North Carolina’s State Bird: A Comprehensive Guide to the Cardinal

Introduction: Overview of North Carolina’s State Bird

Introduction: Overview of North Carolina's State Bird

The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) holds a special place in the hearts of North Carolina residents as the state bird since 1943. Renowned for its vibrant red plumage and distinctive crest, this medium-sized songbird captivates birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike, symbolizing the beauty of North Carolina.

With its bright red feathers, the male Northern Cardinal is a stunning sight against the green foliage, while the female exhibits an elegant reddish-brown coloration that complements its environment with subtlety and grace.

Not only visually striking, the Northern Cardinal enchants with its melodious song, a diverse range of whistles, trills, and chirps that create a symphony of natural music echoing through North Carolina’s woodlands, gardens, and urban areas, serving as a cheerful soundtrack to the state’s seasons.

As a year-round resident, the Northern Cardinal thrives in diverse habitats, adapting to dense forests, tranquil woodlands, gardens, and urban areas, bringing vibrant colors and cheerful melodies to the state’s landscapes and city dwellers.

Beyond its aesthetic and auditory charm, the Northern Cardinal plays a crucial role in North Carolina’s ecosystem, contributing to the balance of local wildlife and serving as a reminder of the importance of preserving the state’s natural heritage.

History: How North Carolina’s State Bird was Chosen

History: How North Carolina's State Bird was Chosen

The selection of North Carolina’s state bird, the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), began in 1943 with the participation of the North Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs. This democratic process allowed residents to determine the bird that would represent the state’s avian fauna, shedding light on the Northern Cardinal’s significance to North Carolina’s identity.

The North Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs initiated a statewide vote, considering factors such as the bird’s prevalence, physical attributes, and unique characteristics. After careful consideration and voting, the Northern Cardinal emerged as the clear winner, captivating the hearts of residents with its vibrant plumage and melodious song.

The Northern Cardinal’s selection was not only based on its visual appeal and melodious voice but also on the symbolism associated with its characteristics. Its bright red coloration, symbolizing beauty, strength, and vitality, aligns with North Carolina‘s values and spirit, solidifying its status as a favored choice.

Beyond its physical attributes, the Northern Cardinal holds cultural significance within North Carolina, appearing in art, literature, and sports teams, emphasizing its role as an emblem of the state’s identity and celebrating its unique wildlife heritage.

The involvement of the North Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs in the decision-making process reflects the importance of community engagement and the desire to shape the state’s symbols together. By choosing the Northern Cardinal, North Carolina showcases its commitment to preserving and honoring the remarkable wildlife that graces its landscapes.

Physical Characteristics: A Striking Appearance and Melodious Song

The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is North Carolina’s state bird, known for its vibrant plumage and beautiful song. Let’s explore the captivating physical characteristics of this iconic bird.


The Northern Cardinal is a medium-sized songbird with distinct features that make it easily recognizable. Both males and females have a crest on their head, adding to their regal appearance. Here are some key characteristics:

  • Male Cardinals: Vibrant red plumage covers their body, wings, and crest. Their striking coloration stands out against the green foliage. They have a black mask around their eyes and a cone-shaped, reddish-orange bill. The male’s long, elegant tail is often held upright while perched.

  • Female Cardinals: They have a more subdued appearance compared to males. Their overall coloration is primarily a warm reddish-brown, with hints of red on their crest, wings, and tail. Like males, they also have a black mask and a cone-shaped bill.

Size and Weight

The Northern Cardinal has a moderate size and weight, with slight differences between males and females. Here are the average measurements:

  • Length: Adult cardinals measure about 8 to 9 inches (20 to 23 cm) from the tip of their bill to the end of their tail.

  • Wingspan: Their wingspan ranges from 9.8 to 12.2 inches (25 to 31 cm), allowing them to navigate through forests and open spaces with agility.

  • Weight: Male cardinals typically weigh around 1.5 to 1.8 ounces (42 to 51 grams), while females are slightly lighter, weighing about 1.4 to 1.7 ounces (39 to 48 grams).


The Northern Cardinal is renowned for its melodious and distinctive song. Here are some characteristics of their vocalizations:

  • Male Songs: Male cardinals are particularly vocal, using their songs to communicate and defend their territories. Their song consists of a series of clear, whistling notes that are often described as “what-cheer, what-cheer, cheer, cheer!” The song varies in length and complexity, showcasing the male’s vocal prowess.

  • Female Songs: While not as vocal as males, female cardinals also sing. Their songs are softer and more subdued, often used for communication within their social groups.

The physical characteristics of the Northern Cardinal, including its vibrant plumage, crest, and melodious song, make it a beloved and iconic bird in North Carolina.

Feeding and Breeding Habits: A Year-Round Presence

Feeding and Breeding Habits: A Year-Round Presence

The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is the official state bird of North Carolina. Let’s delve into its feeding and breeding habits, which contribute to its fascinating presence in the region.

Feeding Habits

Primarily granivorous, the Northern Cardinal’s diet consists mainly of seeds. With its strong beak, it can crack open and consume a wide variety of seeds, including sunflower seeds, corn, and millet. However, cardinals also feed on berries, fruits, and insects, especially during the breeding season when additional protein is essential for their growing offspring.

To attract cardinals to your bird feeder or backyard garden, offer sunflower seeds or suet. These vibrant birds are known to visit feeders and gardens, adding a splash of color to the surroundings. One remarkable characteristic of the Northern Cardinal is its non-migratory nature, allowing observers to enjoy their presence year-round in North Carolina.

Breeding Habits

Cardinals are monogamous birds, often forming long-term bonds with their mates. The breeding season typically commences in late winter or early spring, around February or March. During this time, the male cardinal displays its striking red plumage to attract a female partner.

Both male and female cardinals participate in building the nest, a cup-shaped structure made of twigs, leaves, and grasses. These nests are strategically located in dense shrubs or thickets, providing protection and camouflage for the eggs and nestlings.

The female cardinal lays a clutch of 2-5 eggs. These eggs have a pale greenish-white color with brown speckles, allowing them to blend into their surroundings. The female incubates the eggs while the male provides food for her during this period. After an incubation period of about 11-13 days, the eggs hatch into blind and featherless hatchlings.

Once the hatchlings emerge, both parents actively participate in feeding and caring for their young. They regurgitate food to provide nutrition, ensuring their healthy growth and development.

By understanding the feeding and breeding habits of the Northern Cardinal, we gain a deeper appreciation for this remarkable bird and its role in the ecosystem of North Carolina.

Range: Where to Find the North Carolina’s State Bird

Range: Where to Find the North Carolina's State Bird

The Northern Cardinal, North Carolina’s state bird, can be found in various habitats across the state and beyond. Here are some key locations where you can spot this iconic bird:

Woodlands and Forests

The Northern Cardinal thrives in both dense forests and open woodlands. Explore North Carolina’s forests, especially those with a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees, to catch a glimpse of this striking bird.

Gardens, Parks, and Residential Areas

The adaptability of the Northern Cardinal allows it to thrive in human-altered landscapes. Keep an eye out for flashes of red in gardens, parks, suburban areas, and even your own backyard if you have a bird feeder.

Nature Reserves and Forest Edges

Nature reserves and well-preserved habitats are favorable for spotting Northern Cardinals. Listen for their melodious songs as you explore North Carolina’s protected areas.

Coastal Regions

While not exclusive to coastal regions, the Northern Cardinal can occasionally be found along the coast of North Carolina. Keep a lookout for this stunning bird if you’re visiting the coastal areas.

Remember that the Northern Cardinal is a year-round resident in North Carolina, so you have the opportunity to spot it throughout the year. Whether you’re exploring woodlands, enjoying a local park, or observing wildlife in your own backyard, keep an eye out for the Northern Cardinal’s vibrant red plumage and enchanting song.

Conservation: Efforts to Protect and Increase the Population of the State Bird

Conservation: Efforts to Protect and Increase the Population of the State Bird

Conservation efforts for the Northern Cardinal in North Carolina focus on safeguarding and enhancing its population. Multiple organizations and agencies, such as the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) and Audubon North Carolina, are actively involved in these initiatives.

Preserving and Creating Suitable Habitats

Conservation strategies revolve around protecting and restoring habitats for the Northern Cardinal. Efforts combat habitat loss caused by urbanization, deforestation, and agricultural activities. Measures include preserving forests, establishing wildlife corridors, and restoring degraded habitats.

Raising Awareness and Educating the Public

Raising awareness about the importance of the Northern Cardinal and its habitat is crucial. Outreach programs, workshops, and educational campaigns target both adults and children, emphasizing the cardinal’s ecological significance and the need for its protection.

Monitoring and Research

Monitoring and research play a pivotal role in conservation. Scientists and volunteers collect data on the population, distribution, and breeding success of the Northern Cardinal. This information helps assess the effectiveness of conservation measures and adapt strategies accordingly.

Collaboration and Partnerships

Collaboration between government agencies, conservation organizations, researchers, and local communities is essential. These partnerships ensure a coordinated approach to protect and increase the population of the Northern Cardinal. By pooling resources and knowledge, stakeholders can implement more effective conservation measures.

Through collective efforts, North Carolina continues to make significant strides in protecting the Northern Cardinal and securing its future in the state.

Next Steps: Fun Facts and Conclusion

Next Steps: Fun Facts and Conclusion

Fun Facts: Interesting Facts About North Carolina’s State Bird

The Northern Cardinal, North Carolina’s state bird, is a fascinating creature with several intriguing characteristics. Here are some captivating facts about this beloved avian resident of the Tar Heel State:

Vibrant Plumage and Dimorphic Appearance

The Northern Cardinal mesmerizes with its vibrant plumage. Males flaunt a striking crimson red, while females exhibit a more subdued reddish-brown hue. This distinct contrast between the sexes makes the Northern Cardinal easily recognizable and visually stunning.

Year-Round Singers

Unlike migrating songbirds, Northern Cardinals are year-round residents in North Carolina. Their enchanting songs fill the air throughout the year, serenading the state’s diverse landscapes with a rich whistling melody.

Symbolism and Cultural Significance

Beyond being North Carolina’s state bird, the Northern Cardinal holds symbolic importance. Revered for its colors and melodious voice, it represents vitality, energy, and passion. The cardinal has become an emblem of beauty, strength, and resilience, reflecting the state’s natural splendor and appreciation for remarkable wildlife.

Year-Round Residents and Territorial Behavior

Northern Cardinals are territorial birds, especially during breeding season. They establish and defend their territories, ensuring safety and resources for successful breeding and raising their young. Their vibrant presence adds life to North Carolina’s forests, woodlands, gardens, and urban areas.

Monogamous Bonding and Nesting Habits

Northern Cardinals form lifelong partnerships, showcasing monogamous behavior. Nest construction is primarily the female’s responsibility, with shrubs and thickets being preferred nesting sites. These well-hidden nests provide a safe haven for raising broods of three to four eggs.

Omnivorous Diet and Bird Feeder Visitors

Cardinals are omnivorous, consuming seeds, fruits, and insects. They contribute to seed dispersal and insect control, maintaining ecological balance in North Carolina’s ecosystems. Their preference for seeds also makes them frequent visitors to bird feeders, particularly when offered sunflower and safflower seeds, providing delightful opportunities for up-close observation.

The Cardinal’s Multi-State Representation

The Northern Cardinal’s significance extends beyond North Carolina. It is the state bird in six other states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. This widespread recognition reflects the cardinal’s enduring appeal as a beloved and cherished avian species.

These intriguing facts about the Northern Cardinal showcase its captivating physical attributes, melodious songs, and cultural significance. As a cherished resident of North Carolina, this vibrant bird continues to enchant residents and visitors alike with its beauty, behavior, and enduring presence in the state’s natural landscapes.

Conclusion: Summary of North Carolina’s State Bird

The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) holds a special place as North Carolina’s state bird. Chosen in 1943, this medium-sized songbird with its vibrant red plumage and distinctive crest is a beloved symbol of beauty and resilience in the state.

The Northern Cardinal is a year-round resident, gracing habitats such as forests, woodlands, and suburban areas. Its melodious song, described as a clear, whistling whistle, delights both seasoned birdwatchers and casual observers.

With a diet primarily consisting of seeds, fruits, and insects, the Northern Cardinal plays a vital role in local ecosystems as a seed disperser and insect predator. Its presence can be observed at backyard bird feeders, bringing joy with its striking appearance and enchanting song.

Not only does the Northern Cardinal captivate nature enthusiasts, but it also holds cultural significance. Its bright red coloration has led to associations with Christmas and winter, making it a cherished symbol during the holiday season. Moreover, the bird’s selection as the state bird reflects its abundance and importance in North Carolina’s natural heritage.

Efforts to conserve the Northern Cardinal and ensure its population thrives are ongoing. Conservation initiatives focus on preserving suitable habitats, promoting public awareness, and mitigating threats such as habitat loss and climate change. These endeavors aim to maintain the Northern Cardinal’s vibrant presence in North Carolina’s diverse avian community.

In summary, the Northern Cardinal represents the beauty and resilience of North Carolina’s natural world. Its striking appearance, melodious song, and year-round presence make it a cherished species among residents and visitors. By protecting and appreciating the Northern Cardinal, we celebrate not only the state bird but also the rich biodiversity and natural heritage of North Carolina.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is North Carolina’s state bird?

North Carolina’s state bird is the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).

When was the Northern Cardinal designated as the state bird of North Carolina?

The Northern Cardinal was designated as the state bird of North Carolina in 1943.

Why was the Northern Cardinal chosen as North Carolina’s state bird?

The Northern Cardinal was chosen as North Carolina’s state bird due to its vibrant red plumage, melodious song, and cultural significance. Its colors symbolize beauty, strength, and vitality, aligning with North Carolina’s values and spirit.

Where can I find the Northern Cardinal in North Carolina?

The Northern Cardinal can be found in various habitats throughout North Carolina, including woodlands, forests, gardens, parks, and residential areas. It is a year-round resident, allowing for sightings throughout the year.

How can I attract Northern Cardinals to my backyard?

To attract Northern Cardinals to your backyard, you can provide them with suitable food sources. They are particularly fond of sunflower seeds and suet. Setting up bird feeders and creating a bird-friendly environment with shrubs and trees can also help attract these beautiful birds.






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