It’s a little surprising how many states have designated the cardinal as their state bird. Along with Illinois, there’s Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. I don’t know how many sports teams are named for this beautiful bird — and there are untold hundreds of businesses with that name. Now that I think about it, even cars, clothing, and umbrellas are “cardinal red.” There’s even a Canadian TV show named ‘Cardinal’ about a detective by that name. But there seems to be a deeper meaning.
Several Native American Indian tribes believed that the bright red Cardinal is symbolic of love and devotion. No wonder, since most cardinals mate for life. Many other bird species go their separate ways after breeding, but most cardinal couples stay with each other. Males often bring food to the female, dropping it at their feet. The males are the bright red that we see so often while females are brownish and less noticeable. There are some cardinals that are yellow, but they’re pretty rare. My grandmother once told me, “Cardinals appear when angels are near.” It apparently came from a poem by Victoria McGovern. Many people feel that seeing a cardinal is a sign from someone who has passed. I guess that sentiment has been shared for thousands of years, because the Maoris, the Egyptians, the Celts and the Irish all had similar views. Maybe it has to do with the wide range of songs and sounds they make. They’re pretty talented with the different songs they have for different situations. Seems to me that they have more human qualities than most birds. That’s good, and even better that they don’t have some other human traits. I never saw a cardinal tell a lie or drink too many beers. Cardinals don’t go around bragging about their bank accounts or buying fancy clothes. They are content to stick to that red coat and black face feathers. I suppose they are like humans in another way — we humans have an old adage — “You are what you eat.” True enough. Also true for cardinals — they get their super bright red coloring from dogwood berries, cherries, and other red things they consume.
I guess the cardinal, or redbird as we also call them, is just another beautiful creature for us to watch and enjoy. If we’re lucky, we can sometimes see a large group of these redbirds. And true to form, they have a weird name for them. A bunch of quail is called a “bevy.” Hummingbirds gather in a “charm.” There’s a “constable” of ravens. Sparrows are found in a “host.” A bunch of crows is a “murder.” And a big group of cardinals is a “college” or a “Vatican.” No wonder. They got their name from those red-clothed important senior members of the Catholic Church. Cardinals are usually bishops — in a red cassock, not feathers. You get the idea.
Next time you see a cardinal, just thank your lucky stars. Whether they represent a lost loved one or are just a beautiful part of our world, they are fun to watch and listen to. And contrary to popular belief, you can still like cardinals even if you’re a Cubs fan. Just sayin’.