“Dancing” Cardinals

Cardinals Courtship Behavior _ Blog Banner

Have you ever seen a cardinal act like this before?

Watch the following video, featured on the Duncraft Wild Bird Blog, to see this seemingly unusual courtship behavior. 

“Birds themselves are so interesting and intelligent, and they give so many cues without being verbal, so they say such great things. Feathers are superior to fur, even. They’re so beautiful, and nature uses such amazing colors.” — Bibhu Mohapatra

What are the two cardinals doing in the video?

Notice the way the red male cardinal is lifting up and “flapping” his wings. This display of his vibrant plumage is the equivalent of courtship, or a mating ritual, in birds.

Cardinals must pair up before they can start building their nest. During nesting season, cardinals have only one to two broods each year with two to five eggs in each clutch.

“Cardinals, a non-migratory and socially monogamous bird, are one of many animals that perform behavioral displays,” according to Project FeederWatch at The Cornell Lab.

“Many animals use behavioral displays to communicate territory ownership and reproductive events. Birds especially are known for their elaborate courtship performances.

“Male cardinals, with red body feathers as opposed to the tan body feathers of females, have been known to show courtship behaviors, like turning and twisting their bodies while a female cardinal is present.”

The male shifts “his weight from side to side,” according to observations from Project FeederWatch. “Moving from one leg to the other, he will start to sing. This song and dance has a special purpose: it is for his one and only mate.”

Presumably, by the end of the video even though there’s no sound, the female approves of the male’s courtship attempt and has flown off to a nearby shrub where she welcomes the male to join her company. Although we can’t know for sure, as several attempts at courtship may be needed to secure a mate before nesting begins. 

How can you attract mating cardinals to your yard?

First, provide the right habitat with food, water and shelter.

When birds are nesting, they prefer to nest in areas that provide these essential conveniences for a quick, easy and successful nesting season. 

By providing food, water and shelter for birds in your yard, cardinals are more likely to nest nearby. 

Provide food to encourage cardinals to stay nearby

For food, cardinals prefer to eat black oil sunflower seed or safflower seed.

You may also offer a seed mix that offers both.

You may also offer whole sunflower hearts or a seed mix with them, as this seed is the same loved black oil sunflower seed except without the shell. It’s easy for smaller birds like chickadees to eat, too.

By feeding whole sunflower hearts seed, your lawn stays clean and there’s nothing to clean up underneath your bird feeders.

Our specialty blend of Cardinal Delight has all three of these seeds in it.

Fill your feeders with Cardinal Delight bird seed to attract cardinals to your yard.

Offer seed in a tube feeder that has rounded or “T-shaped” perches.

Feeders with perching areas that allow cardinals to “face” their food source have the best chance of attracting cardinals, as they’re easy for cardinals to feed from.

Or use a tube feeder with a seed tray and watch cardinals perch on the tray to eat seed, like on this tube feeder with a seed tray, item number 163G on our website.

Provide water to encourage cardinals to nest nearby

For drinking water, provide a birdbath in a shaded area of your yard. This keeps the water at a reasonable temperature when it’s warm outside.

Other birds may use the bath to preen their feathers and keep them in good flying condition.

Any sort of birdbath will do.

Many birds use birdbaths to drink or bathe and preen their feathers for regular maintenance.

Shop all birdbaths at duncraft.com.

Provide shelter to encourage cardinals to raise their babies in your yard

For shelter, provide a protected nesting area for your cardinals.

Cardinals often prefer to nest close to the ground where natural camouflage is abundant, especially among the thick branches of low-lying shrubs.

Place our durable Cardinal Hideaway shelter in your yard between two and five feet above the ground, hidden away in the shrubbery. This provides a natural sense of protection for these beautiful birds.

By providing food, water and shelter, you’re establishing a great habitat to attract nesting cardinals and other songbirds to stay this year and in the years to come.

What types of unusual cardinal behavior have you seen?

Join the conversation and share your bird photos and videos with other bird feeding enthusiasts at the Duncraft Wild Bird Feeding Community group on our Facebook page. Like our Facebook page while you’re there.

Until next time, take care and Happy Birding!

With gratitude, video credit by Dave Gill.

Please note, in the featured image at the top, the male Northern Cardinal is feeding the female a seed as part of their monogamous mating ritual.

Written by Dawn Coutu



“Northern Cardinals know how to shake their tail feathers.” The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Jun. 1, 2015. Jun. 21, 2019. <https://feederwatch.org/blog/northern-cardinals-know-how-to-shake-their-tail-feathers/>.

“Northern Cardinal: Life History.” All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2017. Jul. 9, 2019. <https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Cardinal/lifehistory#nesting>. 

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