Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission

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Backyard Feeder Birds - The Unmistakable Cardinal and the Great Backyard Bird Count

Posted by Friends EB EC on February 3, 2012 at 7:40 PM

This is a series of articles about the birds that visit my backyard feeders and that are seen around my yard this winter. Please share any photographs or observations from your feeders with us on the Friends website ( by emailing them to

Great Backyard Bird Count

For many years the Environmental Commission and the Friends of the EBEC have been promoting the Great Backyard Bird Count; a joint project of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. It is an opportunity for everyone with even a casual interest in birds to become a Citizen Scientist for a weekend and to contribute meaningful ornithological data. The Friends is also developing an online Field Guide to the most common bird feeder birds.

In the next week or so, I will give more details on how to participate in the GBBC, but for now, here is an overview from the event website

The 15th Annual 2012 GBBC will take place Friday, Feb. 17, through Monday, Feb. 20.


The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or you can count for as long as you like each day of the event. It’s free, fun, and easy. Participants count birds anywhere for as little or as long as they wish during the four-day period. They tally the highest number of birds of each species seen together at any one time. To report their counts, they fill out an online checklist at the Great Backyard Bird Count website.


As the count progresses, anyone with Internet access can explore what is being reported from their own towns or anywhere in the United States and Canada. They can also see how this year's numbers compare with those from previous years. Participants may also send in photographs of the birds they see.

The Northern Cardinal

The male Northern cardinal is simply unmistakable with its bright red color, red crest and heavy red bill framed in black. Like most birds, the color of the female is much more subdued than the male, but equally recognizable with a mixture of tan and red feathers, a prominent crest and a bright red heavy bill.

Cardinals are a common year-round resident in East Brunswick and can be found throughout town in backyards and parks. They will often visit feeders but they are much more skittish than other birds and typically flee to nearby shrubs or thickets at the slightest disturbance. In 1936, the great New Jersey ornithologist Leon Augustus Hausman writing in the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station publication The Buntings, Finches and Their Allies of New Jersey noted that "They are not so bold in their approach to dwellings as are many other of the "feeding-station birds," but keep always near to some bushy retreat, into which they whisk at first alarm."  

I find cardinals are actually easier to attract in my backyard if I spread sunflower seeds on my deck railing. They seem more comfortable and stay longer when feeding in these open areas rather than on the feeder.  

Cardinals form strong pair bonds and the males and females are often seen together. Cardinals are unusual because the females sing as frequently and as well as the males. In most birds only the males sing. Despite the incredible red plumage and bill, cardinals are often more easily located by their recognizable songs and calls. When not at the feeder they tend to spend a lot of time lurking in dense thickets and shrubs. The great ornithologist Witmer Stone noted this in one of the great historic books about New Jersey Birds, the seminal 1908 The Birds of New Jersey; "This is one of our really brilliant birds, but, in spite of his red coat, he is not nearly so conspicuous as one might suppose, and those who are familiar with him note his presence by his call more frequently than by his color."

The cardinal is one of those great backyard birds that always gets a much deserved second look when it makes an appearance. The cardinal also has very complex and interesting behaviors that are well worth exploring. Check out The Stokes Nature Guides—A Guide to Bird Behavior Volume II for all kinds of information about cardinal behavior that can be easily observed in your backyard or a nearby park. Unfortunately, the book is not available at the Library, although I am sure they can get it through an Interlibrary loan just by asking. It can also be purchased at Amazon along with the other two great books in the Stokes Bird Behavior series.

Northern cardinals can be found in all of our parks. Learn their easy to recognize calls and songs and use the Friends Online Guide to East Brunswick Parks to find some places to look for them. The Guide is available at: For more information about cardinals visit the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website at


Categories: News from our shcools, Dave Moskowitz's nature blog / Patch

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1 Comment

Reply Sandy
9:02 PM on February 3, 2012 
I love how "Mr. Cardinal" sometimes feeds the Mrs. by hopping over and placing seed in her beak. The cardinals in my yard seem very happy at the feeder. There is one, possibly two, pair in my yard and seem to be the ringleaders among the juncos, finches, chickadees, nuthatches and titmice that hang out here. Sparrows too, but not much right now That's until the local red-bellied woodpecker swoops in and monopolizes the feeder for a few minutes.