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What is Virginia’s State Bird? How Was it Decided?

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male northern cardinal perched

The state bird of Virginia is none other than the bright, crimson, and flashy Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). It’s no surprise that this avian fellow was chosen as the state bird as it is frequently spotted in Virginia’s meadows, woodlands, and backyard gardens. This medium-sized songbird delights the local population and is a welcome visitor due to its unique, fiery coloration and beautiful song. Many avid birdwatchers can even attest to the magnificent Northern Cardinal attracting them to the hobby in the first place. So many people appreciate the Northern Cardinal that it is also the state bird of Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia.

hummingbird divider

How was Virginia’s State Bird Decided?

Virginia chose its state bird as the Northern Cardinal on January 25th, 1950, nearly two centuries after declaring its independence in 1776. The Virginia General Assembly voted to induct the Northern Cardinal as the state bird because of its religious significance. The broadly European Catholic settlers of Virginia noticed that the Northern Cardinal’s vibrant red plumage resembled cardinals’ robes in the Catholic church, making this bird famous amongst residents.

northern cardinal to perch on a log

Image Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

Fun Facts About Virginia’s State Bird

  • Northern Cardinals are considered to be granivorous because their diet consists mostly of seeds. Their distinct, cone-shaped beaks are designed to crack open the shells of delicious nuts and seeds.
  • The Northern Cardinal is a popular mascot among sports teams, representing professional baseball and football teams like the St. Louis Cardinals and the Arizona Cardinals.
  • Male Northern Cardinals are aggressive and will defend extensive breeding territories. They have even been observed attacking red objects that they occasionally mistake for other male Cardinals. Additionally, male Cardinals have also been seen “fighting” their own images reflected in mirrors or windows for hours.
  • The average lifespan of the Northern Cardinal is 13 to 15 years.
  • Northern Cardinals engage in complex courtship rituals, with the male flying off to gather food for its mate. The male then feeds his mate beak-to-beak, making it appear as if the two birds kiss from a distance.
  • Northern Cardinals are a non-migratory species, meaning that they generally build their nests within one mile of where they hatched.
  • Northern Cardinals are monogamous and maintain the same breeding pairs year-round.
  • Female Cardinals sing more elaborate songs than the males and may have up to two dozen different songs in their repertoires.
  • A flock of Cardinals is called a college, conclave, radiance, or a Vatican.
male northern cardinal bird eating

Image credit: Ami Parikh, Shutterstock

Summary

The Northern Cardinal is a beautiful and vibrant songbird with a heavy presence across most United States. It has long been revered for its bright plumage and intriguing behavior, leading it to represent seven states as the state bird. The Northern Cardinal is a welcome visitor in the backyards of Virginia and the surrounding areas and is commonly cited as an inspiration amongst birdwatchers. Next time you’re outside, try looking for a vibrant flash of red racing across the sky to become acquainted with a lovely Northern Cardinal.

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Featured Image Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.

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