Do Northern Cardinals Mate for Life?

We asked our birding experts: Do northern cardinals mate for life? Find out how long cardinals live and stay with mates.

Close Bonds: Cardinals Mate for Life

“Do northern cardinals mate for life? I always see a male and female cardinal pair together at the bird feeders,” asks Birds & Blooms reader Bridget Stoede of Spooner, Wisconsin.

do cardinals mate for life, female and male cardinal in a basketCourtesy Jeff Jones
Birds like cardinals that do not migrate are more likely to mate for life.

The best answer would be to say that, frequently, northern cardinals do mate for life—almost as often as humans do! Some pairs of cardinals do stay together all year long in their nesting territory. In other cases, the birds leave the territory and join a winter flock, but the same pair is likely to go back to the same nesting area the following spring.

Check out simply stunning bird photos of cardinals.

cardinals sharing seedsCourtesy Anne Sipe
Do cardinals mate for life? For many pairs, the answer is yes.

During courtship, northern cardinals go beak-to-beak as the male feeds the female. Male and female cardinals also communicate through song. Psst—this is what a cardinal’s call sounds like.

Don’t miss these cute and heartwarming baby cardinal photos.

How Long Do Cardinals Live?

cardinals at bird feederCourtesy Sharon Cuartero
Female and male northern cardinal pair visiting a bird feeder together

Some bird pairs stick together for several years or even as long as they both live (on average, a cardinal’s lifespan is about three to five years). This happens more often with larger species, such as bald eagles and swans, and birds that don’t migrate, such as northern cardinals. Here are some of the other types of birds that mate for life.

Some cardinal pairs do break up and look for new mates, sometimes even during the nesting season. And if one member of the cardinal pair dies, the survivor will quickly look for a new mate.

Check out proven ways to attract cardinals.

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman
Kenn and Kimberly are the official Birds & Blooms bird experts. They are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead bird trips all over the world. When they're not traveling, they enjoy watching birds and other wildlife in their Northwest Ohio backyard. Fascinated with the natural world since the age of 6, Kenn has traveled to observe birds on all seven continents, and has authored or coauthored 14 books about birds and nature, including include seven titles in his own series, Kaufman Field Guides, designed to encourage beginners by making the first steps in nature study as easy as possible. His next book, The Birds That Audubon Missed, is scheduled to be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2024. Kenn is a Fellow of the American Ornithological Society, and has received the American Birding Association’s lifetime achievement award twice. Kimberly is the Executive Director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) in northwest Ohio. She became the Education Director in 2005 and Executive Director in 2009. As the Education Director, Kimberly played a key role in building BSBO’s school programs, as well as the highly successful Ohio Young Birders Club, a group for teenagers that has served as a model for youth birding programs. Kimberly is also the co-founder of The Biggest Week In American Birding, the largest birding festival in the U.S. Under Kimberly’s leadership, BSBO developed a birding tourism season in northwest Ohio that brings an annual economic impact of more than $40 million to the local economy. She is a contributing editor to Birds & Blooms Magazine, and coauthor of the Kaufman Field Guides to Nature of New England and Nature of the Midwest. Accolades to her credit include the Chandler Robbins Award, given by the American Birding Association to an individual who has made significant contributions to education and/or bird conservation. In 2017, she received a prestigious Milestone Award from the Toledo Area YWCA. Kimberly serves on the boards of Shores and Islands Ohio and the American Bird Conservancy.
Kirsten Schrader
Kirsten has more than 15 years of experience writing and editing birding and gardening content. As content director of Birds & Blooms, she leads the team of editors and freelance writers sharing tried-and-true advice for nature enthusiasts who love to garden and feed birds in their backyards. Since joining Birds & Blooms 17 years ago, Kirsten has held roles in digital and print, editing direct-to-consumer books, running as many as five magazines at a time, and managing special interest publications. Kirsten has traveled to see amazing North American birds and attended various festivals, including the Sedona Hummingbird Festival, the Rio Grande Bird Festival, The Biggest Week in American Birding Festival, and the Cape May Spring Festival. She has also witnessed the epic sandhill crane migration while on a photography workshop trip to Colorado. Kirsten has participated in several GardenComm and Outdoor Writers Association of America annual conferences and is a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. When she's not researching, writing, and editing all things birding and gardening, Kirsten is enjoying the outdoors with her nature-loving family. She and her husband are slowly chipping away at making their small acreage the backyard of their dreams.