Bird Database

Northern Cardinal

(Cardinalis cardinalis)

State of the Birds
At a Glance





Strongly increasing


Predation, collisions

Conservation Actions

Maintain a bird friendly yard

Northern Cardinal

(Cardinalis cardinalis)

Prior to the early 1900s, the Northern Cardinal was not a regular member of the New England avifauna, being largely unknown north of New Jersey and the New York City area. By the 1930s and 1940s they started to increase to our south and began to appear in New Hampshire, with the real increase beginning in the late 1950s. The first evidence of nesting came from Hanover in 1960.

The 1960s saw the start of the nationwide Breeding Bird Survey, New Hampshire Audubon’s “Backyard Winter Bird Survey,” and increased popularity of Christmas Bird Counts. As a result we have three independent data sets on bird populations that we can look at with respect to changes in cardinal numbers in New Hampshire, and no matter how you slice it, cardinals have increased dramatically since all these surveys began. They are still far more common south of the White Mountains and rarest of all in far northern New Hampshire.

There is much speculation on the cause of the Northern Cardinal’s northward expansion over nearly a century (it’s also expanded west, although a little more slowly). Warming climate could certainly play a role, including the decreasing snow cover facilitating ground foraging. But other factors are certainly involved, especially since many areas colonized in the late 1900s still saw regular snow cover. In the Midwest, the expansion is somewhat tied to habitat change, as both forests and prairies (neither ideal cardinal habitat) were converted to parks and residential areas. In this case the cardinal is similar to other NH shrubland birds that expanded with initial forest clearing, but its less specialized habitat needs have allowed it to thrive while towhees and thrashers continue to decline.

Finally there’s the question of bird feeders. There is no doubt that early records were often at feeders and cardinals remain most frequent in human-dominated landscapes, so it’s thus likely that supplemental food aided invaders at the very northern edge of the range. Whether feeders remain as important today is less clear, since available data indicate that birds are generally not dependent on feeders. In the end, no matter which factors were behind the increase, cardinals remain exceptionally successful here in the Granite State – possibly even adapting to our climate and landscape after initial colonization.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Northern Cardinal
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count