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Symbolism Of The Cardinal Bird

Have you ever been startled by a red bird fighting its own shadow in your window? That was probably a cardinal protecting its territory from the intruding shadow. A favorite of bird watchers and feeders, cardinals are a sight to behold and are captivating musicians. These birds can be sighted all year long but are most common in spring and early summer. Apart from their beauty and song, cardinals are also viewed as symbolic birds, representing concepts such as love, courage, and devotion.

What Are Cardinals?

Red cardinal bird

The cardinal bird, also commonly known as the northern cardinal, is a brightly colored bird, found mainly in woodlands, wetlands, shrublands, and gardens. Known for their beautiful songs, cardinals have a body length of between 21 and 23 centimeters and feed on grass, insects, and fruits.

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Male cardinals are bright red in color, with a black crest on the head and a black mask on the face while the female cardinals are reddish olive in color with a gray crest and mask.

Cardinals exhibit exemplary romance in that the males fiercely marks his territory with a song and fights any intruder, real or perceived. During courtship, the male feeds his bride beak to beak, and when a male and female are coupled as mates, they communicate with each other by using shared sweet melodies.

Unlike most birds, Cardinals do not part ways after mating, but rather stay together as a family and assist each other in taking care of their young.

 Symbolism of Cardinals

Because of their vibrant color, their unique characteristics, and their enigmatic melody, cardinals have become a powerful symbol. They are seen to symbolize love, relationships, courage, devotion, and monogamy.

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  • Love – As earlier stated, cardinals are very romantic birds. Their color is beautiful to see and they themselves express their love to one another openly with sweet melodies, protection, and a dose of public display of affection. As such, a sighting of this bird is a reminder to express our love for our significant other.
  • Relationships – Cardinals court each other with romantic gestures and mark their territories. A threat to these territories is met with ferocious defense.  Because of this, cardinals represent relationships. It’s believed that the sighting of a cardinal bird by a single person is an indication that they will soon find a romantic relationship to protect and display publically.
  • Courage – Cardinals are not overly afraid of humans. They also display courage by their readiness to fight anything that looks like a threat to them. Cardinals can fight their own reflection or shadow for hours and will face any other real opponent with similar courage. An encounter with a cardinal is thus a reminder to reflect on the power you have within yourself and within your skills.
  • Devotion – When two cardinals fall in love, they devote themselves to each other and establish harmonious, melodious healthy relationships. In troubling times, these lovebirds console each other with sweet melodies. Cardinals also devote their time and effort to their young ones in equal measure, male and female alike.  It’s said that when a couple in a relationship comes across cardinals, it is a sign that they will experience a renewed spark in their romance.
  • Monogamy – When two cardinals chose to mate, they mate for life. They establish similar phrases in their song and protect the relationship to the beak. It’s believed that when a person that is cheating on their spouse comes across a cardinal, the encounter serves as a reminder to be true to their union.
Cardinal bird meaning

Cardinal Dream Symbolism

Seeing a cardinal in your dreams is full of positivity. Cardinals are historically known as the ultimate messengers from the spirit world. They appear to show us that we can achieve the freedom to live if we want to. This bird of love appears to tell you that the spirits are happy that you have finally discovered your true self and that if you keep being true to yourself you will soon experience positive changes. 

Cardinal as a Spirit Animal

A spirit animal appears to present you with life lessons through its skills. Having the cardinal as your spirit animal is a reminder to be true to yourself, be confident, and set out to achieve your goals to your full potential.

Cardinal as a Totem Animal

A totem animal is invoked based on what animal you feel most connected to and also based on the specific animal’s skills and powers. People with cardinals as their totem animals are highly intuitive and sensitive and have a great sense of honor. These people are not afraid to be first in line and in most cases, they are the pioneers of initiatives.

Cardinal Stories and Myths

With their reputation as spiritual messengers and bringers of love, it is no doubt that the cardinal has amassed a load of folklore over time.

More fact than just a story, the cardinal birds got their name from the Roman Catholic Church. When English settlers first arrived in America, they saw the bright red bird, and seeing how much it resembled the robes won by the church cardinals, they named them cardinals and the name stuck.

In Cherokee mythology, the cardinal is believed to be the daughter of the sun. In this story, the land once went dark after the daughter of the sun was slain. The Cherokee were then instructed by the little men to go to the land of ghosts to bring back the daughter of the sun whom they would find in a box. This they did and on their way back, the young woman kept on wailing saying that she did not have air. Unsettled by her wailing, they opened the box and a red bird flew out singing. Immediately, the sun smiled and there was light.

In a Choctaw legend, the cardinal bird is seen as a matchmaker between two lonely people. In this legend, the red bird became friends with a lonely Indian maiden who had everything she needed to keep and satisfy her mate, but she couldn’t find a mate. For a long time, the red bird listened to the sadness in the maiden’s voice as she expressed her longing for a mate.  One day in his travels, the red bird met a brave man who also sadly spoke of his failure to find a maiden to love. The red bird then led the brave man to the maiden’s cabin and flew to a safe distance where he watched them fall in love.

Wrapping Up

Cardinals are not just beautiful to watch, they also come to us with positivity and good messages. If you are lucky enough to come across one, slow down and enjoy the sight of it while reflecting on your life to establish what message it brings with it. Alternatively, you can just leave out sunflower seeds, the cardinals’ favorite meal, and you will be bound to attract one or two.

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Rose Mulu
Rose Mulu

With a keen interest in understanding why life was and is as it is, Rose has been studying religion, culture, and history for over fifteen years. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communication and uses this, together with her knack for literature, to share her knowledge and insight with the world.