Can You Have a Cardinal as a Pet? (Here Are The Facts)

Cardinals are beautiful birds to observe, and in the past, they’ve made for popular pets. However, times have now changed and new laws are now in place to protect these birds.

You can’t have a cardinal as a pet in North America, Japan, or Russia, because cardinals are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This act prohibits the sale, possession, or trade of the Northern Cardinal, along with 1,025 other native species. Violations can result in $15,000 of fines.

Why It’s Illegal To Keep a Cardinal as a Pet

Northern Cardinals are illegal to keep as pets in North America, Japan, and Russia due to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).

They are also illegal to sell or trade, meaning that anyone who participates in the trading of cardinals as pets is breaking the law and may be subject to penalties. 

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA)

The MBTA forbids any capturing, killing, selling, or transporting listed birds without a federal permit.

It exists to protect native species and the ecosystems that they belong to. 

The MBTA was first enacted in 1916 in Canada and then was signed by the United States in 1918.

Mexico followed in 1936, and then Japan accepted the treaty in 1972. Finally, the act was adopted by Russia in 1976.

The MBTA protects 1,026 different species, including 74 Endangered Species.

Among the birds saved from extinction by the MBTA are the Snowy Egret, the Sandhill Crane, and the Wood Duck.

When the MBTA was first enacted in the United States, poaching and hunting were the biggest threats to native birds.

Feathers were in high demand as a fashion statement, and bird populations were suffering for it.

Today, the biggest threats to native birds are oil pits, transmission lines, and other industrial developments that have changed the country’s natural landscape.

Conservationist groups like the Audubon Society have used the MBTA to push for change in how companies safeguard against harming wildlife as they develop.

The MBTA and the Pet Trade

Under the MBTA, it is illegal to sell, trade, buy, possess, or transport a listed bird without authorization.

This includes all pet trading, and it means that virtually no native birds are available to have as pets, including the Northern Cardinal.

Only certain allowed organizations and individuals are permitted to privately own native birds.

Penalties for violating the MBTA through ownership or sale of a native bird can result in fines up to $15,000 or six months in prison. 

Exemptions to the MBTA

The countries obligated to the MBTA may issue permits allowing for exceptions when the taking of protected species does not interfere with long-term conservation goals. 

Common exceptions to the MBTA include falconry, educational use, scientific research, and depredation, used when birds pose threats to humans.

In each of these cases, the requesting party must prove that there is a significant benefit to be gained, either for the bird population or humans, in the taking of these native birds. 

Exceptions to allow private pet ownership are unheard of due to the minimal public value involved. 

The Best Red Birds To Keep as Pets

While you cannot legally own a pet cardinal in the United States, there are numerous brightly colored small birds that you can keep as pets, including a few bright crimson birds.

These include the Red Factor Canary, the Red Lory, and the Crimson Finch.

Red Factor Canary

The Red Factor Canary looks much like other canaries but changes color according to its diet.

These birds become orangish-red in color when fed deep red and orange foods like beets, yams, and cherries. 

You can also purchase color food, like the Nekton Color Enhancing Supplements for Birds from Amazon.

Red Factor Canaries are small birds that live about 10 to 12 years. They are chattery and like to whistle, and they love to hear music.

Consider leaving the radio on for these birds when you leave the house. 

Relative to other birds, they require less human interaction, but they still need to be cared for with diligence to maximize their lifespan and well-being. 

These birds originate in the Canary Islands, off the coast of West Africa.

Europeans imported these canaries for the first time in the late 1500s, resulting in global breeding and trading operations that continue to this day.

Red Lory

The Red Lory is playful, high-energy, and very vocal, and it has bright red plumage with blue accents.

This bird requires a higher than average level of attention and specialized care, so it’s a good choice for an experienced bird owner looking for a full-time companion bird. 

Red Lories are about 10 to 12 inches (25.4-30.4 cm) long and live for about 30 years if cared for appropriately. 

If you plan to adopt a Red Lory, make sure that you have a sizable cage, as these birds love their freedom and need plenty of space.

They also tend to make quite a mess, as their droppings are very liquid-like. 

Red Lories require a specialized diet of nectar and fruit with a small amount of seed. 

These birds originate in Indonesia, where they are still native and where they are kept as pets. 

Crimson Finch

The Crimson Finch, also called the Blood Finch, is an Australian bird that can be bought for a high price in the United States.

These birds are territorial, so each pair of mates should have their own aviary to keep the peace. 

Crimson Finches require protection from cold temperatures, wind, and rain, as they are prone to cold-related illnesses. 

Millets and seeds made for finches are best for the Crimson Finch. To make the seed even healthier for your finch, try sprouting it before serving.

Crimson Finches also need live food, like termites, mealworms, maggots, and crickets, which is especially important during the breeding season.

These birds have a shorter lifespan than most, at just 5 to 6 years.