Northern Cardinal


what cheer, cheer, cheer,
pichew tiw tiw tiw tiw tiw tiw tiw
wooiit wooiit wooiit wooiit chew chew chew chew

What is known about cardinal song?

• 8-10 different songs
• Sings one song many times before switching
• Next song depends on one just sang
• Males sing throughout the year
• Nocturnal singing common

• Mates and neighbors share most or all of their songs –Sing same syllable types –Combine them into songs in same ways
• Neighbors reply with identical songs
• Switch frequently in skirmishes  
•Repertoires diverge increasingly with distance
•Song structure may differ by habitat in ways that favor sound transmission

•Sing same songs with mates

How and when is song acquired?

• Soft warbles at about 3 wk of age in captivity (BNA), 13 days after fledging in wild (Lemon 1975)
• Subsong includes several recognizable adult vocalizations
• Become more songlike in autumn (Laskey 1944)
• Singing then ceases until Jan, when resumes
• By next April birds sing adult like songs (Lemon 1965 or BNA not sure which)
• Cardinals isolated as nestlings: –Atypical syllables and song types –Some structural elements seem normal (Ditus and Lemon 1969)
• Male isolates raised together: –Learned from one another –Develop a largely shared repertoire of syllable types (Ditus and Lemon 1969)
Learning ends earlier in females (Yamaguchi, 2001)

• Using tutor tapes for hand-reared males and females:
–Both learned songs from tapes (Ditus and lemon 1970,Beecher 1996)
–Males learned songs from tapes heard between days 11 and 30 (Beecher 1996)
–Continued to learn new songs from tapes through at least day 295 (Beecher 1996, see Suthers 1997 for ineffectiveness of tape tutors)

• In the laboratory, some males continued to learn new songs from tutor tapes through at least day 295, but no female learned new songs after day 100 (Yamaguchi 1996)

How can we facilitate song learning?

• House outdoors together
• Use recordings for males and females
–Play tapes throughout rehab (long learning period)


38. Laskey, A. R. (1944). A study of the Cardinal in Tennessee. Wilson Bulletin 56: 27–44.

109. Lemon, R. E. (1975). How birds develop song dialects. Condor 77: 385–406.

110. Lemon, R. E. (1965). The song repertoires of Cardinals (Richmondena cardinalis) at London, Ontario. Canadian Journal of Zoology 43: 559–569.

111. Dittus, W. P., and R. E. Lemon (1969). Effects of song tutoring and acoustic isolation on the song repertoires of Cardinals. Animal Behaviour 17: 523–533.

112. Dittus, W. P., and R. E. Lemon (1970). Auditory feedback in the singing of cardinals. Ibis 112: 544–548.

113. Yamaguchi, A. (1996). Female bird song: Function, physiology, and development in the Northern Cardinal. Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Davis, California, USA.

114. Beecher, M. D. (1996). Birdsong learning in the laboratory and field. In Ecology and Evolution of Acoustic Communication in Birds (D. E. Kroodsma and E. H. Miller, Editors), Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, USA. pp. 61–78.

115. Suthers, R. A., and F. Goller (1997). Motor correlates of vocal diversity in songbirds. In Current Ornithology (V. Nolan Jr., E. D. Ketterson, and C. F. Thompson, Editors). Plenum Press, New York, NY, USA. pp. 235–288.

Yanaguchi,A. (2001). Sex differences in vocal learning in birds. Nature, 411, 257-8.