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We're Crazy About Cardinals

Updated: Dec 17, 2019

The northern cardinal is probably the most recognizable bird in Illinois. The male cardinals sport a bright red coat that doesn’t fade, even in the winter. Both the male and female birds rock a stylish Mohawk, called a crest, on their heads. Plus, they stay here all year, being a reliable neighbor visiting your feeder in the snow or on a sunny, warm day.

Illinois loves cardinals so much they are our state bird! So what’s all the fuss about? Keep reading to find out.

Fun Facts

  • Birdwatchers west of the Rocky Mountains don’t get to see these birds! Cardinals are found only in the eastern United States.

  • Both male and female cardinals sing. It is rare for female songbirds to sing, but the female cardinal breaks the mold by singing often while on her nest. Scientists think this may tell the male when the nest is ready for food.

  • Is that cardinal knocking on my window to say hello? No, it is not trying to get your attention. They are trying to tell “that other cardinal” they see to get out of their territory. You could try to tell them “that other cardinal” is just their own reflection, but they will still do what they need to protect their home.

  • Coupled cardinals generally stay together for life. The pair will go house shopping, visiting possible nest locations, before selecting the perfect place. They can raise up to three rounds of eggs per season.

  • The female does most of the nest building, using materials brought to her by the male. She bends the materials into a cup shape with four layers. First is a layer of twigs, then leaves, next bark and finally grasses. It usually takes between three and nine days to build a nest.

  • Northern cardinals eat seeds, fruit and insects. They love black-oil sunflower seeds, which is a perfect seed for your backyard bird feeders. Their babies eat mostly insects because they have a lot of protein.

  • Just like humans sometimes get lice in our hair, cardinals sometimes get mites. They can’t reach the feathers on the top of their heads to keep them clean. Therefore, mites can make them go bald. No need to worry — the feathers will grow back.

  • Four subspecies of cardinals have been recorded near Mexico. They all still look like a classic northern cardinal, but they may be a slightly different size and color.

  • Most cardinals live up to three years. The oldest recorded northern cardinal was more than 15 years old.

  • Illinois isn’t the only state to name the northern cardinal its state bird. Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina also have the cardinal as their state bird.


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