In 1926, the General Assembly of Kentucky convened and, out of the more than 300 species of birds that live in the state, proclaimed the cardinal to be the state bird of Kentucky by a joint resolution. The cardinal was selected as the state bird of Kentucky because it is indigenous to the state. Six other U.S. states have also adopted the cardinal as their state bird: Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, West Virginia and Illinois. Kentucky, though, has the distinction of being the first to do so.
The cardinal, known scientifically as Cardinalis cardinalis, is a member of the finch family of birds and is a medium-sized songbird. At a length of 8.23-9.25 inches (20.9-23.5 cm), male cardinals are just slightly larger than the females. On average, cardinals weigh 1.5-1.7 ounces (42-48 g) and have wingspans of 10-12 inches (25-31 cm).
Coloration is where the difference between the sexes is the most visible and dramatic in the state bird of Kentucky. The male cardinal is a solid bright, bold red, most often described as scarlet, which makes spotting the state bird of Kentucky easy for birdwatchers in the state. Only a bit of black, resembling a mask, around its beak breaks the monochrome color of red. Females have reddish wings but are a light brown or tan color; they share dark red legs and feet with the males of the species. The cardinal received its name because of its color: when it was first seen by early settlers in America, it reminded them of the color of the robes worn by cardinals in the Catholic church.
Cardinals are mostly monogamous, although a male sometimes might have more than one mate at a time. Courtship begins in the early spring and lasts until early fall. It begins with the male putting on displays to showcase his bright red feathers and crest to attract a mate. Researchers have established that males with a more brilliant color find mates more easily. After an interested female has been found, he shows her that he would be a good provider for chicks by starting to feed her.
The breeding pair work together to select a nest site, with the male following behind the female. Although a male occasionally brings the female building materials, it is the female that builds the nest, which takes about three to nine days. She lays two to five eggs and incubates them for about two weeks.