What Is the State Bird of Kentucky? – Northern Cardinal


Written by

Clinton Atkins



George Dukes

what is the state bird of kentucky

What is the state bird of Kentucky? It’s the northern cardinal. This vividly scarlet colored bird with a black mask is also the legislative passerine of Indiana, West Virginia, North Carolina, Illinois, Ohio, and Virginia.

Kentucky chose the northern cardinal thanks to the influence of the early settlers. This bird species and the cardinal robes have the same color, and they’re state natives.

Details About The Northern Cardinals


The Kentucky council proclaimed the northern cardinal as its state bird two times – once in 1926, and another time in 1942.

1. Description

Red is the color of the Cardinal robes, which is the same as the color of Kentucky’s state bird. The males have the vivid scarlet hue, while females are more reddish brown. And aside from the difference in shade, both males and females have the same physical structure.

The Kentucky cardinal is distinguishable with their head crown. They have a conical reddish bill, brownish pink feet, and hazel irises. The red coloring is due to the carotenoids in their food.

  • Length – 8.3-9.1”
  • Weight – 33.6-65g
  • Wingspan – 9.8-12.2

2. Diet & Predators

These red birds in Kentucky like visiting bird feeders, especially when they find sunflower seeds, corn, and bits of fruits. In general, 90% of their food consumption consists of fruits, grains, and weed seeds. And 10% of their diet is composed of insects and snails.

Predators of the adult red birds include accipiter hawks, falcons, bald eagles, shrikes, owls, and golden eagles.

3. Breeding & Nesting Information

During the breeding season, the KY state bird pairs up and mates. Within two weeks prior to nest building, both sexes search for the perfect spot to build a home.

They prefer forks in trees, which is up to 15 feet above the earth. And their cup-shape nest is made primarily of twigs, barks, leaves, grasses, tap roots, pine needles, and stalks.

  • Clutch size – 2-5 eggs
  • Brood number – 1-2
  • Incubation period – 11-13 days
  • Egg length – 0.9-1.1”
  • Egg width – 0.7-0.8”
  • Egg description – speckled, green-white, buffy white, or gray-white
  • Hatchling status – eyes shut, naked, few feathers

The females stay with the eggs from laying them until they’re ready to fledge. Males forage for food and bring them back to their family. They defend their territories well, and protect their mates and baby birds with everything they’ve got.

Facts About Northern Cardinals


There are a lot of facts about the northern cardinals. One of them is, unlike other passerines, both males and females actually sing all the time. They exercise their vocal skills for communication and courtship. Additional information about these redbirds are as follows.

Fact #1: Scientific classification

  • Kingdom – Animalia
  • Family – Cardinalidae
  • Genus – Cardinalis
  • Phylum – Chordata
  • Class – Aves
  • Species – C. cardinalis
  • Binomial name – Cardinalis cardinalis

Fact #2: Migration

Northern cardinals are non-migrant birds, and they are loyal to their territory. These redbirds choose to stay within a mile from their first home, where their parents gave them life.

They are native to Kentucky, where they mate, produce chicks, forage for food, and and later on perish.

Fact #3: Family communication

Like other songbirds, northern cardinals communicate with family members through songs. When males are out searching for food, the nesting pair gets in touch with each other by singing “cheer-cheer-cheer” or “purty-purty-purty.”

Other songs sound like “pichew pichew tiw tiw tiw tiw tiw”, and “woit woit woit woit chew chew chew chew chew.”

Fact #4: Frequent visitors

The northern cardinal bird are frequent visitors of yard feeders. Humans love these songbirds, and their bright color and songs brighten the day of all bird enthusiasts.

Fact #5: Lifespan

The lifespan of the northern cardinals can reach 13-15 years. In the wild, they tend to live for 3 years. For the record, the oldest redbird that was held captive reached 28 years of age.

Fact #6: Protection

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 protects the northern cardinals from being caged. At one time, these redbirds were adored bird pets of humans, but not anymore.

They are free to roam the state, and it’s absolutely illegal to harm the northern cardinals. And thanks to the protection of the law, this bird species can multiply and live on happily.

Fact #7: Aggressive behavior

The cardinal birds of northern Kentucky are known to be extremely hostile, but this behavior emerges during the breeding season only. Their aggressiveness subsides when the nesting period comes to an end.

Fact #8: Excellent defender

Northern cardinals may be small, but they’re not scared to attack bigger predators if their home is threatened. Males are especially aggressive in defending their territories, even from their own species.

And in the breeding season, they’re known to collide with glass windows because they think their reflections are rivals.

Fact #9: Other name

Northern cardinals will never be good at hiding because of their bold scarlet shade. They are mainly nicknamed as redbirds, but are also known as red cardinals, common cardinals, and cardinals. The last of these monikers was actually the name that this bird species went by before 1985.

Fact #10: Beak-to-beak

The adorable northern cardinals often display sweetness during the breeding season. The males hunt for food, and they feed them to their mates. This feeding process is known as beak-to-beak.

Fact #11: Fighting the cold

When the winter months come, the northern cardinals keep their bodies warm by shivering intentionally. These birds will also find trees to stay in.

Fact #12: Partnership

Northern cardinals are typically monogamous in nature and can mate for life. However, these red birds will leave their partners when needed (for example, when their mates die), and seek their ideal partners for the next breeding season.

Fact #13: Summer molting

During the summer, northern cardinals may experience baldness. They shed their beautiful red feathers in favor of a more vivid and gorgeous plumage. That’s why these redbirds may shock birders with their naked form.


What is the state bird of Kentucky? You should now know the answer. The red cardinal is the legislative bird of six more states, which makes this songbird super popular.

They have distinctive raised head crowns and are excellent defenders of their families. Identification of the northern cardinals is not hard, thanks to their bold scarlet color.

If you have further questions about this bird, feel free to send us a message. We always love to hear from our readers.

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