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What is the State Bird of Indiana? (And Why?)

Indiana is the 38th largest state and the 17th most populous in the United States. Only the central and northern parts are mostly flat, with southern parts being completely different with a mixture of forests and hills. But what is the state bird of Indiana?

The state of Indiana chose the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) as the state bird in 1933. The medium-sized songbird known for its vibrant crimson red feathers chose the state of Indiana as one of its home states. Northern Cardinals prefer a happy medium between forested lands and open areas.

The state bird of Indiana, the Northern Cardinal

The state bird of Indiana, the Northern Cardinal

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Why is the Northern Cardinal the state bird for Indiana?

States tend to favor birds either native to their state or that choose to permanently migrate to the area. In the case of the cardinal, the bird spends its whole year in Indiana, nesting in bramble thickets or low saplings. The bird provides inherent value to humans by eating both garden insects and weed seeds. Its great beauty and vibrant crimson color do not hurt the bird in becoming the state bird.

When did the Northern Cardinal become the state bird for Indiana?

Indiana didn’t name a state bird until 1933, waiting quite some time to designate state symbols since it became a state on December 11, 1816. The Indiana General Assembly passed legislation on March 2, 1933, declaring it the state bird. The state shares the Northern Cardinal as a state bird with Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

A perched Northern Cardinal calling

A perched Northern Cardinal calling

What does the state bird of Indiana look like?

The males of the Northern Cardinal grow vibrant crimson red feathers, while the females’ feathers take on a reddish-brown hue. These birds grow to a little larger than females, but not much. Otherwise, the two genders of the bird resemble each other physically. The bird’s chest and upper area appear grey, but their stomach areas appear white or light grey. Typically, these birds have a black bill featuring a brown shade at the base.

From head to tail, the Northern Cardinal measures eight to nine inches in length with a wingspan ranging from 10 to 12 inches. These little birds don’t weigh much – only 1.4 ounces to 1.7 ounces.

A pair of male and female cardinals

A pair of male and female cardinals

How do these birds behave?

These birds typically thrive in shrubbery in the wild. In Indiana, their habitat differs slightly. They live in the woodlands and thickets, but also make homes in brushy fields and fence rows. You don’t have to drive into the countryside to see them, since they also love cities and frequent city and state parks.

They live about 13 to 15 years. During that time, these birds mate and build a nest with their partner. The two birds communicate through song. When they have children, the incubation period takes about 11 to 13 days. While incubating, the mother bird stays in the nest and the father bird goes hunting for food, which he brings home. Yes, cardinals get take out for their spouses. Once the babies hatch, the mother bird stays with them to provide care, and the father bird continues the hunting, but increases the amount of food he brings back to the nest. This is so the children can also eat.

When you hear the telltale sounds of “purty-purty-purty” or “cheer-cheer-cheer,” you’re listening to a mother and father cardinal keeping in touch while separated since he leaves the nest to hunt for their family. Baby birds require lots of care and protection since they don’t hatch with full feathers, and therefore, cannot fly yet. If a predator approaches the nest, the mother must protect herself and all of the babies, too. Understandably, the couple likes to keep in touch during such a dangerous time. Humans benefit from their seemingly constantly cheery nature.

This also explains why you rarely see females in your yard. Instead, people see the brightly colored male out “grocery shopping.” If you see the same cardinal flying back and forth to the nest with food, he and his wife probably had quite a few babies.

Northern Cardinal in flight

Northern Cardinal in flight

Do Northern Cardinals form communities?

These cardinals live in a manner similar to mockingbirds, in the sense that they form a tightly knit marriage and family which they fiercely protect. The cardinal will fight to the death to protect his home. If it senses a predator, regardless of its size, it will fight for its territory, which typically includes its family. You should never approach a cardinal’s nest nor allow your children or pets to do so. The birds will attack you. They also battle for their breeding territory. If other male cardinals enter an already occupied breeding territory, they will fight their own species.

Sometimes, they see their own reflection in a window or mirrored glass, and they will attack it. These birds recognize others of their own species and can identify animals and humans. Far from being “bird-brained,” a phrase meaning stupid, they are very small despite having tiny brains. However, they don’t know that the glass shows their reflection. Thinking that it is another cardinal, the bird seemingly attacks the glass, actually fighting itself.

Male Northern Cardinal on a bird feeder in the backyard

Male Northern Cardinal on a bird feeder in the backyard

What do Northern Cardinals eat?

Northern Cardinals love to eat, and they have the greatest diet diversity of any bird. Like many other bird species, they’re omnivores, but the ones that settled in Indiana have a different diet than those of nearby Ohio and faraway NC. The Indiana residents make 30 percent of their diet a steady stream of insects and the other 70 percent weed seeds, fruits, and grains. They enjoy fruits, especially berries and raisins.

You can help them out by stocking a bird feeder hung high up in your yard with fruits, grains, greens, and seeds. If you want to thrill the cardinals in your yard, you can also offer other favorites including safflower seeds, peanut pieces, cracked corn, and fresh berries.

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