Illinois was the first of seven states to select the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis
) as its State Bird. The cardinal was chosen in 1929. Illinois schoolchildren voted for the State Bird. The other candidates were the bluebird, meadowlark, bobwhite (quail) and oriole. The cardinal is also the State Bird of Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.
The male cardinal is bright red with black around the beak and eyes. The female is pale gray-brown with a faint red tinge. Both the male and female can be identified by the large, pointed crest on the head. A cardinal has a thick beak, too. The average length of an adult cardinal is about eight inches.
Cardinals live in Illinois all year. It is a beautiful sight to see a bright red cardinal against a snowy background in winter. They live in forest edges, thickets, parks, gardens and suburban areas. Cardinals are even found in our large cities.
In spring, the female and male work together to build the nest of grasses, bark, vines, sticks and other plant materials. Cardinals make their loose, cup-shaped nest in shrubs, bushes and thickets. The nest is usually placed from three to 20 feet above the ground. The female lays two to five pale, blue-white eggs. The eggs have red-brown speckles. Cardinals can raise more than one brood in a year.
The cardinal feeds on insects, grains, fruits and seeds. Both the male and female sing. Its songs include “wit-cheer, cheer, cheer, cheer” and “birdy, birdy, birdy.”