Cardinal Eggs: All You Need to Know (With Pictures)

Cardinal eggs in a nest

While you are probably familiar with the Northern Cardinal’s vibrant plumage and notable song, it is highly likely that you know very little about Cardinal eggs. After all, they are often hidden away in nests built high in trees.

Furthermore, Northern Cardinal eggs can be hard to locate. In fact, when you do find one, it doesn’t look like much at all — just a small orb that is pale blue-green, ivory, or cream in color with a speckled pattern on the surface.

Still, if you are wondering about the appearance of Cardinal bird eggs, how long it takes for them to hatch, and how many eggs there are per clutch, keep reading. This article will address these questions and more! Let’s begin!

What Do Cardinal Eggs Look Like?

Three cardinal eggs in a nest

Normally, a Cardinal egg is surprisingly plain, as one might expect from such a striking bird. It is small and often comes in tints of pale blue, buff white, ivory, or cream alongside dark specks.

To be specific, when it comes to size, the average Cardinal egg measures about 0.9 to 1.1 inches long and roughly 0.7 to 0.8 inches wide. This is matched by a weight range of anywhere between 0.1 and 0.2 ounces.

Apart from that, the mentioned dark-colored markings on the shell can vary in shade. From deep brown to dull orange, these spots are usually concentrated around the large end of the Cardinal bird egg.

These marks differ in shape, too. As a matter of fact, some of them are round. Meanwhile, others are elongated or irregularly shaped patches of color on top of the primary light pigment of the eggshell.

Additionally, you will find that Cardinal eggs have an oval-shaped outline with rounded edges and smooth surface texture. They will appear rather glossy, which makes them easy to spot.

Altogether, these features help make them more distinct from other types of bird eggs in general.

So, do not fret if you see a red-pigmented female Cardinal laying over a dull-colored clutch — it is just how Northern Cardinal eggs are colored.

How Many Eggs Do Cardinals Lay at Once?

Generally speaking, female Cardinals lay between 2 and 5 eggs per clutch. With that being said, many bird lovers have reported that they’ve seen these red birds with an average of three Cardinal eggs in their nests.

It is important to remember that many factors affect egg production, including the age of the mother and its health, environmental conditions, feed consumption, water intake, temperature, and more.

For this reason, if you happen to spot Cardinal bird eggs in your yard or neighborhood, be sure to contact a wildlife expert.

Given that the Northern Cardinal is also the official bird of seven states, including North Carolina, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia, it is only essential to preserve these little orbs.

When Do Cardinals Lay Eggs?

Cardinal bird looking after the newly hatched babies

In most instances, Northern Cardinals’ nesting season begins around March and ends in early September. This is when you will see the most eggs laid by these eye-catching winged creatures.

An aviculturist friend of mine who works in a conservatory has mentioned that an average pair will raise two broods yearly.

She has also indicated that the first group of Cardinal eggs is typically laid around March to early April. Then another batch of eggs is laid in late May to July.

Sometimes, she expects a third bunch produced as late as August or September, especially if the weather conditions are right for another brood.

A female Northern Cardinal’s egg-laying process is captured in this short video:

Northern Cardinal Laying the First Egg March 3rd 2018 Atlanta GA

Where Do Cardinals Lay Their Eggs?

As is with all bird breeds, female Northern Cardinals lay their eggs in a nest. The nests can be made out of twigs, leaves, or straws, which are built by both the female and male in preparation for the incubation period.

Interestingly, the male Cardinal is responsible for gathering materials for constructing the nests. It will search for them up to a distance of three miles from its territory and then bring them back to its mate.

On the other hand, the female Cardinal builds the nest itself, creating an elaborate structure that contains an opening just big enough for one adult bird to enter.

As far as nest placement is concerned, it is usually built high up in trees where intruders cannot reach it easily, almost reaching up to 15 feet above ground level.

This only makes sense, as their eggs would be at risk of being eaten by other animals, such as domestic dogs and cats, if they were placed on the ground.

The following is a clip showing how Cardinals build their nest:

Cardinal building a nest

How Long Does a Mother Cardinal Sit on Her Eggs?

Cardinal bird laying eggs

After the breeding and nesting period is over, a mother Northern Cardinal will sit on its eggs until they hatch. This process is called incubation, lasting anywhere between 10 and 13 days.

Having said that, it is not uncommon for female Cardinals to leave their eggs unaccompanied — which may take up to seven days — before the incubation process begins.

The reason behind this behavior is unknown; however, many researchers believe that this is done so that the female can find food.

In terms of sitting intervals, mother Northern Cardinals will typically spend one hour on their nest at a time before taking a break of up to 15 minutes. This pattern will continue throughout most of the incubation period.

Similarly, father Northern Cardinals are known for being very involved with incubation duties. They make sure that they bring food back to their mates as often as possible.

Also, a male Cardinal is the one responsible for protecting the nest from predators. It won’t let anything get close enough to harm its eggs or young chicks.

However, note that it should come as no surprise that Northern Cardinals can leave their nests and eggs altogether, as they have been known to do so during times of danger.

For instance, if an intruder approaches them or if there’s an imminent danger lurking nearby, they might need to move away quickly and risk leaving their offspring behind.

How Long Do Cardinal Eggs Take to Hatch?

Typically, it is worth noting that it takes about 12 to 13 days for Cardinal eggs to hatch. This means that if you have a nest of these birds in your yard and want to see what happens when they hatch, you have to be patient.

You will notice that once a Cardinal chick is ready to come out of the egg, it will start to make small cracks around its perimeter. It will wiggle, stretch, and move around until the shell breaks open.

In order to help you visualize, watch this video of a Cardinal egg that has hatched successfully:

Cardinal Egg Hatching 4X Speed FYV

Meanwhile, the following is a clear photo of a Northern Cardinal baby that has just been born:

Newly hatched cardinal

The actual hatching process of Northern Cardinal eggs can take roughly 45 minutes at most. However, it is important to remember that this will depend on the temperature conditions and other external factors.

In addition, during this time, it is best to keep your distance from the nest. If you disturb them too early or too often, there is a high chance that they won’t be able to finish hatching adequately and may end up dying.

You will also witness that if the mother is present in its nest while the Cardinal bird eggs are hatching, it will try to eat the cracked eggshells as well as any other debris left behind by its babies.

Keep in mind that this occurrence is expected, as the female Northern Cardinal just wants to help its hatchlings from getting stuck inside.

What Happens to Unhatched Cardinal Eggs?

Baby cardinal with unhatched eggs

Unfortunately, it is inevitable that some Northern Cardinal eggs will not hatch. Reasons may vary, but environmental conditions, shell damage, infertility, or simply the loss of the adult bird are common causes of unhatched eggs.

Regardless of why the eggs have failed to hatch, it is vital to understand what will become of them. Of course, as with other birds, unhatched ones will eventually dry up and die.

If, by chance, you stumble upon a clutch that has been abandoned by its mother and shows signs of inactivity, make sure to wait at least four weeks before removing it from the nest.

Bear in mind that it is not allowed to extract eggs from a nest without permission from an authorized wildlife official. Hence, waiting is imperative if you want to avoid legal repercussions.

On top of that, you wouldn’t want to throw out Cardinals eggs only to find out later that they were actually still viable and had been tended by another bird all along.

Once you have waited for the proper amount of time and still find no signs of any life developing within the unhatched Cardinal bird eggs, it is safe to remove them from their nest and dispose of them properly.

In the end, this may be one of the reasons why female Northern Cardinals lay many eggs each year — they want as many as possible to hatch successfully.

What are your thoughts about Cardinal eggs? Share them in the comments below, along with any questions you may have!

Leave a Comment

You may also like