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).
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.