Sketching Out Blog: Sketches of art, watercolor, photos, recipes, books, interviews, Jewish topics, and Highland Park, New Jersey

Northern Cardinal Name

cardinal male red in tree
Which came first: the Catholic leader or the bird? What do you think? Answer at the bottom of this post.

In terms of location, cardinals live on the eastern side of North America. It seems if you feed them like I do (I give them black oil sunflower seeds), they came back to visit often.
male cardinal in tree
I don’t know how I got so close to this particular cardinal to take his photo.

cardinal turns his head
Note the fluffiness of the feathers. If you want to see a female cardinal, you can visit this old post.

cardinal male fluffy and red
A few years ago I did a cardinal watercolor painting.

Now for the source of the Northern cardinal name: the Catholic leader came first. From Wikipedia:

Cardinal, 1125, “one of the ecclesiastical princes who constitute the sacred college,” from L. cardinalis “principal, chief, essential,” from cardo (gen. cardinis) “that on which something turns or depends,” originally “door hinge.” Ecclesiastical use began for the presbyters of the chief (cardinal) churches of Rome.

The N.Amer. songbird (Cardinalis virginianus) is attested from 1678, so named for its resemblance to the red robes of the cardinals.

Here is a funny response: How the Cardinal Got Its Name, in which he says “Catholic cardinals wear red to hide spaghetti sauce stains.”

Read: How did the Northern Cardinal get its name? – In 1758 the Cardinal was one of the many species originally described by Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, who laid the foundations for the modern scheme of binomial nomenclature, in the genus Loxia cardinalis. Loxia is derived the Greek loxos which means crosswise. Based on appearance, Linnaeus thought the Cardinal was related to the Red Crossbill. However taxonomists found the two species were not closely related. Subsequently in 1838, it was changed to the genus Cardinalis and given the scientific name Cardinalis virginianus, which means “Virginia Cardinal” because there were a lot of Cardinals in Virginia. Then in 1918, the scientific name was changed to Richmondena cardinalis to honor Charles Wallace Richmond, an American ornithologist. But in 1983 that was changed again, to Cardinalis cardinalis and the common name was also changed to “Northern Cardinal.” There are actually several bird species in the world with the name Cardinal. The term “Northern” in the common name refers to its range, as it is the only cardinal found in the Northern Hemisphere. And the “Cardinal” name was derived from the vivid red plumage of the male, which resembles the robes of the Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church.

Finally, lots of good information on cardinals in general: What you should know about Cardinal – Northern birds

Early settlers were said to have named this bird after the Cardinal of the Catholic Church because the red of the bird reminded them of the color of the Cardinal’s robes. Since 1886, the Cardinal has considerably expanded its territory from being rarely seen north of the Ohio River to thriving over much of North America. The Northern Cardinal is quite similar to the Pyrrhuloxia, which is a southwestern species that is mostly gray with a crest tipped in red.

Thanks to Lorri (follow the link for hatching cardinal babies) for helping me find informational links.

Lorri M. says

Your photos are so delightful! I love the captions, too.

The discussion re the cardinals and how they got their name was a great one! I enjoyed all of the resulting FB links, and facts-including the comical "spaghetti sauce" one.

Thank you for the mention, Leora!

Leora says

It was fun to find your baby cardinals on your blog.

Ramblingwoods says

i really enjoyed this post Leora. I love to learn new info and the photos are amazing. You really got some really clear photos of a more shy bird.... Michelle

Leora says

Hm, I have an easier time with photographing than cardinals than, say, the blue jays. The jays fly away when I approach.

EG CameraGirl says

I have a pair of cardinals that come to my feeders too. They are so beautiful and your photos are great. Thanks for the trivia!

Leora says

I do enjoy them. They are an incentive to keep filling those feeders.

Eileen says

Hello Leora, this is a great post on the Cardinals.. It is interesting how they were named.. Love the photos.. Have a happy day!

Carver says

Fantastic shots of the cardinal and very informative post.

Laura Hegfield says

So handsome Leora… their visits are such a bright spot during these nearly monochromatic winter days.

Susan Cooper says

I have long love the besuty of the Cardinal. The imformation you shared about ther name was so interesting. I do laugh about the spaghetti one. On another note I do miss see them outside my window when I lived back east. I vividly remember a bush of them on a snowy day. It was a beautiful sight.

Freda Mans says

Beautiful photos of a stunning Cardinal!

Jeannette Paladino says

Fun post, Leora. I had no idea Cardinals were named for the red robes that Cardinals (the Catholic ones) wear!

Derek says

Of all the birds that I see on the internet but never see in real life the Cardinal is easily my favourite. You've captured some beautiful shots of it too in this very entertaining post.

Have a nice day.

Laura says

Amazing pictures. I see cardinals all the time around my house, but never got such a close-up look! Whenever I see them, I always think about "Angry Birds."

bettyl - NZ says

What wonderful and vivid color!

Donna@Gardens Eye View says

An interesting thought although knowing the church is so old I would have guessed the church name came first....I had never thought how the birds resemble the Cardinals of the church until recently.

Mary says

Amazing photos of this beautiful bird!

A.k.Andrew says

These are such beautiful birds and your very lucky to have them come visit you. Hilarious the spaghetti sauce reference.! Good post Leora:-)