The northern cardinal inhabits the southeastern half of the United States and portions of Mexico and Central America. An incredibly adaptable species, the cardinal utilizes a variety of different habitats throughout this range. Cardinals are observed in forests, fields and meadows, as well as in disturbed habitats such as residential areas, municipal parks and urban forests. In fact, cardinals often increase in number when humans develop an area.
One consistent trend among cardinals living in different areas is their fondness for dense, tangled vegetation rather than open, primary forests. They usually nest in dense shrubs that can be difficult to find. The females sing while sitting on the nest, which is a rare trait for songbirds. When the males sing, they depart from the species' typically secluded nature and often select highly visible perches. Males defend their breeding territories very aggressively, and they are often observed fighting with their reflections.
Cardinals are a nonmigratory species that visits feeders year round. Cardinals are primarily seed-eaters, but they also consume some fruit and certain insects. The parents feed the nestlings a diet primarily composed of insects, spiders, worms and other invertebrates. Cardinals can live up to 15 years, but most birds in this species have somewhat shorter life spans.