Ohio's State Bird - The Cardinal

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Photograph showing male cardinal feeding its young. Cardinals live in Ohio year-round and the male is easily identified by its deep red plumage. Since 1933, it has been the official state bird.

The Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis Cardinalis, was a rarity in Ohio before the 19th Century due to the state’s heavily forested environment. Cardinals prefer a mixed habitat that includes woodlands, brushes, and open plains; therefore, the dense forest was not ideal conditions for the bird. When the European settlers began cutting down the forest to obtain fuel, spare land, and construction supplies, the natural surroundings became more suitable for Cardinals. By the late 1800s all of Ohio had become heavily populated with Cardinals. Today, cardinals live in all of Ohio's eighty-eight counties and can be found in both rural and urban settings.

Cardinals, especially the males, are known for their prominent red coloring and melodic whistling. They are social birds, but male Cardinals are aggressive when defending their territory, which can expand to upwards of four acres. Cardinals do not migrate, instead remaining in their nesting areas for the winter. They feed mainly on seeds but will also indulge in grains and sap. The males are the brightly red colored bird of the species with black facial markings and a head crest. In order to protect their nests and eggs the females are duller in color; typically displaying a grayish, brown-red tint over the body with a distinguishing red beak.. Cardinals are also prominent songbirds. They have a variety of melodic rhythms but are best known for their “What-cheer cheer-cheer” and “Who-it, who-it, who-it” sounds.

In recognition of the popularity of this bird, as well as their prominent color and singing abilities, the Ohio General Assembly designated the Northern Cardinal as the state bird of Ohio in 1933. Ohio is not the only state that holds the Cardinal in such a high regard; Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia have all adopted the Cardinal as their state bird as well.

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