A Teenage Male Cardinal’s Awkward Phase

A few young male cardinals will visit our bird feeders every year towards fall. This picture shows one sitting on our deck during the awkward transition from fledgling plumage to adult plumage.

The first time we saw a cardinal with feathers sticking out at odd angles we thought the bird had a genetic mutation.  We wondered how he would find a loving mate. But the story has a happy ending. The awkward displaced fledgling feather fall out and are replaced by  gorgeous red.

Cardinals live an average of 15 years in the wild.

Cardinals pretty much mate for life. The same pair return to the same location to nest each year. Both male and female cardinals occasionally sneak off for one or two mating episodes with other cardinals. Sometimes things just do not work out and the pair will go their separate ways to each find a different mate. If one member of the pair dies, the other will find a new mate.

The male proposes to a female by offering her a seed. If she likes the male then the two birds will touch beaks and the female will accept the seed. The male will continue to offer seeds during their courtship. He will bring her food while she is on the nest. Whenever the female wants to leave the nest she will sing a short song and the male will quickly appear to sit on the nest while she has some time to herself.

After the chicks are hatched, if food is plentiful, the female will build a second nest.  She will lay a second clutch of eggs in the new nest while the male feeds and watches over the first hatch of chicks.