Have you ever wondered why states even have birds as a symbol? When I was younger, it was quite intriguing to me, so I had to ask my parents to help me demystify this fact.
I’ve learned that all of the states decided to designate state flowers, birds, slogans, trees, insects etc. all with the aim of representing their state in its unique way. It had to be something that stands out within that state, which would make everyone proud of his or her origin.
If we want to go to from where it all started, we have to talk about the U.S. state context. Furthermore, we have to mention that there was a “National Garland of Flowers” made up of a flower representing each state at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. State legislatures then began adopting a plethora of other “official state XYZ” and that’s how this tradition was created.
You may have noticed that some states have the same state bird, and not so rare, it’s the cardinal bird. Don’t mind counting – it is exactly seven states that designated the cardinal as the state bird and we’ll cover them all.
Why is this bird so special, that even seven states have it as the state bird? By the end of the article, you will probably wish to see the northern cardinal more often and maybe even have it representing your state.
It is believed that this practice of flowers and animals as national symbols dates back to ancient times. Take into consideration, for example, the Chinese dragon or Roman eagle. That appears again in modern times, e.g.:
In Greek mythology, the owl was sacred to Athena, the goddess of wisdom. This led to owl becoming a protector of Greek soldiers whom all believed that if an owl flew over the army before the battle, that would guarantee a victory.
Many would say that the birds represent a free and perspective way of life. In many cultures, it is believed that the birds are messengers of the Gods that actually enable humans to be connected with the spiritual life.
You can find in many cultures and religions similar symbolism of the birds. Usually, they have been regarded as forecasters of future events. Several ancient cultures have believed that these winged creatures represent the human soul and have considered their flight as the soul’s journey in pursuit of additional knowledge and prospering.
Additionally, seeing the birds fly over during some specific event initiates powerful metaphors for a range of human emotions and moods. This all led to a growing importance of the birds, and eventually to many states worldwide declaring the official bird of their country, district or town.
How were the state birds chosen?
This is quite interesting since there were no specific rules. It was important that the bird populated that state, but many states had the privilege of choice since the nature in the U.S. is diverse.
As it is believed to be, to be chosen as a state bird, the bird had to be familiar in the first place – symbol has to be known to everyone, colorful – to be easily spotted and definitely more appealing, and also to have a punchy song –for a good voice had to be widely heard.
Alabama was the first one to break the ice and choose the state bird – Yellowhammer, followed by Florida, Maine, Missouri, Oregon, Texas and Wyoming in choosing Northern Mockingbird, Black-capped chickadee, Eastern bluebird, Western meadowlark, Northern Mockingbird and Western meadowlark as their state birds, in the following order.
You can notice that there was no rule against choosing the bird that was already chosen, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that seven states chose the cardinal as their state bird.
The states kept choosing state birds as their symbol for the next 46 years, finishing with Arizona choosing the Cactus wren as the state bird in 1973.
The northern cardinal
The northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is a bird in the genus Cardinalis which is also known as the redbird, common cardinal or just cardinal.
It can be found in southern Canada, through the eastern United States from Maine to Texas and south through Mexico, Belize and Guatemala – almost throughout the whole USA, making it evidently the desirable choice for many states.
The northern cardinal is a mid-sized songbird and has quite a remarkable appearance – once you see them, you will be able to recognize them every time.
Cardinals drive attention with their distinctive crest on the head and a mask on the face (black in the male and gray in the female cardinals), but what is most noticeable is their color. The male is a vibrant red, while the female is a dull reddish olive, and for those who prefer it simply said – the Cardinals are red.
An interesting fact about these birds is that both male and female can sing. You may overhear people saying that they behave oddly in some situations. For example, attack the window, mirror or some other glass. This is due to their strong instinct to defend their breeding territory.
If they happen to see their reflection in a window or a mirror (or maybe even in the water), they will attack the object, being convinced that their reflection is actually another Cardinal endangering their territory.
The Northern Cardinal is often called the Winter Redbird, due to the fact that you can easily spot the it during the winter when it is the only “redbird” present. Earlier, cardinals were honored as pets, but keeping them as cage birds was banned in the United States by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
States that have cardinal as the state bird
As mentioned before, there are seven states that proudly have cardinals as the state birds: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. All these states chose their state bird in a similar way, but we will cover them all, focusing on the year they made a decision and some specifics regarding making it.
Illinois was the first state to declare the northern cardinal as the state bird. This happened at the General Assembly in 1929, following the event in 1928, where school children suggested choosing the cardinal as the state bird.
Indiana was the next state to name cardinal as the state bird at the General Assembly in 1933.
In the same year, cardinals were designated as state birds in Ohio (Ohio Revised Code, General Provisions, Chapter 5 State Insignia: 5.03. Official State Bird).
Firstly, the northern cardinal became the state bird of Kentucky in 1926, but it became official during the legislative session in 1942.
5. North Carolina
In North Carolina State, the cardinal was selected by popular choice on March 4, 1943.
6. West Virginia
In the declaring the cardinal as the official state bird participated pupils of public schools and civic organization. The decision was authorized by House Concurrent Resolution No. 12, adopted by the Legislature on March 7, 1949.
Finally, the State of Virginia adopted cardinal as the state bird on 25th January in 1950, making it seven states in total that have northern cardinal as the state bird.
Beliefs regarding the northern cardinal
It is believed that cardinals symbolize hope, joy, health, rejuvenation, and celebration. This goes especially for those who believe strongly and dare themselves to look beyond in search of their meaning.
According to another belief of bird lovers, those who choose to show affection towards cardinals are said to be a special type of people – rare, energetic, and always willing to take care for those in need.
One author once said: “May you come to find comfort in and remember: cardinals appear when angels are near. So go now, sit outside and drink your tea. Keep a look out for the little red bird — if it is there, your loved one will be.”
This author was Victoria McGovern, and you can find her other works of art dedicated to these magical birds who are official state birds of seven states – no more, no less.
No matter whether you are a passionate bird lover or you were just interested in how many states have the cardinal as the state bird, one thing is certain – you have been acquainted with the many characteristics of these birds, which many consider magical.
If you are lucky enough to live in some of the seven states – Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia or West Virginia, you are more likely to see a northern cardinal in your every day, during your walk or maybe on your way to work or school.
If you are not so lucky, you can still read many articles describing these birds or learn something new by reading the books that are written about cardinals.
Even getting their song downloaded is now available, and many already use it as the alarm tone, claiming that it’s the most natural way to wake up in the morning.
So far, it is no surprise that seven states have cardinal as the state bird, and it is well familiar that nobody has regretted it.