Do Northern Cardinals Mate for Life?

Updated: Jun. 22, 2023

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.