Do Cardinals Mate For Life? Not Always True

cardinals sitting on wooden bench

The Northern cardinals are marvelous songbirds flaunting crimson red plumage on their head inhabiting generally the east of the Rocky Mountains in Northern America. They have an unusual name and the allegory goes that they acquired this name from Roman Catholic Bishops as the bright red of their robes matches exactly with the cherry crests of cardinal birds.

An intriguing fact about them is that like some other creatures of the kind as geese, swans, and cranes, they are monogamous.

Do cardinals mate for life? Cardinals are monogamous creatures and seek a partner for life with whom they mate, raise offspring and spend time but a substantial volume of aberrations shows that this is not the case every time.

Even though most cardinals stick to the monogamous lifestyle, not all of them do. While some of these songbirds choose partners for life, others look for new partners each breeding season for various reasons.

They are strongly motivated to look for a new mate when faced with the loss of their current partner or when their attempt at reproduction fails with a particular partner, they look out for a new mate.

We will know a little more about these birds before heading to garner great detail about their mating season, their life cycle, and other pertinent information:

Cardinals – An Introduction To Their Lifestyle

These birds are dimorphic creatures which mean male and female cardinals exhibit distinct physical characteristics, including size and plumage.

This trait aids in identifying a bird’s gender. The heads, wings, and tails of the females are mostly brown with red accents.

The males have a striking black masks and vivid red plumage. Typically, you may find them in residential yards and gardens, at the margins of woodlands and thickets, and in open fields.

As the research goes, cardinals may live up to three years in the wild on average. However, this is primarily because these young birds succumb to larger predatory birds even before they reach adulthood. (For More Information Check our Post How long do cardinals live?)

In rare cases, some fortunate cardinals have been found to live up to 15 years, which is a substantially longer lifetime even for some mammals and that goes on to represent how resilient they are as they can survive even the harshest of winters. 

When Do Cardinals Mate?

If you are wondering if cardinals even have a chance to procreate before being devoured by their natural predators. At the age of one, both male and female cardinals are sexually mature.

In actuality, despite aggressive predation, their early sexual maturity is the only factor contributing to their plentiful population.

When cardinals reach sexual maturity, they appear to embrace life to the fullest. Between March and September, these songbirds frequently breed two or three times a year. The best time for mating is in the early spring.

The beginning of the cardinals’ mating season is signaled by the weather gradually warming up and the budding of flowers.

How Do Cardinals Find Their Mate?

cardinal looking at its mate

Cardinals have an elaborate mating ritual involving feeding, dancing, and a variety of enticing tactics. Females make sure that they chose the right partner, hence the lengthy bonding affair.

The mating season is early spring. It is when male cardinals start their mating dance. The male cardinal birds engage themselves in a stunning wooing performance to try to entice females.

They flaunt their bright crest and blazing red feathers while swaying from side to side and singing softly.

This mating ritual involves what bird watchers describe as a ‘cardinal kiss’. While it has been touted as a kiss the visual will very much affirm that it is not a kiss.

In reality, the male feeds the female to demonstrate that he would be a good provider for her and her kids to convince her that he is the right contender for passing as a mate.

Where Do Cardinals Lay Eggs?

Once they have selected a partner, cardinals often build their nests in dense bushes or tree branches, which can range in height from one foot to fifteen feet.

The male cardinal maintains a careful watch for any predators as well as other male cardinals who could try to invade their territory while the female constructs the nest.

Following mating, the female cardinal lays 3 to 4 eggs, which she then starts incubating for 11 to 13 days until the eggs hatch. The male cardinal feeds the female during this time and watches over the nest to ensure its safety.

How Do Cardinals Raise Their Offspring?

baby cardinal sitting in nest

The male bird looks after the earlier fledglings while the female bird incubates the eggs when the female produces her second brood. The male bird takes over caring for those youngsters when they hatch, leaving the mother to incubate the subsequent brood.

It is the female cardinals who raise the babies for the first two days after they hatch. The feeding of the chicks is done by both parents, and once they can become a little more independent and leave the nest.

Both male and female cardinals will continue to feed the young for anywhere between 25 and 56 days.

If a pair has a lifelong relationship, they will remain together until the start of the next mating season, when they will reunite to create a fresh nest.

Cardinals Mate For Life – Not Always True!

Yes, generally cardinals mate for life, but there are exceptions in a few cases.

Usually, at the end of a mating season, a pair separates and moves towards the south in wintering flocks.

The majority of these cardinals find their mate again when they return to their homes in the following years, however, some of them look for new mates to procreate with.

The most prevalent cause for these birds to change mates is the death of their partner, however, there are other factors as well.

Some couples refrain from reuniting since their previous attempts at reproduction failed. It usually happens that if a couple’s eggs do not hatch or their children are attacked by animals, they each hold the other responsible.

In such a situation, they mutually decide not to work together again the next season. (1)

Summary – Do Cardinals Mate For Life?

Yes, cardinals typically mate for life. In some cases, cardinals could leave their nest and split with their partner to join a winter flock, but they often reconnect in the spring in the territory where they usually build their nests.

However, some pairings split up to look for new partners. A cardinal may be required to choose a new partner if its mate perishes on account of predators or simply is not reproductively capable.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What do cardinals do upon the death of their partner?

A single mate for life doesn’t imply that they don’t reproduce after their partner has died. As the primary purpose of all species is survival and propagation of their kind and since this is truer for these short-living creatures, they find themselves a new mate immediately.

Where can I see the cardinals?

These birds are not very hard to locate if you are someone from the countryside of North America east of the Rockies. These are highly resilient songbirds and can even be spotted in the toughest weather, unlike others who only show up in either summer or spring.

What does cardinals’ mating song sound like?

If it is to be explained in words, it sounds like a repeated piercing whistle. The sound is shrill and laser-like. What’s extraordinary in the case of cardinals is that, unlike most songbirds, females can vocalize as well.

Donald Bergeson

I have always been fascinated by the skill, strength, and beauty of birds.They help in maintaining a balance of ecological environment. At Best Bird Guide, I share all of my experiences and discoveries that I have got so far and inspire more devoted fans.

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