The Majestic Cardinal: Illinois State Bird and Its Fascinating Traits

Introduction: The Illinois State Bird, the Northern Cardinal

Illinois State Bird introduction

Each state in the United States designates an official state bird, chosen for its significance to the state’s history, culture, or natural environment. In Illinois, the state bird is the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). With its vibrant red plumage, distinctive crest, and melodic song, the Northern Cardinal perfectly embodies the spirit of Illinois.

The selection process for the state bird involves public input, where citizens, schools, and organizations propose and vote on potential candidates. In 1929, the Northern Cardinal was officially designated as the state bird of Illinois, symbolizing vitality, passion, and strength that align with the state’s energy.

In this blog post, we will explore the history, physical description, habitat, diet, breeding habits, and interesting facts about the Northern Cardinal. We will also discuss how to attract these beautiful birds to your yard and conservation efforts aimed at protecting them. By the end, you’ll have a comprehensive understanding of Illinois‘ cherished state bird, the Northern Cardinal.

History of the Cardinal as the Illinois State Bird

Illinois State Bird Cardinal history

The Northern Cardinal’s designation as the state bird of Illinois dates back to 1929. The Illinois Audubon Society played a pivotal role in advocating for the cardinal’s selection. Recognizing its striking plumage, enchanting song, and year-round presence, the cardinal gained widespread support.

In a statewide vote, schoolchildren across Illinois chose the Northern Cardinal as the state bird. On January 19, 1929, the cardinal’s selection was officially confirmed by the Illinois General Assembly. Since then, the Northern Cardinal has remained an enduring symbol of Illinois, representing the state’s natural beauty and diverse wildlife.

Physical Description of the Cardinal

Cardinal bird physical appearance

The Northern Cardinal is a medium-sized songbird known for its vibrant red plumage. Males display the striking red color, while females exhibit a more subdued combination of gray, brown, and reddish tinges. Both genders have a distinctive crest on their heads, adding to their charm and distinguishing them from other species.

Cardinals possess a robust, cone-shaped beak, ideal for cracking open seeds and indulging in a diet of fruits and insects. They have a compact and sturdy body, measuring around 8 to 9 inches in length, with a wingspan of 10 to 12 inches. Their short, rounded tail contributes to their balanced appearance.

Male cardinals are renowned for their melodious songs, consisting of a variety of clear whistles used for marking territory and attracting mates. Their songs are a delightful feature of their presence in the natural environment.

Overall, the Northern Cardinal’s vibrant plumage, distinctive crest, robust beak, and melodious songs make it a captivating and iconic bird species in Illinois.

Habitat and Diet of the Cardinal

Cardinal bird habitat and diet

Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) are adaptable birds that thrive in diverse environments throughout Illinois and North America. They can be found in woodlands, forests, gardens, parks, and even urban areas. Cardinals prefer areas with dense shrubs and trees, as these provide them with nesting sites and ample food sources.


Cardinal bird habitat images

Cardinals inhabit deciduous and mixed forests, where they find a suitable balance of open spaces and dense vegetation. They often reside in the understory, taking advantage of the protection and resources provided by shrubs, bushes, and small trees. Cardinals have also adapted well to human-altered landscapes, such as residential areas, parks, and gardens, as long as there are sufficient shrubs and trees available. Well-maintained bird feeders in these areas can attract Cardinals.


Cardinals have an omnivorous diet that includes plant matter and insects. Their primary food source consists of seeds, especially those of various grasses and weeds. Cardinals have a strong preference for nutrient-rich sunflower seeds, which they crack open with their strong beaks. They also consume fruits and berries from shrubs like dogwood, sumac, and grape. During the breeding season, Cardinals incorporate insects and spiders into their diet for essential protein.

To find food, Cardinals use their strong beaks to search through foliage and ground litter. They hop along branches and forage on the ground, relying on their keen eyesight to locate potential food sources. Cardinals readily visit bird feeders where they consume sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and other birdseed mixes. Their adaptability and flexible diet enable them to sustain themselves throughout the year, even during harsh winters when food sources may be limited.

In the following sections, we will explore the breeding habits of Cardinals and share some interesting facts about these beautiful birds.

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Breeding Habits of the Cardinal

Cardinal bird breeding habits

Cardinals, the state bird of Illinois, exhibit fascinating reproductive behaviors that contribute to their allure. Understanding their breeding habits sheds light on the life cycle of these vibrant birds.

Breeding Season

Cardinals in Illinois typically initiate their breeding season in late March or early April, coinciding with the arrival of spring. During this time, they search for suitable mates and establish territories.

Monogamous Mating System

Cardinals are known for their monogamous nature, forming enduring pair bonds. Once a male and female cardinal have established a bond, they remain together for multiple breeding seasons. This commitment ensures cooperative efforts in raising their young and defending their territory.

Courtship Rituals

Male cardinals engage in elaborate courtship displays to attract a mate. They serenade the female with a diverse repertoire of melodious songs, using distinctive calls to communicate their intentions. Additionally, the male cardinal showcases visually striking behaviors, including puffing up his feathers and performing lively hopping movements to capture the female’s attention.

Nesting Habits

Cardinals choose dense shrubs, bushes, or low tree branches as ideal locations for their nests. The female takes on the responsibility of nest construction, meticulously weaving twigs, grass, leaves, and other materials into a cup-shaped structure. These nests offer excellent concealment, providing protection for the eggs and fledglings against potential threats.

Egg Laying and Incubation

Once the nest is prepared, the female cardinal lays a clutch of 2 to 5 eggs, typically laying one egg per day. These smooth and slightly glossy eggs are adorned with pale green or bluish-white hues, embellished with delicate brown speckles. The female then incubates the eggs for approximately 11 to 13 days, ensuring the development and vitality of the embryos within.

The breeding habits of cardinals exemplify their commitment to reproduction and the survival of their species. By understanding these behaviors, we gain a deeper appreciation for the remarkable journey of these iconic birds.

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6. Fascinating Facts About the Cardinal

Interesting facts about the Cardinal bird

Discover the captivating world of the Northern Cardinal, a beloved state bird with intriguing characteristics:

  1. Colorful Gender Roles: Unlike most songbirds, male Northern Cardinals flaunt vibrant red plumage, while females showcase a reddish-brown color with hints of red.

  2. Year-round Residents: While other birds migrate to warmer regions during winter, Northern Cardinals tough it out, providing a splash of color even in the coldest Illinois winters.

  3. Territory Defenders: Male Cardinals stake their claim with melodious songs, fiercely protecting their territory and deterring other males.

  4. Cardinal Couples: Cardinals form monogamous pairs, strengthening their bond through mutual preening and staying together year-round.

  5. Mirror, Mirror: Cardinals exhibit an unusual behavior of attacking their own reflections in windows or mirrors, mistaking them for intruders.

  6. Diverse Diet: Cardinals primarily eat seeds but also enjoy fruits, insects, and even small amphibians, contributing to ecological balance in their habitats.

  7. Family Life: During breeding season, male Cardinals assist females by feeding them as they incubate eggs. Once the chicks hatch, both parents work together to care for their young.

  8. State Bird Prestige: The Northern Cardinal holds the title of state bird in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia, reflecting its popularity and widespread appeal.

  9. Symbolic Significance: Cardinals carry symbolic meanings in various cultures, representing vitality, passion, and good luck, making them spiritual and cultural icons.

7. How to Attract Cardinals to Your Yard

Attracting Cardinals to your yard

Invite the beauty and melody of cardinals to your Illinois yard with these simple steps:


Create an inviting habitat by incorporating dense shrubs, trees, and woodland elements into your yard. These provide cover and nesting sites that cardinals prefer.


Entice cardinals with a diverse range of food sources. Offer sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, cracked corn, and berries in bird feeders. Suet is especially appreciated during winter months when food is scarce.

Bird Feeders

Choose platform or hopper feeders with flat surfaces, as cardinals prefer feeding in this manner. Place the feeders in quiet, sheltered areas away from heavy foot traffic and predators. Regularly stock them with fresh food and clean them to prevent the spread of diseases.

Water Source

Install a bird bath or shallow water feature to attract cardinals for drinking and bathing. Remember to keep the water clean and fresh, changing it regularly to maintain its appeal and prevent debris accumulation.

Shelter and Nesting Sites

Create suitable nesting sites and cover by planting native shrubs and bushes like dogwood, holly, or viburnum. Avoid using harmful pesticides or herbicides that can deter cardinals and harm their food sources.

By following these guidelines, you can transform your yard into a haven for cardinals. Enjoy their vibrant colors and delightful songs as they grace your outdoor space with their enchanting presence.

Conservation Efforts For the Cardinal

Cardinal bird conservation efforts

The cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) has been the state bird of Illinois since 1929, holding cultural and ecological significance. Conservation efforts are crucial to protect this iconic bird’s habitat, population, and overall well-being.

Importance of Conservation

Importance of conservation illustrations

Conservation organizations recognize the cardinal’s significance and actively work towards its preservation, maintaining biodiversity and ecological balance in Illinois’s natural landscapes.

Habitat Preservation

Cardinals inhabit various habitats, including woodlands, forests, and urban areas. Conservation organizations protect nesting sites, food sources, and prevent habitat destruction, creating environments that support cardinal populations.

Threats to the Cardinal

Urbanization and habitat loss pose significant challenges to cardinal populations. Conversion of natural habitats into urban landscapes reduces nesting and foraging areas, while fragmented habitats disrupt breeding patterns and genetic diversity.

Conservation Initiatives

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and other organizations implement programs to protect the cardinal. Initiatives include public education campaigns, habitat restoration projects, and monitoring efforts to ensure conservation.

Citizen Science and Monitoring

Citizen science and monitoring images

Engaging the public in monitoring efforts is essential. Citizen science programs allow individuals to report cardinal sightings, contributing to data collection and enhancing the effectiveness of conservation initiatives.

Collaboration for Conservation

Conservation efforts involve collaboration between government agencies, organizations, researchers, and the public. By pooling resources and expertise, stakeholders develop comprehensive conservation plans, ensuring the cardinal’s future through sustained efforts.

Conserving the cardinal’s habitat, raising awareness, and implementing effective measures are crucial. Through these endeavors, we secure a thriving future for the Illinois State Bird, preserving its place in our natural and cultural heritage.


Conclusion symbol

The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) holds a special place in the hearts of Illinoisans, symbolizing the state’s natural beauty and rich heritage. Throughout this article, we explored its history, physical characteristics, habitat, breeding habits, and conservation efforts.

State birds symbolize the unique qualities and values of a state. The Northern Cardinal’s selection as the Illinois state bird reflects its significance within the state’s woodlands and its year-round presence, adding vibrancy and beauty to Illinois’ landscapes.

The process of selecting the Illinois state bird involved careful consideration and public involvement. Legislative actions and public opinion recognized the Northern Cardinal as the ideal avian representative for Illinois.

Describing the Northern Cardinal, we learned about its vibrant red plumage, distinctive crest, and black mask around its eyes. Its melodic song, behavior, and preference for woodland habitats make it cherished by birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.

In conclusion, the Northern Cardinal symbolizes Illinois’ identity and natural heritage. Its presence in woodlands and captivating appearance endear it to residents and visitors. By appreciating the Northern Cardinal, we deepen our connection to Illinois’ rich biodiversity and the importance of conserving its natural treasures.

Supporting conservation efforts is crucial to preserving the Northern Cardinal’s habitat and ensuring its long-term survival. By creating bird-friendly environments and providing food, water, and shelter, we protect these magnificent birds for generations to come.

In summary, the Northern Cardinal as the Illinois State Bird represents more than a designation—it symbolizes the state’s commitment to its natural heritage and the unique beauty within its borders. Let us cherish and celebrate the Northern Cardinal, a true icon of Illinois.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Illinois state bird?

The Illinois state bird is the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).

Why was the Northern Cardinal chosen as the state bird of Illinois?

Reasons for choosing Northern Cardinal as Illinois state bird

The Northern Cardinal was chosen as the state bird of Illinois because of its vibrant red plumage, distinctive crest, melodious song, and year-round presence, which symbolize the vitality, passion, and strength of the state.

When was the Northern Cardinal designated as the state bird of Illinois?

The Northern Cardinal was designated as the state bird of Illinois in 1929.

What are the physical characteristics of the Northern Cardinal?

The Northern Cardinal is a medium-sized songbird with vibrant red plumage for males and a reddish-brown color for females. Both genders have a distinctive crest on their heads. They have a compact and sturdy body, measuring around 8 to 9 inches in length, with a wingspan of 10 to 12 inches.

How can I attract Northern Cardinals to my yard in Illinois?

Attracting Northern Cardinals to your yard in Illinois

To attract Northern Cardinals to your yard in Illinois, you can create an inviting habitat with dense shrubs and trees, provide a diverse range of food sources like sunflower seeds and berries in bird feeders, install a bird bath or shallow water feature for drinking and bathing, and create suitable nesting sites and cover by planting native shrubs and bushes.






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