Northern Cardinal

Cardinalis cardinalis
Range Map

A familiar bird in the eastern US, we also find the Northern Cardinal in southern Arizona, where I first met this species. I thought Arizona was rich in these brilliant red birds, but when I visited Texas, I realized this was a place of Cardinal riches. I found them everywhere I visited in the Lone Star State. So beloved is this bird, that seven states have adopted it as their state bird. These North American natives are nonmigratory, and we find them nearly everywhere in the eastern USA between the Atlantic coast and the plains east of the Rocky Mountains and south into Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.

With a such a wide range over the North American continent, and virtually no migratory lifestyle, it should come as no surprise that the gene-pool of these birds might not blend homogeneously across the entire range. The Hatfields would stay in their valley, while the McCoys would remain in theirs (so-to-speak).

Science recognizes 18 or 19 subspecies of Northern Cardinal:

  • C. c. cardinalis lives in eastern United States and southeastern Canada.
  • C. c. affinis lives in western Mexico in Sonora, Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and Durango.
  • C. c. canicaudus lives in western Oklahoma south through central and western Texas and in Mexico from Coahuila to Jalisco, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, and San Luis Potosí.
  • C. c. carneus lives on the Pacific Coast of Mexico from state of Colima to Oaxaca.
  • C. c. clintoni lives on Cerralvo Island, Baja California (Mexico).
  • C. c. coccineus lives in eastern Mexico in San Luis Potosí, Veracruz, Puebla, and Oaxaca.
  • C. c. flammiger lives in Quintana Roo (Mexico) and northern Central America.
  • C. c. floridanus lives in southern Georgia and Florida.
  • C. c. igneus lives in southern Baja California (Mexico).
  • C. c. littoralis lives in Veracruz and Tabasco (Mexico).
  • C. c. magnirostris lives in southeastern Texas and southern Louisiana.
  • C. c. mariae lives on Tres Marías Islands near Nayarit (Mexico).
  • C. c. phillipsi lives in the Yucatan (Mexico), but is not universally recognised by scientists.
  • C. c. saturatus lives on Cozumel Island (Mexico).
  • C. c. seftoni lives in central Baja California (Mexico).
  • C. c. sinaloensis lives in Western Mexico from Sinaloa south to Michoacán.
  • C. c. superbus lives in southeastern California east through Arizona to New Mexico and south to Sonora (Mexico).
  • C. c. townsendi lives on Tiburón Island and on the coast of Sonora (Mexico).
  • C. c. yucatanicus lives on the Yucatan Peninsula (Mexico).

While I was in Texas at Laguna Atascosa NWR, I met a feisty male who could not stop jousting at any reflection of himself, and he entertained me with his persistent antics. Rear-view mirrors and shiny truck bumpers were all fair game. I’d read about such hormone driven episodes of aggression, but this was my first chance to be a witness.

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