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What Is the State Bird of Indiana?

The state bird of Indiana is the Northern Cardinal, a vibrant red songbird that symbolizes beauty and warmth against the state's varied landscapes. Its melodic chirps echo through the Hoosier state, enchanting residents and visitors alike. Discover how this feathered emblem captures the spirit of Indiana and what it tells us about the region's natural heritage. What does the cardinal mean to you?
S. Ashraf
S. Ashraf

In 1933, the Indiana state legislature designated the cardinal as the official state bird of Indiana. Cardinals do not migrate, so they are year-round residents of the state. They have a large range and a relatively dense population, so in addition to being the state bird of Indiana, cardinals are the state bird for six other U.S. states: West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio and Illinois.

The cardinal, scientifically named Cardinalis cardinalis, is also known as either the redbird or the Northern cardinal. It is a songbird of medium size that belongs to the finch family of birds. Male cardinals are about 8-9 inches (20-23 cm) long and are just a little larger than the females. Cardinals generally weigh 1.48-1.69 ounces (42-48 g) and have wingspans of about 10-12 inches (25-31 cm).

A map of the US.
A map of the US.

Males and females don’t differ much in size, but their colors dramatically distinguish them from each other. The male cardinal is a brilliant, solid scarlet red, broken only by a bit of black around the base of its reddish-toned bill, which looks like a mask. Even its legs are dark red. Early American settlers named the cardinal because its color reminded them of the cardinals of the Catholic church, who dress in ceremonial bright red robes. The bird's red color is its most distinctive feature, and it allows the state bird of Indiana to be easily spotted by birdwatchers.

By contrast, the female is on the dull side in appearance. A female cardinal ranges in color from a light brownish green to a grayish tan or light brown. The female lacks the distinctive black mask, although part of its face might be a little dark. Females do have red legs and feet, just as the males do.

Although the cardinal is the state bird of Indiana and a few other states, its geographical distribution is actually quite large. Cardinals are found from southern Canada to Maine and Nova Scotia and as far south as the Florida Gulf Coast, Mexico and Central America. For habitat, cardinals are most comfortable around the edges of woods, riverside thickets and swamps but also will live in residential areas and city gardens.

Breeding season is from about March through September, with the pairs being monogamous and often remaining together for several years. Females build the nests and lay one to five eggs. Although the male brings her food, the female alone incubates the eggs, which takes about 12 days.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the state bird of Indiana?

The state bird of Indiana is the Northern Cardinal, also known simply as the cardinal. It was officially designated as the state bird in 1933. The Northern Cardinal is admired for its vibrant red plumage and melodic song, making it a beloved symbol for Indiana residents. This bird is not only popular in Indiana but is also recognized as the state bird in six other states, reflecting its widespread appeal across the United States.

When was the Northern Cardinal chosen as Indiana's state bird?

The Northern Cardinal was chosen as Indiana's state bird in 1933. The selection was made by the Indiana General Assembly, reflecting the bird's popularity and status as a common year-round resident of the state. Its selection underscores the cardinal's significance in Indiana's natural heritage and its role in the state's ecosystem.

Why was the Northern Cardinal selected as the state bird for Indiana?

The Northern Cardinal was selected as Indiana's state bird due to its widespread presence throughout the state and its popularity among residents. Its striking red color and cheerful song make it easily recognizable and a favorite among birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. The cardinal's year-round residency and the fact that it is easily attracted to bird feeders also contributed to its selection as a state symbol.

Can you find the Northern Cardinal throughout Indiana?

Yes, the Northern Cardinal can be found throughout Indiana. It is a resident bird, meaning it stays in the state throughout the year, including during the winter months. The cardinal is adaptable to various habitats, including woodlands, gardens, wetlands, and shrublands, making it a common sight across Indiana's diverse landscapes.

What are some distinguishing features of the Northern Cardinal?

The Northern Cardinal is known for its distinctive bright red plumage in males and a more subdued tan or brown shade with red accents in females. Both sexes have a prominent crest on their heads and a black mask on their faces, which is more pronounced in males. Cardinals are medium-sized songbirds with strong beaks adapted for eating seeds, which is their primary diet. Their clear, whistled songs are often heard before the birds are seen, adding to their charm.

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Discussion Comments


@stl156 - I was a little confused by the Larry Bird thing then thought about it and it made sense.

The state bird does not need to be unique and reflect the state's culture simply because some state's do not have unique birds that can appropriately reflect the state in a unique manner.

The cardinal is a unique bird that happens to be common and is the state bird of several states. It is not unusual, but a very unique bird that is slightly less common than sparrows or other types of common birds.

I say that with certain state sponsored things it does not matter a whole lot as long as it makes sense. Some should probably reflect the state culture but as long as it makes sense and involves the state in some way I feel that it is fine.


I love how there was a song that came out back in the 1970's about the star of the basketball team at Indiana State Larry Bird.

The chorus of the song goes "Indiana has a new state bird" and this was said to reflect the exploits of Larry Bird on the basketball court as well as reflect the culture of the state of Indiana into the song.

Basketball is huge in the state of Indiana and is known as the home of basketball in this area of the country and one could make the argument that making Larry Bird the official bird of the state of Indiana makes more sense than the cardinal simply because he reflects more of the state's culture.

Now this does sound crazy and I meant to say it that way to show that the state bird does not necessarily have to reflect the culture of the state, but rather just the a bird that is common in the state and is justified as being the official state bird.

Arguments to having something like the state bird reflect the state's culture is a little too far and it makes the issue too complicated.


@titans62 - I understand your point, but one reason why the state of Indiana picked the cardinal as the official state bird is because it is somewhat of a unique bird and it is always found in the state.

The cardinal is not a rare bird, but it is also a bird that is only relegated to certain parts of the country. Since the cardinal is in Indiana year round I find this to be an appropriate bird to pick as the official state bird.

I understand that it is not at all unique and several other state's have picked this bird as their official state bird, but in a way this bird is unique to the state of Indiana and it is something that can be readily associated with the state.


I have to be totally honest I do not like that Indiana's state bird is the cardinal even though I like the bird and am a fan of the baseball team named after them.

The cardinal to me is an all too common bird that appears in a variety of state's across the country and that it is not at all unique in the area.

I am not trying to single out Indiana, but there are a lot of state's that pick the cardinal as the official state bird and it is not at all unique to those state's either.

A state bird should be unique and make the state stand out from others, which is the whole purpose of having a state sponsored thing. I just find this bird to be way too common to be considered a state bird and wish they would pick something more unique.

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