The natural beauty of Nelson is a major reason why people live here and visit here. Come journey with us as our nature series of articles sheds light on plants and animals that make Nelson County, Virginia such a special place.

Most people know that the Cardinal is the state bird of Virginia. It is found in much of the U.S. east of the Rockies, and it is easily identified by everyone. Since Cardinals do not migrate, they provide a splash of crimson among the grays and browns of winter. This makes them a colorful icon on Christmas cards.

One of the first known paintings depicting a Cardinal was done in 1599, and the bird was referred to as the “Virginia Nightingale.” Today, modern bird guidebooks use the name “Northern Cardinal.” Why northern? Because there is a different species of Cardinal in the southwestern U.S. and Mexico, with another species in Venezuela and Colombia.

In the mid-1700s, the Swedish botanist, Linnaeus, devised the system of taxonomy that uses Latin words (and sometimes Greek) as the scientific name assigned to every species. Want to impress your friends? Say this aloud twice: “Card-in-NAIL-is … card-in-NAIL-is.” All right! You have just pronounced this bird by its scientific name (Cardinalis cardinalis). It is really easy to say and to remember.

In 1926, Kentucky became the first state to choose the Cardinal as its state bird, calling it the “Kentucky Cardinal.” Between 1929 and 1949, four other states selected the Cardinal as their state birds – Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina, and West Virginia. In 1950, Virginia also chose the Cardinal as its state bird, and in 1963, Indiana became the seventh state to designate the Cardinal as its state bird. Of note, the most common state bird after the Cardinal is the Western Meadowlark, which has been chosen by six states.

Although male birds tend to be the singers in most species, about 12% of species in North America also feature female singers. The Cardinal is one such species. You can listen here to both a female and male singing: A Female Northern Cardinal Singing (and a male too) – YouTube

If you hear a pair of singing Cardinals, pause what you are doing and listen. It will brighten your day!

by Susan McSwain for FON