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What Is the State Bird of Kentucky?

S. Ashraf
S. Ashraf

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).

A map of the US.
A map of the US.

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.

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Discussion Comments


Kentucky's state bird and flower are both brightly colored. I have seen goldenrod growing wild in pastures, and it is intensely yellow.

What is really cool is to see a red bird perching on goldenrod. It is basically a weed with fluffy yellow blooms in large clusters. The bright red bird looks very intense resting on such a back background.

I have a lot of cardinals hanging out in my wooded yard, but I don't have any goldenrod. I am highly allergic to it, and though I think it is striking and would give me lots of photo opportunities with the cardinals, I cannot tolerate being near it.


Cardinals have always reminded me of parakeets. The bright color and the triangular tuft of feathers on top of their heads make them seem exotic, like they should be hanging out in some tropical location instead of Kentucky!

Their black mask makes them look a little mysterious. To me, their beaks look reddish-orange, though some people see them as true red.

I think that cardinals are one of the prettiest types of birds around here. Seeing one always lifts my mood. They are a refreshing break from the normal grays and browns of most birds I see.


Cardinals can get vicious during mating season! They are pretty competitive when it comes to finding and keeping a mate, and I suppose that their raging hormones drive their defensiveness.

It's funny to watch them attack their own reflections. They have no way of knowing that the bright red bird inside my garden mirror ball isn't real.

I have seen a cardinal peck at that ball for hours before giving up. I suppose it must have been close to his woman, and he was trying so hard to send it away! I felt bad for him, but what could I do to make him see that the bird he was attacking was actually his own image?


It is cool to watch cardinals go “house shopping.” They fly around to a bunch of different trees, and they communicate somehow. I have heard them calling to each other in a language only they can understand, and the female lets the male know when she has found a spot that makes her happy.

Then, he actually brings her twigs to build with. I think it's neat that the female gets to build the home. That's something you don't see too often with humans!

I was impressed to see this decision making process going down in my back yard. I must say that the male really listened to what the female had to say, and he snapped into action on command!

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