The state bird of West Virginia is the Northern Cardinal, or Cardinalis cardinalis. It also is commonly referred to as the common cardinal, redbird or simply the cardinal. Citizens of the state voted to make the cardinal the state bird in 1949. It also is the state bird of neighboring Virginia, though West Virginians claim to have appointed the bird first, and five other U.S. states.
The Northern Cardinal is a songbird that is easily recognizable by its crest and plumage. The male cardinal sports bright red feathers and crest with a black mask and red beak. The female of the species is not as flashy, with brown feathers with reddish highlights and a brown crest. The female also has the black mask across its face and a red beak. The flashy plumage and mask are often cited as one of the reasons it was named the state bird of West Virginia.
The state bird of West Virginia is not a migratory bird and can be spotted year-round in its habitat. It can be found from the northern U.S. all the way down to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Cardinals have been spotted as far west in the U.S. as New Mexico, though it is better established east of the Rocky Mountains.
The cardinal is considered a mid-size bird and feeds mostly on seeds and insects. It is not picky about its diet and is drawn to bird feeders, especially in the winter months. Cardinals often forage in pairs on the ground. They can be shy and wary of open spaces and normally stick to tree lines, dense foliage and shrubs.
The song of the cardinal is distinctive and easily identifiable. It consists of several staccato chirps, often followed by higher-pitched tweets. The song is not difficult to duplicate by humans and many birdwatchers often replicate the call to draw cardinals in to observe. Cardinals are very territorial and will rapidly come to investigate if they hear their song in their area. This vigilant defense of its territory is another reason why the cardinal was named the state bird of West Virginia.
These birds mate for life and normally reproduce twice a year. A typical nest will contain from two to four eggs at a time. During the incubation period, the female will stay with the eggs and the male will forage for grain, which he will bring back and feed to the female.
Cardinals are preyed upon by hawks and shrikes, as well as some squirrels and owls. Nests are often targeted by snakes, jays, squirrels and chipmunks. The birds will aggressively defend their territory and nest.