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On January 25, 1950, the General Assembly chose the northern cardinal, (Cardinalis cardinalis,) as the state bird because of its bright plumage and cheerful song. In eighteenth-century England, the cardinal was called "the Virginia nightingale." The cardinal is part of the finch family.
The Cardinal is sometimes called the Winter Redbird because it is most noticeable during the winter when it is the only "redbird" present. The Cardinal is one of the most common birds in our gardens, meadows, and woodlands in Virginia. The male Cardinal is red all over, except for the area of its throat and the region around its bill which is black; it is about the size of a Catbird only with a longer tail. The head is conspicuously crested and the large stout bill is red. The female is much duller in color with the red confined mostly to the crest, wings, and tail. This difference in coloring is common among many birds. Since it is the female that sits on the nest, her coloring must blend more with her natural surroundings to protect her eggs and young from predators. There are no seasonal changes in her plumage.
The Cardinal is a fine singer, and what is unusual is that the female sings as beautifully as the male. The male generally monopolizes the art of song in the bird world.
The nest of the Cardinal is rather an untidy affair built of weed stems, grass and similar materials in low shrubs, small trees or bunches of briars, generally not over four feet above the ground. The usual number of eggs set is three in the South and four further North. Possibly the Cardinal raises an extra brood down in the South to make up the difference, or possibly the population is more easily maintained here by the more moderate winters compared to the colder North.
The Cardinal is by nature a seed eater, but he does not dislike small fruits and insects.
Taxonomic Hierarchy: Cardinal
Kingdom: Animalia - animals
Phylum: Chordata - chordates
Subphylum: Vertebrata - vertebrates
Class: Aves - birds
Order: Passeriformes - perching birds
Family: Fringillidae - buntings, finches, grosbeaks, old world finches, sparrows
Genus: Cardinalis Bonaparte, 1838 - cardinals
Species: Cardinalis cardinalis (Linnaeus, 1758) - Cardenal rojo, northern cardinal