Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Illinois State Bird

November 9, 2008
Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

The American election came and went before we described the state birds of Illinois and Delaware.  We had already dealt with Arizona’s and Alaska’s state birds. Today we turn to the state bird of Barack Obama’s Illinois.  Delaware will be next, followed by Iowa.  (Why Iowa?  Because the 2012 presidential election campaign is set to begin there in about two weeks.  Really.  Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, and Sarah Palin have appearances there before November ends. Remember the admonition, “No politician goes to Iowa by accident.”  Frankly, we think two years is too long a campaign and now we’re getting four year campaigns?)

Because we’re on the subject of politics we should note that the state bird of Illinois is also the state bird of several swing states, all but two of which were carried by Senator Obama.  The Northern Cardinal is the most popular state bird in the United States.  It is claimed by Illinois (21 electoral votes), Indiana (11), Kentucky (8), North Carolina (15), Ohio (20), Virginia (13)and West Virginia (5). A candidate who carries all the Cardinal’s states has more than one-third of the electoral votes necessary to be elected president. [1]

Not only do humans like Cardinals, Cardinals like humans. Our cities, and our bird feeders, especially our winter-time bird feeders, have allowed Cardinals to expand their range; unlike so many species whose ranges we have contracted or destroyed entirely.  We’ve also helped by clearing forest land and turning it, first into agricultural use and then to suburbia. Coniferous forests have less food for the seed, insect and fruit-eating Cardinals. They may even find global climate change amenable.  They do not migrate but live their entire lives within an area of 8 or so square miles and warming temperatures play a role in their range expansion.

Charley Harper Cardinal Card

Charley Harper Cardinal Card

Cardinals lead an envious life style.  About 5% of the time, they fly.  Another 13% is spent eating.  That leaves them about 80% of their time free for perching and sleeping.  If humans could do that we would spend about two and a half hours a day working and eating and the rest would be free time.  (Some anthropologists believe that is about how much time subsistence societies did spend making a living.  It is a mistake to romanticize such cultures — life was short and dark back then — but imagine how many books you could read, birds you could see, hikes you could take if you had that kind of free time.)

Cardinals are not free from worry though.  Cats, dogs, squirrels, shrikes, hawks and Eastern Screech Owls keep them alert.  Nest predation is a big problem as well.  Snakes, birds and chipmunks steal their eggs.  Cowbirds steal Cardinal eggs, destroy them and replace them with cowbird eggs which the Cardinals are then stuck with raising.

They are socially monogamous.  One study found an annual divorce rate of about 20%.  Males occasionally mess around, though.  Some male DNA is occasionally found in places it shouldn’t be. The bright red cardinals you see on the millions of gifts, cards, and photos are males.  The female is a basic grayish tan.  Both sexes sing; males to defend territory and attract females.

Female and Male Cardinals photographed by Ken Clark

Female and Male Cardinals photographed by Ken Clark

They enjoy messing with scientists’ minds.  So adept with their strong beaks that they can open hard seeds yet peel grapes, they also are skilled at removing plastic or aluminum leg bands placed there by ornithologists.
[1] The Western Meadowlark comes in second in this popularity contest, representing six states. In third place is the Mockingbird, the state bird of five states. A candidate who carried Cardinals(93), Western Meadowlarks(27) and Mockingbirds(84) would have 214 votes and would only need to pick up Chickadees and Bluebirds or California Quails to be elected president of the United States.)

For more on Cardinals see

Halkin, Sylvia L. and Susan U. Linville. 1999. Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:


While we’re on the subject of politics we want to give a shout out to our web site designer, Firefly Studios.  If you’ve never been to our web site you should go just to look at how beautiful it is.

The folks at Firefly are, in addition to being fine artists, are proud liberals and they sell political tee shirts such as this one:


and this one:


which you can buy from them at their alternative website, Talk Back Tees.

For those of you who are Republicans or otherwise unhappy with the recent American election, we suggest you try their other, non-political web site where you can find tee shirts such as this one, containing a Northern Cardinal.

Northeastern Birds

Northeastern Birds

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