Baby Cardinals – All You Need to Know About the Gorgeous Baby Cardinal

Northern Cardinal birds are often known as redbirds, due to their distinctive crest and vibrant red coloring. They can be found mainly in Southeastern Canada, Eastern United States, Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. The Cardinal is also a songbird, often found in backyards and gardens, and they are fascinating to watch! 

But what about when they are babies? Baby birds are always a fascinating subject, and if you like Cardinals, you might want to know all about their first few weeks of life!

Plus, the more you know about their baby life, the more likely you are to be able to spot and identify them out in the wild, or in your garden, so that you can see how they develop and grow! 

In order to help you out, we’ve compiled some basic information on baby Northern Cardinals, so that you know everything important and become a bit of an expert! Does that sound good? 

Then let’s get right into it! 

Key Facts About the Baby Cardinal

Before we get into details and in-depth explanations, let’s kick it off with some key facts that you absolutely should know about Cardinal nesting habits and their babies: 

  • The number of broods is around two to four per season
  • Cardinal birds nest from March to August
  • On average, Cardinals will lay between one and five eggs per brood
  • Cardinal eggs are light gray, light green, or ivory in color, and they are around 1 inch long and 0.75 inches wide. 
  • Cardinal eggs are incubated for 12 to 13 days
  • Cardinal babies are mainly taken care of by the male parent, although the females help out
  • Baby cardinals will leave the nest after between 7 and 13 days 

Cardinal Eggs

Northern Cardinal babies, better known as fledglings, start by being eggs, so it’s important that you are able to correctly identify Cardinal eggs, and know some basic facts about them! 

When Do Cardinals Lay Eggs?

As a general rule, the Cardinals will lay eggs between February and September. This period of time is known as the breeding time, and it is a bit longer than that of other types of birds. Also, Cardinals can have between two to four broods per breeding season! 

The reason why their breeding season is longer than normal is that they are not migratory birds. This means that they stay in the same place, and they can focus on mating and breeding. 

However, Cardinals actually have a terrible track record when it comes to mating and nesting, so this longer period of breeding is pretty necessary, and not too much spare time at all. 

How To Identify a Cardinal Egg

Cardinal eggs don’t all look the same, so you have to be aware of all of the possible variations if you want to be able to identify them out in the wild. Usually, they will be light gray with brown specs, light green with brown specs, or ivory with brown specs. (Sometimes the specs are gray instead of brown!) 

As for the size, Cardinal eggs are usually around 1 inch long, and 0.75 inches wide. 

How Long Does It Take For The Baby Birds To Hatch?

Once the female Cardinal has laid her eggs and begins incubating them, it will take around 12 to 13 days for the fledglings to hatch. The female will be the one to incubate during all of this time, but once the fledglings hatch it will be the male that takes primary care of them, so you could say that they’ve divided up the chores! 

The Baby Cardinal: What Does It Look Like?

Not many baby birds are cute, as mostly they are naked and trying to grow out their feathers. But what about the newborn Northern Cardinals? 

Well, as soon as they hatch, they are known as hatchlings, and they emerge from the eggs completely naked, with eyes closed, and in a balled-up fetal position. Being born is traumatic, after all. 

After a few days, they start to grow some feathers and some down, and after a few weeks, they grow the rest of the feathers and start to look like normal birds. 

It’s hard to visualize these descriptions, we know. So here are some images to give you an accurate idea of what they look like! 

This is the baby Cardinals right after hatching!

This is the baby Cardinals at 6 days of age! 


The Babies: What Do They Eat?

Baby Cardinals stay in the nest for a little while, so that they can grow their feathers and become strong enough to fend for themselves. During this time, the parents are the ones in charge of bringing them the food that they need, but what exactly do they eat? 

Well, as hatchlings, they eat the insects regurgitated by their parents. (This means that the parents eat the insects, soften them up and make them easier to digest, and then throw them up in the mouth of the babies). 

After around four days or so, the baby Northern Cardinals will be able to eat the insects by themselves, so the adults will simply bring the insects and hand them over, and the babies will do all of the digesting themselves. 

Once they have fledged and can be called fledglings, the baby Cardinals will start to eat more like the grown-up Cardinal bird and will share their parent’s food. 

It is also worth noting that the parent most involved in the feeding process, is the male. The male Cardinal will go out searching for food and will feed the baby Cardinals until they can eat for themselves. Meanwhile, the female Cardinal parent will be out looking for the next nesting site, already thinking of the next batch of babies! 

Should You Put A Baby Back In Its Nest?

Have you ever come across a baby bird that has fallen out of the nest? Those that do are often faced with the doubt of whether they should place the baby bird back in the nest, or if they should just take it to the vet or home, out of fear of the mother now rejecting the baby. 

So what should you do if you find a baby Cardinal? Do you place it back in the nest? Do you just leave it be? 

The answer depends. If the baby cardinal is still a nestling and hasn’t yet fledged (so essentially it is only a few days old), then you should return it to the nest, or else it will not survive. The parent Cardinals will be completely fine, and will not reject the baby at all! So scoop the baby up carefully, and place it in the nest without disturbing anything else. 

If the baby cardinal is already a fledgling (with the feathers already developed, meaning it is more than a week old), then it depends. If it looks injured or unhealthy, or there is danger nearby, then you should place it back in the nest so that it is safe and able to survive.

Do so carefully and gently. But if it looks healthy, there is no imminent danger, and everything seems fine, then you can just leave the fledgling be, as it will be developing some key survival skills, and will be able to survive without issue. 

If a baby Cardinal does seem very gravely injured, or as if something is very wrong, and you are worried, then the best thing you can do is to contact a Wildlife protection service, to inquire about what the best course of action is! 

When Does A Baby Cardinal Change Its Appearance And Go Red?

When baby Cardinals finally grow all of their feathers and are ready to leave the nest, they are a buff tan color, with streaks of orange and sometimes subtle red highlights, and a brown beak. However, Cardinals are known as the redbirds, with vibrant red color…so when do they turn red? 

Well, the first thing you need to know is that only male Cardinals are a vibrant red color. Female Cardinals are a brownish color with some subtle oranges and red, which is what the babies look like when they leave the nest! 

Male baby Cardinals will eventually turn red, to become that iconic redbird coloring. They will change gradually, after they shed and molt for the first time, which is usually during the fall season after they hatched. Their feathers shed and are replaced with vibrant red ones, and the beak will change from brown to orange.

The full change in appearance, which starts the Fall after they hatch, is usually complete by December or so! 

How Long Does It Take For Baby Cardinals To Learn How To Fly?

Baby Cardinals can’t really leave the nest until they learn how to fly, for obvious reasons, so this milestone is pretty defining as to when they gain their independence and -literally- fly the coop. But how long does it take for them to learn how to fly? 

First, they need to grow their feathers completely, so that they can actually fly when they try to. This will take around 7 to 13 days after they have hatched, so not that long at all.

Once the feathers are all good, the baby Cardinal will perch on the rim of the nest, or on nearby branches, and start to mentally prepare. They can take a while to actually make the jump, sometimes an hour, sometimes even longer! And we can’t really blame them, it would be terrifying to jump off a high place for the first time, without ever having actually flown! 

What About Fledgling and Juvenile Cardinals?

As a general rule, all of the baby Cardinals will leave the nest, by taking the plunge into their first flight, roughly at the same time. Usually, it is within the same hour, but if not, it will at the very least be during the same day. 

Once they leave the nest, having taken flight, they are still a little wobbly and it takes a while for them to truly master flight. The first 10 days they fly for very short distances, as little as 4 feet! As their feathers develop even more, and they become stronger, they will practice so that the flights can be longer, and cover more distance.

The tail feathers take around 3 weeks, after they leave the nest, to be fully developed, so it will take that amount of time for them to be able to fully fly properly! 

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, baby Cardinals are first incubated in their eggs by their mother for around 12 to 13 days.

Once they hatch, they are taken care of by the father, mainly, and fed insects. During this time they start to grow their feathers, and around 7 to 13 days after they hatch, they finally take flight and leave the nest. It then takes a further 3 weeks for them to be fully developed, and confident in their flying! 

Oh, and the iconic red coloring? That only happens to the male Northern Cardinal, and they grow their red feathers during the fall season after they hatched. 

Related Questions

Where does the Cardinal bird roost?

The Northern Cardinal will shelter in trees or shrubs. In the winter, they will gather together to keep warm.

How do Cardinals get their red color?

Northern Cardinals eat particular berries and fruits that contain carotenoids. These are pigments that cause a cardinal’s feathers to change color, in this case red.

When do young cardinals become independent?

Juvenile Cardinals are independent when they are confident fliers and can forage for themselves. Parents will support them for around 3 week.s