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The Meaning of Cardinals

By Saoirse
August 23, 2021
The Meaning of Cardinals
TL;DR A cardinal at the birdfeeder or a cardinal bird on the fence is a welcome sight with it’s adorable spiky head and beautiful red feathers. Quotes about cardinal birds include “When a cardinal appears in your yard, it’s a visitor from heaven” and indeed many believe that “Angels are near when cardinals appear”! The cardinal bird's spiritual meaning and just what a cardinal means goes deeper than cute sayings, however, and you will be pleasantly surprised how much a part of our lives cardinals flying by are.

What’s a Cardinal?


Red cardinals and Christmas, most any picture of a red bird, and cardinals kissing each other immediately come to mind whenever you think of a cardinal. You’ve seen the red cardinal bird of Florida, and while it is associated with that state to some, the State bird of Florida is actually the Northern Mockingbird. However, the cardinal is the State bird of Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Kentucky. The cardinal meaning in English is actually from a French word, cardinal, which means “chief” or “principal” in French , perhaps because of the adorable spiked feather atop the head, resembling a ruby crown. Both blue jays and red cardinals have that characteristic “crown”! A Latin form of the word is the class cardinals fall into, which are the cardinalidae birds, of which there are over 42 species including grosbeaks and buntings.

To define the cardinal bird, we normally think of the red cardinal, also called cardinal redbirds, the common cardinal, and the Northern cardinal. Of course, a ranking of Catholic clergy is the red clad Cardinals, one of whom is chosen as a Pope to succeed when one steps down or passes away, but cardinal the bird facts are that they are a songbird of mid-size, and it is the males who have the famous brilliant red plumage. Why are cardinals red? The red cardinal male is brilliantly red to impress the red cardinal female who has a touch of a less bright red in her soft brown feathers. Not only do the males display their beauty, hoping the female with pick him out of all others, but they eat food with a substance called carotenoids in it, which helps keep those feathers a brilliant crimson!

Do cardinals mate for life? They absolutely do, but they don’t like to stay alone if their mate dies, so they find a new mate when that happens. Photos of cardinal birds often show them on branches with colorful red berries, on the snow, or with their mate. A red cardinal bird is popular in cardinal bird tattoos as well as on cardinal greeting cards. What is a group of cardinals called? A convocation!

Can cardinals be another color? Yes, the yellow cardinal is more rare, but it does happen occasionally depending on what the cardinal eats. “I thought I saw a blue cardinal bird, you’ve lost me here!” you may say, but this is either a blue jay or blue grosbeak you are seeing, as no blue cardinal exists.

Cardinals Birds Meaning


Known for their beauty, as well as their song, what is a cardinal bird meaningfully beyond this? The meaning of the cardinal bird and cardinal symbolism are tied in with specific beliefs surrounding life, death, spirits, fidelity, love, surviving, passion and much more! The meaning of cardinal birds varies by belief system, and cardinal bird myths and cardinal bird quotes reveal these beliefs about cardinal bird symbolism. What do cardinals mean spiritually? Read on.

Cardinal Birds Myths


A Cherokee story speaks of a solar cardinal, saying the sun birthed the very first bird that was red, and the cardinal is the sun’s daughter. Seeing cardinal birds flying to these people is said to be good luck.

Catholic colonists in the Americas saw the red male cardinal’s rosy feathers, and it reminded them of the Cardinal priests red robes, so they dubbed the bird a cardinal. While red cardinals are not listed in the Bible, as they are native to the Americas and not the lands of the Biblical authors, may Christians believe a male or female cardinal bird to be a message from somebody they love who passed on or a message directly from their god.

Compared to the Phoenix bird who rises reborn out of the ashes of its own destruction, renewed, rejuvenated, and born again, the meaning of cardinal birds is likewise that of birth and life. Linked together with the Phoenix due to the color, both birds are linked to passion, the Phoenix being passion for life, and the red cardinal being linked with romantic passion due to the fidelity of love between cardinals mating.

Cardinals’ birds myths to the Choctaw are that the symbolism of seeing a cardinal bird is if you are single, you won’t need to worry. That sighting tells you that a significant other is on the way very soon. The cardinal message for the Choctaw is also that if a relationship is not going well, the bird alerts you that it’s time to cut things off.

Cardinals and Angels


The legend of the cardinal is strongly linked to angels. What is the cardinal and their link to the angels? It is believed that cardinals, like hummingbirds, are evidence of angels and spirits. Spirits who have passed on are not ranked as angels, specifically, but to some people, they are one and the same. What does it mean to see a cardinal to these people? It means a cardinal “angel” is visiting, or the spirit of a loved one who has passed is stopping in to visit you in the form of a cardinal animal. The cardinals’ angels are either letting you know your loved one is watching over you, or they are delivering a message for them.

Read more about hummingbirds and angels:The Symbolic Meaning of the Hummingbird

Cardinals Flying


What does it mean when you see a flying cardinal bird? It might simply mean you got the opportunity to see one, as cardinals are plentiful. In North and South America, cardinals are abundant and not a rare species at all. Watching a cardinal circle nearby may feel like more than a chance meeting and the symbolism of the cardinal, rather than the fact you see the bird flying is good to know at times like these. Seeing a cardinal fly can symbolize that change is on the way, and you are being called upon to submit to it. The very successful Henry Ford is quoted to have said “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” The cardinal adapts to different weather conditions, and seeing one portending change reminds us that we, too, can adapt and succeed if only we will allow it!

Singing Cardinals on a Branch


What does it mean when you see a cardinal and hear them? Red cardinals singing or cardinals chirping symbolize one thing to the bird, and another to people. Sixteen different cardinal chirping sounds have been identified by experts and some cardinal songs are to attract a mate, others to warn off predators, while still others are the birds communicating with one another. Being fortunate enough to hear the beautiful cardinal sounds is believed to mean that whatever sorrows you are facing are coming to an end. Indeed, it’s difficult to believe that sorrow can last at all when hearing these beautiful birds sing. To hear different cardinal calls, listen to the links in this article:Northern Cardinal Sounds, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Cardinal Bird in the Snow


Cardinals are one of the species of birds who do not head to warmer places in Winter, thus the sight of the red cardinal in the snow, creating a beautiful, dramatic contrast to the downy white blanketing the earth in Winter is a typical sight. What is cardinals purpose of staying put when they could fly away, and how do they do it? Plenty of different birds besides cardinals don’t migrate in Winter and that’s because they simply don’t need to. They stay warm enough, and their diet is diverse enough, they find plenty to eat without the bounty of the growing season. This adaptability is the reason cardinals symbolize toughness, survivability, and dependability!

Cardinal Hitting Window Superstition


The cardinal, the bird who is tough and dependable, however can’t survive just anything! Buildings and windows pose a great threat to them, and they sometimes meet their deaths by colliding with closed windows. A 1990 paper published by Professor Daniel Klem guessed that between one hundred million and one billion birds collide with windows in the United States alone annually and that one third of these incidents result in the death of birds. This happens because birds do not understand the transparency of solid objects and think they are flying into open space, unfortunately.

To the superstitious, however, it’s more meaningful than this. Some people believe when they see a cardinal fly into a window, it means somebody who they know will die soon. Possibly one third of the time, the bird will be the first fatality from this sighting! To learn more about this, read here:How many birds are killed by windows? - BBC News

Red Cardinals and Death


The cardinals bird spiritual meaning for many is that cardinals are a symbol of the dead. Cardinals and loved ones who have passed away are believed to have linked souls somehow, and the cardinal and the spirit of that departed loved one have teamed up to deliver the message that they are still lovingly watching over you, despite the fact they died. Cardinals and death are also associated with one another as many say they begin to see a lot of red cardinals after somebody they love has died.

Seeing a red cardinal after a death, and most especially immediately following the death is believed to be the soul of the departed visiting to reassure you that they may no longer have a body, but they are still a part of your life, and are visiting. Seeing red cardinals meaning after death of somebody you love is a welcome sighting for certain, and cardinals’ symbolism of being the voice of the departed can remind you they may be gone, but they have not forgotten about you!

Dead Cardinal Bird Meaning


What does a cardinal represent when it is a dead cardinal bird? A dead cardinal is a heartbreaking sight although a cardinal’s death might not be something that has a spiritual message. From pesticides used on gardens that end up killing birds, to wind turbines, and birds being hit and killed by cars, human beings are their number one predator, as we kill more birds a year than any other species does. Cardinals are just one of many birds that fall prey to us, even if we don’t mean for them to. A red dead cardinal is a symbol of the need to work towards conservation of our animal kin to some people, and for others, it is a sign that a new beginning after an ending can begin.

The Cardinal Spirit Animal


The cardinal’s meaning when it’s a spirit animal is very special. Your spirit animal cardinal may appear to you regularly, even making a daily cardinal appearance. Like any spirit or totem animal, a cardinal bird totem stays with you for life, bestowing its guidance and strengths upon you. Like the cardinal, you will form close lifelong bonds with friends and lovers if the cardinal is your totem animal, and you will also love passionately. Like the cardinal animal, your voice will bring joy, and that may be through positive, or wise words, as opposed to just singing well.

If the cardinal is your totem animal, your adaptability to difficult situations will be strong like their ability to brave harsh winters, and like them, you won’t “fly away” at a challenge, but stay and tough it out. Like your totem cardinal, you will have a striking appearance, and you will and should take great pride in how well you take care of yourself. Developing a stronger relationship with cardinals if they are your spirit animals won’t manifest as having a cardinal pet, especially since it’s illegal, and the birds need their freedom, but giving treats and foods to them, or helping at a wildlife rescue that cares for them absolutely will!

To read more about spirit animals, click here:A Guide To Spirit Animals

Cardinal Bird vs Red Robin


The symbolism of a cardinal bird and that of the red robin are not the same although both beautiful birds have some red feathers! The red cardinal is a much brighter shade of red than the red robin, who has a beautiful russet chest, and is often referred to as “Robin Red Breast”. The robin is also called “The herald of Spring” because they are one of the earliest birds to return from migrating in the Springtime. Red robins’ eggs are a delightful shade of sky blue, and symbolize birth, rebirth, new life, and new beginnings. Red robin symbolism is that of good luck, but it’s very bad luck to harm a red robin or its eggs. The sacred feather of the red robin reminds Christians of the blood of their Christ, and it is said the robin brushed his blood with its feathers as it flew by Jesus’ crucifixion, and that’s why some of its feathers are russet colored.

The meaning of red cardinals, whether they be from cardinal bird images, cardinals in the heavens, or what the red cardinal’s gender is, the red cardinal bird stands for love, birth, passion, new beginnings, luck, and messages from the divine or the dead. The cardinal's red color, which comes mostly from what the cardinal eats makes the cardinal meaning spiritually to be even more powerful, because this is what the bird does to itself. The red cardinal bird meaning spiritually when you see one is an empowering sign of luck and love, and the red cardinal’s meaning can help you see the success of your love relationships and bring you the messages from your god and departed loved ones.

About the Author: Saoirse has studied magic and lore for most of her life, but started walking her own Magical Path after being spiritually reborn in the desert. Today she shares her gifts as a Psychic and Content Writer for Mysticsense and she writes for Pagan Pages emag.

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