The cardinal is easy to spot due to its coloring. It is one of the most popular birds and easily identified by birdwatchers and non-bird-watchers alike. Like the robin, whose plumage also features a distinctive red patch, the cardinal is often associated with Christmas and the winter season. The color is bright and cheering. The cardinal’s presence year round and its appearance at backyard bird feeders may also contribute to this association.
The cardinal’s name is derived from the high-ranking clerics of the Catholic Church who wear rich red robes. The term cardinal is used to denote something with primary or essential qualities, such as a cardinal direction. The word comes from the Latin cardo, meaning hinge. Something that has cardinal qualities is so important that it functions as a keystone or axle; other things hinge around it.
The Cherokee believe that the cardinal is the daughter of the sun. Legend has it that if you see a cardinal flying upward, toward the sun, you will have good luck. Conversely, if you see it flying down toward the earth, watch out for bad luck.
The cardinal was the first bird to be given state recognition: In 1926, it was made the state bird of Kentucky. It’s also the bird of six other states (Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia), making it the most popular state bird. It is also the name of the St. Louis professional baseball team and the Arizona Cardinals professional football team, and is the mascot of numerous university athletic teams, including the Stanford Cardinals, the Louisville Cardinals, and the Wesleyan Cardinals.
Omens and divinatory meaning: Examine the areas of your life in which you are, or should be, a leader. Is your confidence shaky? The cardinal tells you that you can handle it, and to believe in yourself. It is important to be proud of yourself for your abilities or for the things you have achieved. The cardinal’s bright red feathers and cheerful song call attention to him wherever he goes. If you see a cardinal, it may be telling you to stand up, lift your head high, and take pride in yourself.
Accept compliments that come your way, and acknowledge your achievements. The cardinal’s bright red plumage also calls you to open yourself to creative energy. Have you been feeling blocked or dull lately? Are you looking for a new way to express yourself? Call on the cardinal to help you open up and get your creativity flowing again. The red feathers link it with fire, the element of activity, vitality, and passion. If you are feeling lethargic, the cardinal may lend you its energy to help you get back on your feet. Likewise, it can be a good bird with whom to work if you are struggling to handle depression. If you are having difficulty dealing with anger, however, seeing a cardinal may remind you to take a step or two back.
Red is the color of the root chakra, the energy center associated with stability, survival, and security, and feeling unsettled in any of these areas may be influencing your anger issue. Examine the areas of your life connected to these subjects for clues to the source of your emotional state, and move to make them better.
Excerpted from Birds: Explore the Symbology and Significance of These Divine Winged Messengers (Adams Media, a division of F+W Media, Inc.; January 2012), by Arin Murphy-Hiscock
Images: ©iStockPhoto.com, Dover