Red Bird of Midwest

The Cardinal is the red bird of the Midwest, and our fire bird. It is the state bird of Illinois and Indiana.  Although I have not seen it rise out of the ashes like the mythical phoenix; the sight of the Cardinal is always a good thing and signals to me that warmer weather is on its way.  The fire engine song bird is welcome at bird feeders throughout the Midwest. The Northern Cardinal chirps a tuneful song.

St. Louis Cardinals logo

In 1900, in Missouri they named a baseball sports team after them, the St. Louis Cardinals. An image of the bird appears on the team’s uniforms.

Want to play a game and test your knowledge about the red bird?   Did you know?

Fun Facts

Size and Color:

The Northern Cardinal is around 8.3 inches in length from tip to tail feathers.  The male has a bright red plumage that makes the lady birds chirp and take notice.  The female is brown, which helps her blend in with twigs and trees better.


Someone way back in history thought that the Cardinal resembled a cardinal in the

picture of Cardinal Wolsey

Roman Catholic Church.  The Catholic cardinal has a red robe and cape.  The red bird was named for the other type of cardinal and it stuck.  It’s called the Northern Cardinal, because it lives in the North.

How did the Cardinal get its red color?

How the Cardinal got its color:

Here is a story about how it came to be, as told by Barbara Shining Woman Warren of the Cherokee Nation.  The words in italics are in the Cherokee language.  The story is excerpted from the website Native Languages of the Americas:

“Gv-li (raccoon) loved to tease wa-ya (wolf). One day gv-li (raccoon) teased wa-ya (wolf) so much that wa-ya (wolf) became very angry. Wa-ya (wolf) began to chase gv-li (raccoon) through the woods. Gv-li (raccoon), being the clever animal that he is, kept ahead of wa-ya (wolf).

Gv-li (raccoon) came to a river. Instead of jumping in the river, he quickly climbed a tall tree and peered over a branch to see what wa-ya (wolf) would do next.

When wa-ya (wolf) came to the river, he saw the reflection of gv-li (raccoon) in the water. Thinking that it was gv-li (raccoon), wa-ya (wolf) jumped in and tried to catch him. Wa-ya (wolf) continued to search for gv-li (raccoon) for such a long time that he became so tired he nearly drowned. Finally, tired and exhausted, wa-ya (wolf) climbed up the river bank and fell fast asleep. After a while, gv-li (raccoon) quietly climbed down the tree and slipped over to the sleeping wa-ya (wolf). While wa-ya (wolf) slept, gv-li (raccoon) began to plaster the eyes of wa-ya (wolf) with mud. Then when he had finished, gv-li (raccoon) ran off through the woods laughing to himself thinking of the clever trick he had played.

Later, wa-ya (wolf) woke up. He began to whine, “Oh, someone please help me. I can’t see. I can’t open my eyes.” But no one came to help him.

At long last, u-wo-di-ge tsi-s-qua (brown) heard the cries of wa-ya (wolf). He flew over to wa-ya (wolf) and landed on his shoulder. He said, “What’s the matter Brother Wolf? Can I help you?” wa-ya (wolf) cried, “I can’t open my eyes. Oh, please help me to see again.” U-wo-di-ge tsi-s-qua (brown) said, “I’m just a little brown bird but I will help you if I can.” Wa-ya (wolf) said, ” u-wo-di-ge tsi-s-qua (brown), if you can help me to see again, I will take you to a magic rock that oozes red paint. We will paint your feathers gi-ga-ge (red).”

U-wo-di-ge tsi-s-qua (brown) began pecking away at the dried mud on the eyes of wa-ya (wolf). Soon wa-ya (wolf) could open his eyes again. True to his promise wa-ya (wolf) said, “Thank you, my brother; now jump up onto my shoulder.” Away they ran through the woods to the rock that oozed red paint.

When they came to the rock, wa-ya (wolf) reached up and plucked a twig from a tree branch. He chewed the end of the twig until it was soft and pliable like the end of a paint brush. Then he dipped the end of the twig into the red paint and began to paint the feathers of u-wo-di-ge tsi-s-qua (brown).

When all of his feathers were gi-ga-ge (red), tsi-s-qua (bird) flew off to show his family and friends how beautiful he was. That is why, from that day to this, you can see to-tsu-wa (red bird) flying around the woods in Cherokee country.

The Northern Cardinal’s song:

You can listen to the song of the Northern Cardinal on the Cornell website at:

If you put out a bird feeder, may be a Cardinal or other songbird will stop by to sing you a tune. They like to eat seeds, grains and fruit.


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