How Long Do Cardinals Live?| Cardinals Lifespan

cardinals lifespan

When you see a red cardinal, smile because they carry a message that someone you have lost is safe in heaven. As long as there are cardinals around, cherished memories of happy times will never be forgotten. But what is the lifespan of these brightly-colored little birds?

Northern cardinals live on average three years in the wild. They can live much longer and reach 12 – 15 years if conditions are favorable, and they can avoid predation. Cardinals have a long life span compared to other bird species. Cardinals are most at risk during their first year of life.

Although these cardinals can live for more than a decade, their lives are often cut short in the wild.

One bird in captivity lived for a record 28 years, so these brightly-colored birds are wired to live much longer than 3-years, which is currently the average.

Several things affect how long a cardinal in the wild will survive!

How Long Do Cardinals Live? – Cardinals Lifespan

There are several species in the cardinal family, but the brightest and most conspicuous of these is the Northern Cardinal that lives in North and Central America.

The bright red plumage, and the crested head, is a familiar sight in gardens throughout the eastern and southern states.

Northern cardinals do not usually migrate and tend to stay around the area where they hatched. Their survival, therefore, depends on conditions within that area remaining favorable throughout the year.

If you have cardinals in your area, it is important to support these little birds because they are permanent residents of your area, just like you.

The oldest recorded wild cardinal reached 15 years and 9 months of age. It was a female bird found in Pennsylvania.

Cardinals can far exceed their 3-year current average life expectancy in areas where there is consistent food and no predators.

Have you ever wondered about keeping cardinal as pets? Is it legal?

What Affects The LifeSpan of Cardinals?

cardinal sitting on a tree branch

Cardinals very rarely make it to double-digit life spans in the wild because they face challenges that include:

  • Starvation
  • Dehydration
  • Predators
  • Disease and Parasites
  • Accidents
  • Habitat loss as a result of increased urbanization
  • Effects of climate change.

To support these brightly colored birds in the wild, it is important to know why they often fail to reach their full life expectancy.

If you understand the hazards they face and take steps to assist them, it is fairly easy to keep the cardinal population in your area healthy and thriving.

Starvation As A Factor Limiting The Life Span Of Cardinals

Cardinals add bright color to the snowy landscape. But if the winter is long and hard, these little birds can’t always find enough food on the icy landscape to sustain themselves, and they can starve to death.

Cardinals’ diet is varied and includes seeds, berries, and insects. They will readily use a bird-feeder, and it helps if you provide additional food for them during the hard winter months.

Your hungry little neighbors welcome seeds, nuts, and fruit, and with a little extra help from you, they will be able to get through even the harshest winter with full crops. 

Dehydration As A Factor Limiting The Life Span Of Cardinals

The availability of water during heat waves can cause cardinals to succumb to dehydration.

This is particularly problematic in southern states and in areas where trees have been removed, causing the landscape to dry out.

Placing a birdbath in your yard will be a welcome oasis for cardinals.

Besides just drinking from the clean water source, they will love to splash about and clean their bright feathers when the weather is warm.

Predators As A Factor Limiting The Life Span Of Cardinals

Your cute kitty may look innocent and cuddly, but it can cause havoc in the wild bird population in an area. 

Besides just domestic cats, Northern Cardinals are also regularly preyed upon by hawks, owls, foxes, and snakes.

They are particularly vulnerable when they are fledglings.  Cardinal eggs are also often consumed by chipmunks and squirrels.

While there’s not much you can do about many of these natural predators, you can keep your resident cardinals safe by providing protected nesting areas where the birds can shelter safely.

But before you purchase a regular birdhouse for your favorite little red birds, cardinals don’t often use enclosed birdhouses for nesting.

Cardinals usually nest in dense vegetation like shrubs and hedges. There are some types of cardinal-friendly bird shelves that you can try if you want to help.

But planting a dense predator-proof hedge at the bottom of your property would probably be more beneficial.

Keeping your domestic cats indoors, especially during the warmer months when cardinals are fledging, will also help keep them out of harm’s way. 

Always hang birdfeeders where your little feline hunter won’t be able to catch the birds as they land to feed.

Disease As A Factor Limiting The Life Span Of Cardinals

Cardinals can die from any number of bacterial, viral, or fungal diseases. These diseases do not just affect cardinals but can spread between birds in an area.

And it is not just diseases that can lower the life expectancy of cardinals; they can become hosts for parasites like ticks and mites.

Besides causing tremendous discomfort to the birds, these parasites often carry diseases that ultimately lead to the bird’s death.

It is essential to keep bird feeders and birdbaths completely clean. Don’t just top up water continuously. Take some time to disinfect your bird feeders regularly and change the water in the birdbath.

If you do have birds nesting in a space you have provided, clean the area out thoroughly after each nesting season so that it is free of mites.

Accidents As A Factor Limiting Cardinals Life Spans

Cardinals live out in nature with inherent dangers like predators or severe weather conditions like blizzards or tornadoes, which can wreak havoc on the population of a particular area.

However, cardinals also need to negotiate artificial hazards like reflective glass windows and moving vehicles. Accidently flying into windows is particularly life-threatening to male cardinals during spring.

During this warmer season, they begin staking out territories and actively fend off other male birds.

A male cardinal may mistake his own reflection as a threat and go in to fend off the opposition with fatal results.

Habitat Loss As A Factor Limiting The Life Span Of Cardinals

The more land that is cleared, the less available space there is for cardinals to nest and thrive. These small birds rarely move more than a mile from where they hatched.

Urbanization limits the amount of habitat that they have available and makes them more vulnerable to predators.

Cardinals appreciate dense thickets and shrubs to nest and shelter, and when that natural cover is disturbed, they may be more vulnerable to hazards.

You can help by planting thick hedges or shrubs in your garden and encouraging your neighbors to do the same.

Climate Change As A Factor Limiting Cardinals Life Spans

Global warming is changing conditions for cardinals in some regions. Scientists have noticed how the distribution of the species is slowly spreading further north as the earth warms up.

But what they are gaining in range in the north and into Canada, these birds are losing in the south where their range is declining in some places.

Warmer temperatures bring with it wildfires which can devastate habitat.

Spring temperatures that used to be far milder now range into extreme heatwaves far earlier in the year. This endangers young birds that are still in the nest.


The festive plumage of cardinals brightens up any winter scene and reminds us that summer will return. These small birds have a longer life span than most bird species, but most will never reach old age because of environmental conditions, disease, urbanization, climate change, or predation.

There are ways that we can support our resident cardinal population, especially during the lean winter months when they need it the most.

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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