cardinals do not migrate and remain in our vicinity throughout the year adds to their appeal, making them a favorite among winter birds.

By providing food, water, and shelter, we can help ensure these gorgeous birds endure the winter. In return, they will undoubtedly brighten our wintry days with their radiant presence.


Q: Do Cardinals migrate?

A: No, Northern Cardinals are non-migratory and stay within their range year-round.

Q: What do Cardinals do in the winter?

A: Cardinals adapt to winter by modifying their behavior and diet. They form flocks, forage for longer periods, and eat high-calorie foods to maintain their energy levels and survive the winter.

Q: What do Cardinals eat in winter?

A: Cardinals primarily consume seeds and berries. They are also fond of sunflower and safflower seeds, peanuts, and suet from bird feeders.

Q: How can I help Cardinals survive winter?

A: You can support Cardinals by providing them with food (via bird feeders), water (heated bird baths), and shelter (by planting native trees and shrubs in your yard).


In return, the Northern Cardinals will continue to serenade us with their songs and grace our backyards with their beauty, painting our winter world in strokes of red. In answering the question, “Do Cardinals migrate?” we gain an appreciation not just for the Cardinals’ hardiness, but also for the marvelous adaptations that allow various species to endure, and even thrive, in the face of adversity. As we bundle up and brave the cold, let’s remember to extend a little assistance to our feathered friends, and in doing so, make our winter experience a little bit warmer and a lot more colorful.

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