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

Ohio is located in the midwest region of the United States. It is the seventh most populous state and the 34th largest state by area. The state animal for Ohio is the White-tailed Deer, but what is the state bird?

The state of Ohio chose the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) as the state bird in 1933. The medium-sized songbird known for its vibrant crimson red feathers moved to the state of Ohio once settlers began cutting down its once thick woodlands. Northern Cardinals prefer a happy medium between forested lands and open areas, so when the state’s dense forests thinned, the landscape suddenly appealed to the birds.

The state bird of Ohio, the Northern Cardinal

The state bird of Ohio, the Northern Cardinal

Why is the Northern Cardinal the state bird for Ohio?

You have to root for an animal that chooses to relocate to your area. Of course, its gorgeous deep red colors did not hurt the bird becoming the state bird, nor did its value to humans, since it eats weed seeds and munches garden insects. So many cardinals moved to the state, that people trapped the birds and made them into pets. It is no wonder Ohio named it the state bird.

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

Ohio didn’t name a state bird until 1933, waiting quite some time to designate state symbols since it became a state in 1803. The Ohio General Assembly passed legislation declaring it the state bird. The state shares the Northern Cardinal as a state bird with Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Northern Cardinal perched on a wire

Northern Cardinal perched on a wire

What does the state bird of Ohio 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 its 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.

Male (right) and female (left) Northern Cardinals

Male (right) and female (left) Northern Cardinals

How do these birds behave?

These birds typically thrive in shrubbery in the wild. In Ohio, 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 while he hunts for their family. Baby birds require lots of care and protection since they don’t hatch with full feathers, so they 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.

A flock of Northern Cardinals

A flock of Northern Cardinals

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.

Northern Cardinal eating a sunflower seed

Northern Cardinal eating a sunflower seed

What do Northern Cardinals eat in Ohio?

Northern Cardinals love to eat. Like many other bird species, they’re omnivores, but the ones that settled in Ohio have evolved to be herbivores. While the NC variety loves insects, the Ohio residents make 90 percent of their diet a steady stream of weed seeds, fruits, and grains. Since these birds don’t migrate, they get to eat exactly their favorites unless a drought kicks in and eradicates them. Their favorite seeds are sunflower seeds, so if you want to help them out on snowy days in Ohio, you can place a bird feeder high up in your yard filled with black oil sunflower seeds. The other 10 percent of their diet consists of insects under leaves. 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.

You may also like

Get the good stuff

Get the latest BirdFacts delivered straight to your inbox