How to Recognize Northern Cardinal Eggs

Wondering if the nest in your backyard contains cardinal eggs? Feel confident in your cardinal egg spotting skills with these tips.

What Do Cardinal Eggs Look Like?

cardinal nest eggs and babiesCourtesy Amy Volovski
Cardinal eggs are off-white or gray with brown speckles

There are a few ways to identify Northern cardinal eggs. First, look at their general color. The eggs of these birds come in hues of off-white, such as grayish white or greenish white. Then check the pattern. Cardinals lay eggs that have brown speckles. Their eggs are about 1 inch in length and an eighth of an inch wide. That’s about the size of your fingertip. Finally, knowing what type of nests cardinals build helps identify their eggs, too. If you’ve found off-white speckled eggs in a cup-shaped nest, there’s a good chance you’ve found cardinal eggs.

Learn how to identify bird eggs by color and size.

How Many Eggs Do Cardinals Lay?

Bnbbyc19 Leisa Duff 1
This cardinal nest had four eggs

A female Northern cardinal lays two to five eggs in a single clutch. (A clutch is the total number of eggs in one nesting attempt.) Northern cardinals don’t always mate for life, but they do form monogamous pairs. A pair of Northern cardinals will have one to three broods in a single breeding season. On rare occasions, they may have four broods. (A brood is a set of baby birds born at the same time with the same parents.)

If you see a cardinal, here’s what it means.

When Do Cardinals Lay Eggs?

baby cardinals eatingCourtesy Tina Burrows
Cardinals may raise multiple broods in one breeding season.

The cardinal breeding season is a little longer than other backyard birds’ breeding seasons. For example, both American goldfinches and black-capped chickadees have shorter breeding seasons. Cardinals usually lay their first clutch of eggs in March. They lay their second clutch of eggs around late May or early June. They may lay another clutch after that.

Brown-headed cowbirds lay their eggs early in the season, too. This can make Northern cardinal nests an easy target. The female brown-headed cowbird doesn’t build her own nest. She layers her eggs in the nests of other birds, like cardinals. A female cardinal will then unknowingly raise the cowbird’s hungry young which can crowd out the cardinal’s own fledglings.

Will cardinals use a bird house?

How Long Does it Take Cardinal Eggs to Hatch?

cardinal egg fledglingCourtesy Elizabeth Spranger
Male cardinal feeding a fledgling

It takes cardinal eggs a little less than two weeks to hatch: about 11 to 13 days. Only the female cardinal sits on the eggs to keep them warm. The male cardinal helps out by bringing her food and defending their nesting territory. Once the eggs hatch, both parents work together to feed the nestlings a diet of insects. After nine to 11 days, the young leave their nest for the first time. But they won’t be truly independent until they’re 25 to 56 days old. The male cardinal might continue to feed the fledglings, while the female starts building the next nest.

Next learn what a cardinal’s song sounds like.

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Kaitlin Stainbrook
Kaitlin Stainbrook is a freelancer for Birds & Blooms magazine and previously worked as an associate editor. Hidden talents include playing the ukulele and speaking Japanese.