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Songbirds: North Carolina's State Bird-How to Identify the Northern Cardinal

Songbirds of North Carolina

I’ve travelled and lived in many places in the United States, and I’ve hiked the woods from Alaska to California and through the Eastern Coast. However, when I sit on my deck listening to the birds greet the sun; I am always astounded and delighted by the sounds of the beautiful songbirds of North Carolina. They are the loveliest in color and sound, that I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

The chirping, chattering, and melodic sounds are both soothing and joyful to the ears. At times the songs were so engaging that I would have to smile and think to myself that there is nothing lovelier than to be a song bird in this moment. My curiosity got the best of me finally, and I purchased a couple of field book guides on birds of the Carolinas.

The Northern Cardinal

As a rule, I don’t play favorites, but I do have a bias and that is toward the beautiful Northern Cardinal, North Carolina’s state bird. With its striking red plumage, it is an easy bird to spot among the winter white, or the season’s barren shrubs. It is eyecatching and breathtaking. One has to stop and acknowledge the wonderful work of the Creator when the Cardinal shows up.

The Cardinal is a ground forager. It eats berries, seeds, and insects. It is a favorite backyard bird who can become quite territorial during the mating season, and can be seen aggressively fighting its own image in the reflection of windows during this time. It can also be found in the woods or parks.

It does not migrate and during the spring and summer months its song can be distinguished by its long piercing note. In fact, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, there are 16 different ‘sounds’ the Northern Cardinal will make. One is a chirping that sounds very close to the word ‘birdie’.

What I’ve since learned is that the female Northern Cardinal is one of the few female songbirds that actually do sing its own song. I knew I liked that girl for more than her looks. Most females do not sing, and like me, there is a time and place for silence, but sitting atop of a tree gazing at the world is not one of them.

The female will communicate with the male in a longer, more complex song-go figure! She apparently has much to say about when to bring the food and how to build the nest. As a general rule, female birds dress down, in comparison to their counterparts, however, even with her overall brown, the female cardinal adds a reddish tone to her wings, tail and crest, and a sports a bright reddish-orange bill.

Male Northern Cardinal

Male Northern Cardinal

Don't mistake a Tanager for a Cardinal

There are a few birds that can look similar to the male Northern Cardinal. These are the Scarlet Tanager, the Summer Tanager and the Vermilion Flycatcher. However, the Northern Cardinal has some distinguishing traits.

First, it is completely red, save for the black mask and throat area. Next, the bill is built differently; it is thick and short. It also has a long tail that is frequently directed downward when perched. And, finally, it has the distinction of the top crest, which stands up when it is agitated, and smooths back down when relaxed.

Take a walk through a park this winter and perhaps you will be fortunate enough to spot the Northern Cardinal in your neck of the woods. It is sure to brighten your day and bring a smile to your face; a brilliant spot of red amidst the barren, brown environment.

Examples of the Northern Cardinal's Song

In the following two video clips from YouTube I've included two examples of the sound that the Northern Cardinal makes. The female Northern Cardinal, in the first clip, is one of the few female songbirds that actually sings. The video is a beautiful view of her singing while nesting.

In the second video, the male Northern Cardinal is heard singing his repertoire of songs.

I hope you enjoy these video clips and are inspired to do some bird watching of your own.

Female Northern Cardinal Singing

Male Northern Cardinal's Song Variances

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Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on July 30, 2013:

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Hi Joy-I know I will certainly miss that all day chirping if I ever move. I'm glad that you built that butterfly garden and backyard habitat. Just today I spotted a bird I'd never seen before, sort of like a woodpecker, and can't wait to research it. Thanks for your comments. :)

JoyLevine from 3rd Rock from the Sun on July 30, 2013:

Loved your article. I moved about a year ago from NC to FL and that's the one thing I miss the most: the birds! There is such a variety there. To step out on your front porch in the morning is to be serenaded in the most beautiful way. I have only seen the occasional cardinal here, though the first thing I did was to build a butterfly garden and backyard bird habitat. Thanks for your article.

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on May 18, 2012:

Thanks for your additional explanation, Brother Reggie. I know you are strong in your faith and beliefs. Have a wonderful Bread delivery day. God bless...

Reginald Boswell from Huntsville, Alabama on May 18, 2012:

Denise Handlon thanks for taking the time to respond in such a way.

In addition to God telling me to place my trust and faith in Him alone.

I hope this is not over the top for you but here we go.

I later summized that Satan held a spiritual concave in a high place and has sent imps to destroy the work of the ministry. In Rome Cardinals convene in Conclave concerning important church matters e.g. to elect the Vicar of Christ, when the shoes of the Fisherman need to be filled. Consequently, Satan’s alternative evil conclave resulted in imps sent by Cardinal like demons, to destroy the ministry before it becomes increasingly impactful.

I believe that it is required that I am faithful to what I am called to do of delivering bread to those who need it every Friday. The Cardinal that day was possibily an imp trying to throw me off task.

Lets face it if His eye is on the sparrow, it is on the Cardinal too.

Bread Day is Today

Brother Reggie

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on May 17, 2012:

Hello Brother Reggie-I was touched by your sharing of this experience. I believe hitting that cardinal inadvertently was disturbing to you or you would not have remembered the incident so clearly now. I'm sure it was upsetting to have this bird fly into your window and startle you in that way.

In Native American culture the animals, birds, insects and all of nature has a symbolic meaning-just like many beautiful religious icons have a symbolism that man can relate to: such as the Cross symbolizing Jesus's resurrection and thus, man's salvation.

There is nothing wrong with either noting the presence of a particular animal/bird, such as the beautiful, colorful cardinal who literally flies into our face, or to believe that trust and faith in God, as number one, is the message.

However, let me share with you the symbolic meaning of the cardinal and perhaps this will tie into your work ministering God's work to others. The cardinal has an association with the spiritual-it is red, like the blood of life, and evokes passion-for life, living, etc. It is associated with the Roman Catholic church ' the cardinal' and is part of the robes that are worn.

The cardinal also represents confidence, royalty and nobility-not from the place of the ego/man, but in the higher realm. For me, spotting a cardinal brightens my day. It brings me joy-the joy of living, being alive and fully present to do the work I was brought here to do. It brings a confidence, with it's cheerful song, that 'all's right with the world' and, in the context of royalty, it offers a sense of confidence and strength in knowing that I am here to make a difference in another person's life in some small way.

It may no longer be a 'good luck' charm for you regarding your day...only we have the power to stay positive throughout our day-not because we happen to see a bird whom we are now putting our luck in; but, the beauty, as you have mentioned, of this bright bird can be appreciated as a reminder that we, as part of God's creatures, can carry the magnificence of who we are as spiritual beings, into our day with us...and always with joy.

I hope you have a blessed day, sir. Thank you for commenting.

Reginald Boswell from Huntsville, Alabama on May 17, 2012:

Last Friday when traveling doing mission work, a Cardinal flew into my windshield and I gazed in my rear view mirror to see it hit the ground. I felt like someone died. I wanted to turn around and get it from out of the road but I kept going.

Later, I came to the conclusion that God was telling me to place my trust and faith in Him alone.

A long time ago a friend from St Louis told me that Cardinals are good luck. Even though this was not scriptural I believed her and for the last few years every time I saw a Cardinal, I thought that I was going to have a great day.

I longer think of Cardinals as a good luck but as another thing of beauty within God’s creation.

Brother Reggie

Bread Day Ministries

"Every Friday is Bread Day"

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on May 17, 2012:

Hi Stehanie-thanks for reading and commenting. I didn't know the info about the female cardinal either until I researched this subject. It is amazing that more female birds do not 'sing' and it almost seems unnatural.

Hi Audrey-thanks for sharing your experience. They are so beautiful, aren't they? Thanks for the votes. :)

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on May 16, 2012:

Hello Denise ~ The northern cardinal is such a gorgeous color of red. I think I have spotted a few from time to time in my yard here in Tennessee. They are stunning birds. Thanks for teaching me so much about the northern cardinal. I didn't know it is North Carolina's state bird. Voted up and across.

Stephanie Henkel from USA on May 16, 2012:

Sorry I missed this when you first wrote it. That must have been before I started following you.

Cardinals are such beautiful birds, and usually very easy to spot with their bright red plumage. I love to see them in my backyard and at my bird bath! While I've enjoyed their song, I didn't realize that the female cardinal is one of the few female songbird that actually sings! She may not be as brightly colored as her mate, but I think that her coloring is very beautiful, nonetheless. Lovely hub - love your photograph of the male cardinal!

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on March 03, 2012:

Thumbi7-I wish I could send you a red cardinal for your enjoyment. They really are quite exquisite to see flying around. Thanks for reading and commenting. Have a wonderful w/e.

Hi sgbrown-they are so much fun to watch, aren't they? I could sit and listen to them sing all morning if I could. Thank you for reading and sharing this on your blog, I appreciate it. :) email me your blog and I will check it out ok?

Hello Rebecca-Another 'cardinal' fan-and not the baseball team , hahaha Thanks for reading and commenting. Nice to meet you.

Hi Reginald-I love eagles as well. They have a special significance for me, just as the cardinal does. Have you ever heard of Ted Andrews or read any of his books? His work may be of interest to you. One that comes to mind is: Animal Speaks (I believe that is the title). He writes about the 'meaning' of animals, birds, reptiles, etc that cross our paths and the message they may symbolically be bringing to us about our life. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Hello dear Pateluday, thank you for your sweet comment. Nice to meet you.

Uday Patel from Jabalpur, MP, India on March 02, 2012:


Reginald Boswell from Huntsville, Alabama on March 02, 2012:

Nice article Cardinals are my favorite birds besides the eagle, liked the chirping too.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on March 02, 2012:

Very enlightening information about the beautiful Cardinal, one of my favorite birds. I have heard that "birdie" sounding call. Now I know what bird it is Thanks!

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on March 02, 2012:

Beautiful hub! I love cardinals, we have many of them here in Oklahoma. They come to my feeder everyday. I recognize their "voice" now and love to listen to them. Good information on the Northern Cardinal! Voted up and interesting! Sharing on my blog! :)

JR Krishna from India on March 02, 2012:

Great hub about north cardinal!

We don't get to see these birds here.

They are stunningly beautiful! the bright red colour

Enjoyed the videos

Thanks for Sharing

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on February 16, 2012:

Thank you for reading this hub, Birdslover. I appreciate your comments and will read your bird hubs as well. Nice to meet you.

birdslover from New Delhi, India on February 14, 2012:

Thanks for sharing so much information about birds, I am a bird lover and I loved it.

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on December 20, 2011:

Hi Chris, nice to see you again. Thanks for reading and yes, that cardinal is one to be proud of. It is my favorite bird, although I saw a bluebird last summer that was a bright spot in my day.

I love that the cardinal's red feathers is such a contrast to the brown of the barren trees.

Thanks for reading and commenting. Happy Holidays to you and your family.

carolina muscle from Charlotte, North Carolina on December 20, 2011:

we really are proud of this bird in North Carolina... and I love to watch em in the mornings. :->

Great post!

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on June 15, 2011:

Wow, thanks for sharing that info with me, Upal-I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

Ashraf Mir from Dhaka on June 15, 2011:

So beautiful. I'm going to save this bird's voice for my handset ringtone. Thanks for this sharing.

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on May 05, 2011:

Hi wespeppers-thanks for reading and leaving a comment. Glad you enjoyed learing about the cardinal. I've been spotting so many of them now along our country roads.

weseppers on May 05, 2011:

I want to get it one.:) nice article.

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on April 10, 2011:

Hi Jl-Thanks for visiting the hub and commenting. I appreciate your feedback. I love the cardinal b/c he really brightens up the winter. I always keep an eye out for him and have been able to spot the females around my house quickly now.

James Bowden from Long Island, New York on April 08, 2011:

Hi Denise:

What a beautifully written article about the northern cardinal. This bird in particular certainly does brighten up anyone's day, particularly against the whiteness of that of winter. Thanks again for sharing yet another series of bird articles.


Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on February 28, 2011:

Hi Katie, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Those cardinals are a beauty aren't they?

Katie McMurray from Ohio on February 28, 2011:

I live in Ohio and see lots and lots of cardinals every day as I feed them corn. The cardinals and blue jays love the corn. I feed the birds a blend of other foods as well. I can set and watch male and female cardinals come in to eat, drink in large numbers. We are fortunate to enjoy many cardinals here in our neighborhood. :) Katie

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on February 25, 2011:

Thanks Peggy. Yes, I was like you, I heard these beautiful sounds and had to find out exactly which one was making the lovliest songs. Turned out it was the cardinal. I used to live in CA and had an experience of sitting out in a plaza one afternoon and a hummingbird flew right above my head and hovered there for a minute or so. LOved it.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 25, 2011:

Great hub about the Cardinal. We have a pair that lives in our area and can be seen year round. We also regularly see Blue Jays, Doves, Mockingbirds, Sparrows, Martins and others. The Hummingbirds will soon be arriving for their extended stay. Now I know what the Cardinal sounds like due to your videos. There is so much singing and chirping on a daily basis that I have never tried to figure out which bird was doing which sound...other than the dove's cooing. Thanks! Up and useful votes!

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on February 21, 2011:

Hi Oceansnsunsets. I think it is unanimous. I'm not sure I've met one person who doesn't love the red bird. Thanks for your comments.

Paula from The Midwest, USA on February 19, 2011:

Great hub about North Carolina's Cardinal. I love cardinals, and it makes me happy just to see one! I love to see them in my garden especially, and I need to put out some more bird seed so they come around more. Thanks for sharing!

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on February 12, 2011:

Hi Wood Sanding-thanks for reading and commenting. Glad you liked it.

Trish-I think the striking red against white is what I like about them so much. They can't be missed and their sound is so beautiful. Thanks for leaving a comment.

trish1048 on February 12, 2011:

I live in Jersey, and the male cardinal is one bird I look forward to seeing in the winter. I often see them at the park near my job as well, and spend many hours there enjoying them. They are especially striking against the snow :)

My other favorite bird is the seagull. I live near the shore, and have spent many summers at the beach. I love watching them soar over the water. I even see them inland as they love to forage around food establishments. Anytime I hear their call, I am reminded of the beach.

Enjoyed the videos.

wood sanding on February 12, 2011:

Thank you for your article it was really neat and interesting to read

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on February 12, 2011:

Hi Linda-thanks for reading and commenting. My mother also loved the cardinal. She past away 2003 Christmas morning. Nice to meet you.

Felicia-one doesn't realize until they relocate how some birds are not available in all areas. Thanks for the comments. Nice to meet you.

FeliciaM from Canada on February 11, 2011:

Thanks for the lovely reminder of the Cardinal. I lived in Tennessee for a few years and I fell in love with this bird. We don't have any on the west coast of Canada. Thanks for beautiful hub!

lindatymensky on February 11, 2011:

My mother's favorite bird was a cardinal, God rest her sweet soul. Thank you for this wonderful article.

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on February 10, 2011:

Manny-perhaps you are your worse critic? But, I understand. There's a world of difference when trying to capture a moving object such as a bird. YOu take beautiful photos--keep doing what you are doing. :)

Kasiapl-thanks for reading and commenting. :)

Cybersupe-nice to meet you. Thanks for your comments.

Esmeowl12-I know what you mean. They are so beautiful. Thanks for your comments.

Hello omstonearomas-thanks for commenting. I love the contrast of the blue and red. We used to get blue jays all the time in Michigan when I was growing up. I don't remember just seeing them in the morning. Maybe they take a siesta in the afternoon? Don't know...interesting question.

omstonearomas on February 10, 2011:

Hello Denise, I love watching the red cardinal streak across the snow. Sometimes if I am lucky, I see a cardinal and blue jay perching on the fence together. Interestingly, I only see the cardinal and the blue jay in the mornings in the winter -- can anyone explain?

Cindy A Johnson from Sevierville, TN on February 10, 2011:

I, too, love the cardinal. Thanks for a great hub.

CYBERSUPE from MALVERN, PENNSYLVANIA, U.S.A. on February 10, 2011:

Hi Denise Handion, Very interesting and informative Hub on birds. My wife and I are Birders from Pennsylvania. Do have a good.

Kathy from New Jersey , USA on February 09, 2011:

They are very pretty birds and I see them in the backyard in the winter and summer sometimes. I know what you mean that they try to fly in the windows because that happened a few years ago a few times and I thought that it was a sign from a relative.

mannyrolando on February 09, 2011:

Denise, I have attempted photographing birds and I usually end up frustrated with the process and disappointed with the results!!!

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on February 08, 2011:

Frogpatch, nice to meet you. Not sure where you are 'up north' but enjoy those red birds! Thanks for your comments.

Hello Akulkarni...thanks for visiting the hub. I'm glad I found a nice video with the sounds the cardinal makes. They really are beautiful birds. Thanks for your comments.

Hi Manny-thanks for reading and commenting. Perhaps bird photography will be your next feature???? :)

Hi Pinkdaisy-thanks for visiting and commenting. Nice to meet you.

Hi Travel--Yes, I suppose it will...I was shocked. It's always a lovely surprise to see one of my hubs is on the feature page...imagine my delight when I was notified by my daughter (she is hubber cardelean) and sister (she is hubber Danette Watt) that I actually had TWO hubs featured this week. What a super surprise. Must have been from the hubchallenge hubs. Thanks for stopping in.

Hi Surale-nice to meet you. Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it.

surale from pakistan on February 08, 2011:

very good work you done . i like it

travelespresso from Somewhere in this exciting world. on February 08, 2011:

This is a really lovely hub Denise and the cardinal looks gorgeous. I love the photos too!

I hope that you traffic is getting a boost from being on the front pages.

pinkdaisy from Canada on February 08, 2011:

I see cardinals every day. They are beautiful birds and they have a shy personality which is very endearing.

Love your cardinal picture!

mannyrolando on February 08, 2011:

I love birds and I love to listen to them in the morning! I do have the pleasure of seeing cardinals in my backyard, the male is stunning! I also have blue jays and painted buntings which are also stunning (the males). I really enjoyed reading this hub and the video was a nice addition! Thanks!

frogpatch from Jersey Shore on February 07, 2011:

When I lived in NJ I enjoyed the many Cardinals we had as guests. Once I hid in the back seat of my car to get a picture of one fighting, as you said, with himself in the sideview mirror.

I was surprised when I lived in Tampa Bay Florida that some would show up in the winter. They were extremely quiet and the females would fight with their own images. The only sound they made were that little chipping noise.

Now I am back up North and I look forward to hearing them again. Great article. Thanks!

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on February 07, 2011:

Hi Sofs, Cardinals rock, when it comes to singing, LOL Thanks for your read and comments.

Sophie on February 07, 2011:

I love to listen to the birds each morning as I start my day... watching birds is something I love...I loved this hub and the videos that go with it... I have never heard a cardinal... pretty singing...more complicated than what I have heard!

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on January 30, 2011:

Your welcome. I loved your poem. It was a perfect match. :)

Diana L Pierce from Potter County, Pa. on January 30, 2011:

I loved this hub. And thanks for adding my hub link.

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on January 29, 2011:

Thanks...I enjoy listening to the sweet sounds of the songbirds near our home.

jewelsofawe from Oregon on January 29, 2011:

I don't know what it is, but I love birds. Wonderful hub!

b. Malin on January 29, 2011:

The Northern Cardinal is also in the state of Jersey...the male a bright red, the female dull looking...Maybe they stop to "Gamble" at one of the Casinos before heading further south! Anyway, most enjoyable Hub on these striking birds.

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on January 29, 2011:

Thanks timorous. I have only two left. I really enjoyed the Cardinal one. I appreciate your read and comment.

I don't know if you ever read and vote in the hubnugget contest each week, but my daughter, (hubber cardelean) has been nominated. She called last night to tell me the exciting news. Her hub: A lesson for a teacher was picked. So, I am spreading the word and promoting her hub for votes, if you care to take a look.

I didn't realize you were in the Ontario area as well. I know Colin lives near Lake Erie (Epigraman) ARe you neighbors? In the broadest sense of the word, of course...I know Ontario is huge. Stay warm, my friend. It'll be awhile before the spring thaw!

Tim Nichol from Me to You on January 29, 2011:

Hi Denise. Up here in south-central Ontario, the cardinal is a regular visitor. Less so in winter, but a lovely sight to see and hear. One of my favorites as well. The ones around here have a simpler 'main' tune of 2 alternating notes, which sounds like 'prettee, prettee'. In summer they're still singing well into sunset. Nice going Denise. You've really done well on the hub challenge.

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on January 29, 2011:

Hello Eiddwen, so very nice to see you again. I hope you are doing well and may you have a happy new year this 2011. My daughter and sister have now joined hubpages. My sister is hubber: Danette Watt and my daughter is hubber: cardelean. My daughter's hub, A lesson for the Teacher is up for a hubnugget award! I'm so excited for her. Thanks for stopping by. Take care.

Eiddwen from Wales on January 29, 2011:

Thank you so much Denise for sharing this lovely hub. I love anything on wildlife, animals and nature. Beautiful photos as well.

Take care.

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on January 28, 2011:

Thanks Danette, I don't know if I knew that. They are definitely my favorite, although I didn't indicate it here, I feel they are one of my totems. Thanks for reading. 3 more to go. woo hoo.

Danette Watt from Illinois on January 28, 2011:

Enjoyed your hub. Cardinals are definitely my favorite bird.

Denise Handlon (author) from Michigan on January 28, 2011:

I wish I had a birdfeeder. Unfortunately, the squirrels would gobble it up. Thanks for commenting Pam. Three more to go for the end of the hubchallenge for me. :)

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 28, 2011:

I don't have the norther cardinal here, but we have plenty of cardinals and I feed them year round. I enjoyed the videos. Cardinals are my favorite birds. I have a feeder where papa bids feeds the baby, then the baby starts eating on his own, unafraid and he seems to eat slowly at first. They are so precious.

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