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What Is the State Bird of Indiana?

By S. Ashraf
Updated May 17, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By cardsfan27 — On Jan 12, 2012

@stl156 - I was a little confused by the Larry Bird thing then thought about it and it made sense.

The state bird does not need to be unique and reflect the state's culture simply because some state's do not have unique birds that can appropriately reflect the state in a unique manner.

The cardinal is a unique bird that happens to be common and is the state bird of several states. It is not unusual, but a very unique bird that is slightly less common than sparrows or other types of common birds.

I say that with certain state sponsored things it does not matter a whole lot as long as it makes sense. Some should probably reflect the state culture but as long as it makes sense and involves the state in some way I feel that it is fine.

By stl156 — On Jan 11, 2012

I love how there was a song that came out back in the 1970's about the star of the basketball team at Indiana State Larry Bird.

The chorus of the song goes "Indiana has a new state bird" and this was said to reflect the exploits of Larry Bird on the basketball court as well as reflect the culture of the state of Indiana into the song.

Basketball is huge in the state of Indiana and is known as the home of basketball in this area of the country and one could make the argument that making Larry Bird the official bird of the state of Indiana makes more sense than the cardinal simply because he reflects more of the state's culture.

Now this does sound crazy and I meant to say it that way to show that the state bird does not necessarily have to reflect the culture of the state, but rather just the a bird that is common in the state and is justified as being the official state bird.

Arguments to having something like the state bird reflect the state's culture is a little too far and it makes the issue too complicated.

By JimmyT — On Jan 11, 2012

@titans62 - I understand your point, but one reason why the state of Indiana picked the cardinal as the official state bird is because it is somewhat of a unique bird and it is always found in the state.

The cardinal is not a rare bird, but it is also a bird that is only relegated to certain parts of the country. Since the cardinal is in Indiana year round I find this to be an appropriate bird to pick as the official state bird.

I understand that it is not at all unique and several other state's have picked this bird as their official state bird, but in a way this bird is unique to the state of Indiana and it is something that can be readily associated with the state.

By titans62 — On Jan 11, 2012

I have to be totally honest I do not like that Indiana's state bird is the cardinal even though I like the bird and am a fan of the baseball team named after them.

The cardinal to me is an all too common bird that appears in a variety of state's across the country and that it is not at all unique in the area.

I am not trying to single out Indiana, but there are a lot of state's that pick the cardinal as the official state bird and it is not at all unique to those state's either.

A state bird should be unique and make the state stand out from others, which is the whole purpose of having a state sponsored thing. I just find this bird to be way too common to be considered a state bird and wish they would pick something more unique.

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