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All about the Northern cardinal, NC’s official state bird

We’re sharing red hot facts about NC’s official state bird.

AVL cardinals

Male cardinals boast brilliant red plumage.

Photo by @bestlife_birding

NC is home to countless native + migrating birds, but only one of them is the state’s official avian ambassador: the Northern cardinal. The brilliant red songbird was formally recognized by the NC General Assembly in 1943, due to the beneficial services it provides for the environment, including keeping farms and gardens free of harmful plants and insects.

Here are some fly facts about NC’s Northern cardinals, by the numbers:

  • Out of 26 different avian candidates, the cardinal became North Carolina’s state bird in 1943 after receiving 5,000 votes. The dove came in second with approximately 3,400.
  • They do not migrate, and as a result, they live in NC year round. In the mountains, they’re very common in the lower elevations and up to about 3,000 ft above sea level.
  • There are an estimated 120 million cardinals worldwide, and ~99% of Northern cardinals are found in North America.
  • In addition to NC, the Northern cardinal is the official state bird of six other states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.
  • Northern cardinals can live up to 15 years, but the average lifespan is approximately three years due to various hazards.
  • One out of every million cardinals is born without the typical red plumage pigment and is instead yellow due to genetic variations called xanthochroism.
  • Unlike many species of songbirds, both male and female Northern cardinals can sing. Also cool? Cardinals’ vocal patterns vary slightly based upon the region, just like our language dialects depend on where we are.
  • Cardinals sing more than 24 different songs.

Want to make your space more welcoming to cardinals? Here are some tips and tricks.

  • Make sure your bird seed includes their favorite, black oil sunflower seeds
  • Hang feeders near shrubs or trees, rather than out in the open, to make cardinals feel secure.
  • Birds like to switch up their supper, too, so plant shrubs and trees that bear fruit, like dogwood, serviceberry, hawthorn, and winterberry.
  • Plant evergreens, which offer nesting spots in spring and summer and protection from the weather in fall and winter.

Create a pollinator-friendly yard to attract caterpillars and other bugs, which birds will use as a food source for their babies.

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