Male is red with a black face. Female has a red tail, wings, and crest; the remainder of her body is brown. Both sexes have red bills, but juvenile cardinals have black bills. 22 cm (8.5 in) in length. The crest is distinctive on this species, along with the large bill. The Northern Cardinal song is usually loud, variable, whistled notes, sometimes sounding like cheer cheer cheer or purty purty purty.
The breeding season begins in late March, peaks in May, and extends until early August. The breeding habitat preferred by this species includes shrubby areas, thickets, or areas with a very dense understory. The nest is usually in a shrub 0.3-4.5 m (1-15 feet) above the ground. The nest is cup-shaped and constructed from plant stems, twigs, grass, bark strips, and other plant material. The female lays 2-5 (usually 3-4) eggs that she incubates for 12-13 days. The young are altricial and fledge 9-10 days after hatching. The male will care for the young while the female starts the next nest. The young are dependent on adults for 2-4 weeks after they leave the nest.
The Northern Cardinal prefers wooded or shrubby areas in either urban, suburban, or open woodlands. The diet of the Northern Cardinal includes insects, seeds, and fruits. Most of the food is picked off the ground or vegetation. This species is a year-round resident, and does not migrate for the winter.
The Northern Cardinal occurs throughout the eastern United States all year. This species is common to abundant throughout the Southeast.
This species is common and not listed as being of special conservation concern in any part of its southeastern range.
The species most similar to the Northern Cardinal is the Pyrrhuloxia. The Pyrrhukoxia is a southwestern species, and it is mostly gray. It has a gray crest that is tipped in red, and red on the face, wings, tail, and belly.