State Symbol: Illinois State Bird — The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

photo of cardinal

Cardinals live in Illinois throughout the year, and have become quite abundant since 1900, when they were considered rare in the northern part of the state. The flash of red feathers of the male and the loud whistle of its song make it instantly recognizable. The males are bright red, the females a dusty reddish-brown. Both have heavy bills and crests on the head. The average cardinal measures eight inches in length.

Cardinals build their nests in bushes. Their nests are usually about four to five feet (1.5 m) off the ground. The eggs are laid between the middle of April and the middle of August. Cardinals usually lay several clutches of eggs each season. Each clutch consists of two to five whitish eggs with dark streaks and spots. Cardinals usually feed on the ground or in low bushes. They eat a variety of insects, grains, wild fruits, and seeds. They are common visitors to bird feeders.

The Symbol
Illinois schoolchildren chose the Cardinal as the state bird from a list: Cardinal 39.226 votes; Blue Bird 30,306; Meadowlark 16,237; Quail 15,843; Oriole 15,449. Six other states chose the Cardinal as their state bird: Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.


H.D. Bohlen (text) and W. Zimmerman (illustrations), 1989, The Birds of Illinois, Bloomington, IN: University of Indiana Press, 222ppp.
C.S. Robbins, B. Braun, H.S. Zim (text) and A. Singer (illustrations), 1983. Birds of North America: A Guide to Field Identification, New York, NY: Golden Press, 360pp.
S.L. Scott (editor), 1983, Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 464pp. USGS description of the Northern Cardinal includes egg, video, song. Cornell University Bird of the Week page on the Cardinal. Includes WAV file of its song.