With their bright red plumage, Northern Cardinals are one of North America’s most iconic birds. In fact, they’re the official state bird in seven states! But are they found here in Colorado? The answer is yes…but rarely.
Northern Cardinals’ range typically includes the eastern half of the United States as well as southern Arizona and Mexico. However, some have made their way into eastern Colorado. eBird, a bird tracking website, currently lists 1,637 Northern Cardinal sightings in Colorado. That may seem like a lot, but considering that some of our more common birds have recorded more than a quarter million official sightings, it’s not much. Colorado’s Cardinal observations have mostly occurred on the eastern plains, especially near the Kansas border; some have also been spotted in Boulder and along the I-25 corridor. There is some speculation on whether Cardinals have been expanding their range in recent years; however, observations have been recorded in our state for more than a century. For example The Birds of Colorado, an 1897 publication from the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station, says that the first recorded sighting of Cardinalis cardinalis in Colorado was noted in a scientific publication in 1885 (see page 30). However, The Birds of Colorado refers to the Cardinal as “rare, if not accidental” in our state.
Why are Cardinals so uncommon here? An article in the Boulder Daily Camera notes that “Cardinals are birds of early successional forests. They prefer dense, shrub-and-sapling habitats alongside more open areas, and Colorado does not have a lot of the thick, viney tangles where cardinals like to nest.”
According to eBird, most Colorado sightings have occurred between April and June. To learn more about some of the places in Colorado where Cardinals have been spotted, take a look at Colorado Parks & Wildlife’s “Colorado Birding Trail” guidebooks on Northeastern and Southeastern Colorado.