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What Is Ohio’s State Bird? How Was it Decided?

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male northern cardinal perched

Every state has a bird representing it and an array of other symbols that express the area’s hallmarks. Each state has its reasons for naming these birds the core representatives—and Ohio has its own backstory. So whether you’re an Ohio native or you’re digging for more info on state birds, we have you covered.

Ohio has one of the most vibrant birds of all to represent it—the lovely red Cardinal (and it’s not alone.) So, what made the Cardinal stand out among the rest of the common backyard birds you might see—apart from its electric color and charming appearance? Allow us to enlighten you.

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History of Ohio: State Bird Declaration

a northern cardinal bird on a tree trunk
Image By: TheBirdBird, Pixabay

The state of Ohio was founded on March 1, 1803—but it was recognized as the 17th state by Congress shortly before that on February 19, 1803. Although, it was first discovered by European settlers as part of the Northwest Territory in 1788.

Naturally, Native Americans rightfully owned the land prior to settlers—but that’s a different history lesson!

While legislators began getting their heads together to come up with all the important aspects of the state’s overall foundation, the state bird came up. State birds were decided as a means of showing the beauty, diversity, and uniqueness that set each state apart from its neighbors.

Deciding on the Cardinal

Though Ohio became a state in 1803, it didn’t decide on what bird to declare the state bird until much later. This is likely a wonderful thing, considering Cardinals were much rarer due to the state being full of dense forests, which is not a natural habitat for Cardinals.

Unlike some other birds who thrive beautifully in heavily wooded areas, Cardinals prefer less foliage, open spaces, and even somewhat populated towns to call home. Since Ohio had few places that fit this description before deforestation, the numbers were sparse.

The Cardinal numbers increased tremendously because of the immense changes the state underwent in the first hundred years of settlement. We began taking down trees in large numbers for home-building, extracting fuel sources, and initiating industrialization. 

So, had Ohio wanted to find a bird before the Cardinal became a common sight, we might have gone with another bird—such as a turkey, American crow, or even a robin. But that isn’t what happened–luckily for the state.

In 1933, the General Assembly of the Buckeye State officially deemed the Cardinal to represent it. But why, you ask? Because the lovely red plumage reminded settlers of Catholic Cardinal’s red robes.

It seems so fitting, considering at the time, it was nearly impossible to be outside in sunny weather without seeing one—or even tons– of these beauties merrily chirping around you.

Even today, Cardinals are a perfect fit—seen at bird feeders, on fence posts, and hanging out in front yard trees. These ever-prevalent birds don’t just stop there either. From the top to the bottom of America, many states enjoy and celebrate this particular species.

In fact, it steals most state votes, also deemed the representer of:

  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • North Carolina
  • West Virginia
  • Virginia

So basically, most surrounding states of Ohio also selected this bird for the same noble reasons—and we think it deserves all the praise!

And don’t forget—Arizona named a professional football team after them!

All About Cardinals

male northern cardinal bird eating
Image By: Ami Parikh, Shutterstock

So, what makes a cardinal so noteworthy? These birds are fascinating, and there is more to them than meets the eye. So, let’s get to know the bird as a species and how its statesmanship has impacted the mascots, festivals, and backyards of Ohio.

Basic Cardinal Facts

Scientific Name: Cardinalis cardinalis
Population: 100 million
Size: 8-9 inches
Weight: 1-2 ounces
Lifespan: 3 years (in wild)
Natural Predators: Hawks, squirrels, owls, snakes, domestic dogs, and cats
northern cardinal_Miles Moody_Pixabay
Image Credit: Miles Moody, Pixabay

Cardinals are instantly recognizable birds, touting red plumage and black masks. However, females look a little different. Sexually dimorphic, the female Cardinal has dusty brownish-red plumage with an orangish beak without the classic black mask–though they have small outlines of black coloring that are less prominent. 

However, she does share the same body structure, beak shape, and head spike as her male counterpart, so they are still easy to distinguish as cardinals despite color differences. These birds are monogamous, with a minor exception here and there, meaning they mate for life. Cue the sighs.

The only time a Cardinal will seek a new mate is after the death of a lover—and sometimes never. You can’t have one without the other, so keep your eyes peeled if a male catches your attention. His bonded lover isn’t far behind.

Unlike some of their migrating cousins, Cardinals don’t migrate at all. Many bird watchers love this species because they can nest in homemade birdhouses, nooks in trees, and roosting boxes. So, all winter long, you can view these lovely birds against the shimmery white snow.

Cardinals are very noticeable without even seeing them because of their lovely music-making. So, even though you might not first see these gorgeously feathered small birds hanging around, you might hear them.

State-Related Cardinal Events/Teams/Festivals

cardinal perching_GeorgeB2_Pixabay
Image By: GeorgeB2, Pixabay

At the Ohio State Fair, the Cardinal stands all—quite literally. There is a giant statue of this bird on display generation after generation. With all the festivities, it represents the heart of Ohio and how important they are to the state’s history.

As far as sports-related festivities go, there is something called the Ohio Cardinal Conference which is a grouping comprised of:

  • Volleyball
  • Golf
  • Cross country
  • Soccer

In addition to sports associations, some festivals and events carry on in the name of the Cardinal. But they might be smaller in size and much more dependent on the town.

Spiritual Meaning of Cardinals

cardinal on tree_Piqsels
Image Credit: Piqsels

Something pretty nifty is that cardinals have quite a lot of traction in spiritual communities in different religions and cultures.

Some think cardinals are a sign that a deceased loved one is around, bringing comfort to those in pain from their absence. It is reassurance from the other side that they are always with you. You can get tons of merchandise online with Cardinal images touting these messages.

On the darker side of this myth, a Cardinal flying into or pecking at your window may mean the passing of a close loved one. Yikes, no thanks to that theory

, right? Leave the superstition and enjoy the beauty, we say.

Cardinals also symbolize manifestation, balanced lifestyles, devotion, and setting boundaries in metaphysical circles. So, you can see a Cardinal, know it’s time to enjoy your home life.

Aside from the spiritual, of course, Cardinals are quite a bird to behold in any regard, bringing cheerfulness and beauty wherever they are.

hummingbird divider Conclusion

So now you know a little history behind the Cardinal and why it was selected as Ohio’s very own state bird. It’s no contest for why the Cardinal was selected, per its religious imagery. Because of its uniqueness and appearance, that stands out among the rest. Observing a Cardinal in its natural habitat is both heartwarming and exciting.

If you’re an Ohio dweller or plan to visit the state, you will likely see this beautiful bird no matter the season you’re in. You can observe its beauty and its natural habitat anytime and anywhere throughout the state.

See also:

Featured Image Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

About the Author Ashley Bates

Ashley Bates is animal writer and enthusiast who is currently studying the art of animal therapy. A mother to four human children— and 23 furry and feathery kids, too – Ashley volunteers at local shelters, advocates for animal well-being, and rescues every creature she finds. Ashley's mission is to create awareness and education about animals of all shapes and sizes to promote proper care and respect.