State Bird of Indiana – Nature’s Red Jewel in the Hoosier State!

State bird of Indiana - the Northern Cardinal

Indiana is a state located in the heart of the Midwest. Lovingly called, “The Hoosier State,” Indiana is known for its beautiful natural landscapes and diverse geography.

All thanks to that, this place is considered a sanctuary for diverse wildlife and a wide range of bird species.

Indiana is home to over 413 bird species, attracting a significant number of twitchers each year. But the intriguing question is, which one among all those species holds the state bird title? It’s the one with the striking crimson plumage and elegant crest — the Northern Cardinal.

In this article, we will take a closer look into the fascinating world of Indiana’s state bird, the Northern Cardinal.

In addition to many exciting facts about the avian symbol, we will further explore its background, natural habitat, dietary habits, and more.

7 Interesting Facts About Indiana’s State Bird: The Northern Cardinal

A male northern cardinal perched on a wooden fence in the backyard

Remember the character Red from Angry Birds? Did you know that it resembles the Indiana state bird? Well, if you observe a male Northern Cardinal closely, you’ll surely see what I am talking about.

Just like this one, here are many other interesting facts, and that’s what we’re going to discuss in this part.

1. This Bright Red Wonder is the State Bird of 7 States

The Northern Cardinal is known for being one of America’s favorite backyard birds. Why? Because it’s not just the state bird of Indiana.

Six other states have also designated this bird as their official representative. They are – Illinois, North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia.

This species of bird is easily found in those regions all year round. While that’s an important factor in choosing this bird as the state bird, it’s not the only one.

A Northern Cardinal drinking water from a bird bath

The Northern Cardinal is so elegant in its appearance and resourcefulness that they quickly catch the attention and intrigues the mind.

As a matter of fact, this species is also why many people thought for the first time, well..this birdwatching thing might be interesting after all!

2. Northern Cardinal’s Scientific Name

The scientific name for the Northern Cardinal is Cardinalis cardinalis. The word ‘cardinal’ is used to refer to a high official of the Roman Catholic Church.

They could be easily distinguished because of their distinctive appearance, red robes, and caps. Because of the bright red plumage of the Northern Cardinals, they greatly resemble those church officials. That’s how this species got its name.

A Northern Cardinal around acorn shells in Indiana

In 1918, this bird species was named Richmondena cardinalis after Charles Wallace Richmond, an American ornithologist.

In 1983, the scientific name was changed to the present one, Cardinalis cardinalis. And to make it easier to distinguish, later they got the name ‘Northern Cardinal.’

3. Sounds and Songs

In the avian world, male songbirds are usually the better singers. Their ability to sing compliments their charm and allows them to attract a female partner for breeding.

However, female Northern Cardinals are a rare case. They can sing just as well as the males and year-round as well.

Male Northern Cardinal displaying Courtship call

Northern Cardinals often make sounds like cheer-cheer-cheer, purty-purty, and whit-chew whit-chew.

Besides being an asset during the breeding season, these distinct sounds are also used for constant communication between males and females. They let each other know about their presence and warn about possible dangers.

4. Territorial and Aggressive

The Northern Cardinals are very territorial, and they can be seriously aggressive when it comes to protecting their home. It fights with all it has got and without any fear.

That means, no matter the size and strength of the predator, they will attack without second thoughts. Even if it means fighting to the death.

Not just the predators. They attack their own species if they sense any danger. While their bravery is praiseworthy, I can’t say the same about their intelligence. 

They have been seen attacking their reflections on a mirror and any small red objects resembling the male cardinals.

5. Breeding and Eggs

The Northern Cardinals live year-round in Indiana and breed frequently (2-3 times a season). Their appearance isn’t the only thing striking to the eyes! They also lay beautiful eggs.

A female Northern Cardinal perched on a rock

At a time, the female cardinals can lay 2-4 bluish-white eggs with a splotch of brown here and there.

During the breeding season, the males maintain and defend a 4-acre territory. While the males protect the territory and search for food, the female tends to the younglings.

That period lasts about 10 days. Then the male takes his turn in taking care of the newborns.

6. The Appearance Enigma

Did it ever occur to you that there might be a secret behind the striking appearance of the Northern Cardinals?

A male Northern Cardinal perched on a palm tree

As a matter of fact, the sublime attribute, the vibrant red plumage, isn’t entirely gifted to them but pretty much acquired! But the question is, how?

The Northern Cardinals must consume a type of pigment called carotenoids to maintain their striking appearance.

As they can’t manufacture them organically, they must rely on plants that naturally have yellow, orange, or red pigments. Without eating enough of those, the bird can lose the vibrancy of its plumage!

Another interesting fact is that this species molts once or twice a year. So, while seeking a striking red Northern Cardinal, there are chances that you’ll witness an almost bald one, if not entirely!

7. Crest or Mood Indicator?

While approaching or dealing with some individuals, don’t you wish there was some way to know about their mood beforehand?

Northern Cardinal perched on a sign displaying its crest

Well, the Northern Cardinals surely don’t have similar issues in their world! Because like many bird species, the cardinals use their crests to indicate their mood or emotion.

When they are agitated, they tend to raise the crest. It’s a sign that you are not to mess around at that time. Then again, they keep the crest lower when they feel at ease.

It also works great when they are looking for courtship. Males with raised crests and vibrant red plumage can find partners relatively easily.

When Did the Northern Cardinal Become the State Bird of Indiana?

A state bird is the official representative of a particular state, its people, and their spirit.

A particular bird can be designated as the state bird of one or more states. In case you didn’t know, the Northern Cardinal was the first to be chosen as the state bird. It was chosen as the official symbol of Kentucky in 1926!

Two male Northern Cardinals perched on a stump

However, considering Indiana is an old state, it took quite a lot of time to designate the state bird. The Northern Cardinal became the official avian symbol of Indiana quite later, in 1933.

On March 2nd of that year, the Indiana General Assembly passed the legislation declaring the state bird (Bill No. 160).

Legislation Reference: The following information is excerpted from the Indiana Code, Title 1, Article 2, Chapter 8, Section 1-2-8-1.

IC 1-2-8-1 Cardinal.

Sec. 1. The bird commonly known as the Red Bird or Cardinal (Richmondena Cardinalis Cardinalis) is hereby adopted and designated as the official state bird of the state of Indiana. (Formerly: Acts 1933, c.223, s.1.)

What Is the Habitat of Northern Cardinal?

Northern Cardinals are commonly found in North America and have a wide range of options for choosing habitats.

This species seeks shelter in woodlands, forests, and shrublands with dense vegetation and food availability. Thickets, hedgerows, fence rows, and brushy edges, for example.

Sometimes you don’t need to go that far. They are perfectly okay with living in urban areas as well. You can easily find them either in the parks or in the gardens. This species can also survive in a mixed environment. Adaptability has always been at the top of their list of critical resources.

What Are the Food Habits of Northern Cardinal?

A Northern Cardinal eating sunflower seeds

The Northern Cardinal is an omnivore species with a diverse diet. They are capable of consuming and digesting both plants and animals.

A significant portion of their diet (more than 2/3rd consists of grains, weed seeds, and fruits such as berries and raisins. Among the insects, they often consume beetles, cicadas, spiders, and grasshoppers. They like to eat snails as well.

The diet chart of the young ones is entirely insects as they offer more nutrients and necessary elements to grow quickly. This species is also seen drinking maple sap. 

What’s the Current State of Northern Cardinal?

According to the conservation status, the Northern Cardinals are widespread and abundant. This species isn’t facing any threat of extinction any time soon.

A pair of male and female Northern Cardinal perched on a stump

As a matter of fact, it’s one of those rare species that are actually growing in number. Currently, the number is estimated at more than 100 million. 

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, the Northern Cardinal species is categorized as LC, a species of least concern of extinction.

It’s safe to say that it will take generations before this species come on the list of endangered species.  It’s good news that we will see much of this striking beauty in the future. 

Wrap Up

The Northern Cardinal is the most suited one to represent the spirit of “The Hoosier State” and its people. Its resourcefulness, adaptability, and protective nature mean the Alaskan community well.

This bird doesn’t just look striking on its own. It has to maintain that. This can be a good message for the people of Indiana as well.

Photo of author

Written and Fact-checked by David Neff

Author at BirdBonica

David is an expert birder and bird parent with in-depth knowledge of birds. He has years of experience observing birds in their natural habitats, studying their diets, behavior, and more. (Learn more about David here...)

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