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The Northern Cardinal is a mid-sized songbird with a body length of 8.3–9 in and a wingspan of 10–12 in. The male is slightly larger than the female. The male is a brilliant crimson red with a black face mask over the eyes, extending to the upper chest. The color is dullest on the back and wings. The female is fawn, with mostly grayish-brown tones and a slight reddish tint on the wings, the crest, and the tail feathers. The face mask of the female is gray to black and is less defined than that of the male. Both sexes possess prominent raised crests and bright coral-colored beaks. Young birds, both male and female, show the coloring similar to the adult female until the fall, when they molt and grow adult feathers.
Its natural habitat is woodlands, gardens, shrublands, and swamps. This bird is a permanent resident throughout its range, although it may relocate to avoid extreme weather or if food is scarce.
The diet of the Northern Cardinal consists mainly (up to 90 percent) of weed seeds, grains, and fruits. It is a ground feeder and finds food while hopping on the ground through trees or shrubbery. It eats beetles, cicadas, grasshoppers, snails, wild fruit and berries, corn, and oats, sunflower seeds, the blossoms and bark of elm trees, and drinks maple sap from holes made by sapsuckers.