Cardinal meanings and symbolism include friendship, flair, home, love and devotion, good luck, music, and messages from angels. There are three species of cardinals and their native range spans from North America to the northern part of South America.1 So, these distinctive birds are favorites among people of diverse cultures, many of whom wonder what they symbolize. In this post, you’ll learn about cardinal meanings and symbolism, cardinal mythology and folklore, the cardinal spirit animal, and more.
Table of Contents
- What does it mean when you see a cardinal?
- Detailed Cardinal Symbols and Meanings
- Cardinal Angel Messages
- Blue Cardinal Meaning
- Cardinal Mythology and Folklore
- Native American Cardinal Meaning and the Number 12
- Choctaw Red Bird Legend
- Cherokee Cardinal Legend
- Cardinal Spirit Animal
- Cardinal Power Animal
- Cardinal Totem
- Cardinal Dream Meaning
- Cardinal Tattoo
- How You Can Help Cardinals
What does it mean when you see a cardinal?
If a cardinal shows up in your life and captures your attention, whether in real life, art, the media, or elsewhere – pay attention. There are no coincidences. Cardinals are always good omens. Here’s what the cardinal in your life might symbolize:
- Love and Devotion
- Good Luck
- Angel Messages
Detailed Cardinal Symbols and Meanings
The following are details about what the cardinal symbolizes and what these meanings might mean in your life.
Cardinals are such popular birds that they’re the state bird of seven U.S. states. With their bright red plumage and beautiful songs, it’s easy to spot them. And because they don’t migrate like other bird species, the cardinal is a “regular” in the neighborhood. They get to know the homes that have bird feeders and they socialize with their fellow cardinals and birds of other species who are in the area.
While male cardinals can be territorial, especially during mating periods, in general, cardinals are very social. They will even flock with birds of different species. So, the cardinal debunks to the myth that “birds of a feather flock together.”
For these reasons, the cardinal is a symbol of friendship. These birds are eager to introduce themselves, they like to be seen and heard, and they don’t mind if you’re a different sort of bird than they are.
As a symbol of friendship, the cardinal reminds you to put yourself out there. Join a club, maybe even a singing group. Get to know the people in your community, even those who may seem different from you.
According to the Ornithology Laboratory at Cornell University, male cardinals, with their bright crimson plumage, are the reason more people decided to become bird watchers than any other bird.2
And while male cardinals are the flashier of the two, female cardinals are also lovely. They’re just more understated than their male counterparts with their brown feathers and red highlights. And both the male and female cardinals sport the unmistakable tufted crown atop their heads.
While they are beautiful to look at, cardinals are more than meets the eye. In addition to their beauty, they have talent. Cardinals can sing.
If the cardinal is your spirit animal, or if one suddenly makes themselves known to you, it can be a sign to up your pizzazz factor. In other words, whatever you do, even if it’s going to the grocery store, do it with flair. Like the showy flamingo, the cardinal reminds you that you are here to shine. Put your best foot forward. Show the world what you’re made of. And do it with flair.
Cardinal Symbolism: Home
About 40 percent of the world’s birds take part in seasonal migrations.3 The cardinal is not one of them. They like to stay home year-round. It’s as though cardinals purposely stay around all winter so you can take gorgeous holiday photos of them perched in a holly tree against a snowy backdrop.
The cardinal is also an adept nest-builder. A female cardinal will search for potential nesting sites as the male tags along. Once the couple identifies a spot for their new home, the male will gather and carry nesting materials to the spot and the female will do the building. Then once the nest is built, the pair will line it with soft leaves in preparation for the arrival of their chicks.4
Needless to say, the cardinal is all about home life. While other birds are flying south for winter, the cardinal remains in their community. One of the reasons that cardinals are successful as a species and have even expanded their native territory north is the prevalence of bird feeders that people have put out to attract them. In other words, making home more comfortable for cardinals keeps them around.
As a symbol of the home and domestic life, the cardinal is a reminder of the importance of having a nest.
Is it a sign that the cardinal’s bright red plumage is the same color of the root chakra in your body? Your root chakra governs your security and stability. It’s the source of the primal energy that you use to secure your basic needs. (You can read more in UniGuide’s post about the muladhara, the root chakra.)
So, the red cardinal reminds you that when your nest, or home life, is stable and secure you and your loved ones can thrive.
Love and Devotion
Like eagles, ravens, and many other bird species, the cardinal is primarily a monogamous bird who mates for life. In addition, both male and female cardinals share in the responsibility of nurturing and raising their young.
Thus, the cardinal is a symbol of romantic love and devotion. The attentive cardinal is a reminder that true love transcends infatuation and lust. The cardinal is in it for the long haul – the ups, downs, and in-betweens.
If a cardinal comes into your life and you are in an established bond, it can be a sign to renew your commitment to each other. The cardinal never takes their mate for granted.
And if you’re single, the cardinal can be a sign to never settle for a relationship that is sub-par. If that means staying single until you find your soul mate, so be it. Love is not a guessing game. The cardinal says, If there’s a doubt, there is no doubt. In other words, if someone truly loves you, you should feel it without question.
Cardinal Meaning: Good Luck
If a cardinal shows up in your life and rivets your attention, view it as a positive omen. In traditional Native American cultures (which you can read more about below) as well as popular culture, the cardinal is a symbol of good luck.
As mentioned above, red is the color of primal energy. Red also symbolize wealth and prosperity. Thus, the cardinal symbolizes your capacity to seize on opportunities and makes things happen. Where you have the will, you will find the energy to manifest your dreams.
One of 5,000 species of songbirds,5 the cardinal has at least 28 different songs (or distinct chirps) that they sing.6 What makes the cardinal more unusual than most other songbirds is that the female sings too. A male cardinal will sing to claim a territory and let the female know he’s done so. Then the female will often match the notes of his song. The female will also sing when the pair’s chicks are born, telling her mate to bring food.
Because they’re such prolific singers, the cardinal is a symbol for music. They remind us that music is one of the most energizing and healing forces in the Universe.
If a cardinal makes themselves known to you, whether via their beautiful songs or by showing up in your life in another way, it can be a sign to bring more music into your life.
This is especially important if you or someone you know is facing a health challenge. Music heals. Even for people who are experiencing memory loss, music has the power to get through to them when other methods do not.
If you already sing or play an instrument, the cardinal is a positive sign to keep honing your craft. If you love music but never tried singing or playing an instrument, the cardinal is “egging” you on to give it a try. And if you’re happy just being a listener, the cardinal spirit animal encourages you to explore your musical horizons. The world of music is unlimited.
Cardinal Angel Messages
There is an old saying that goes:
“When cardinals appear, angels are near.”
In fact, in many cultures around the world, birds (along with butterflies) are seen as purveyors of messages from the spirit world. Like the hummingbird, the cardinal is viewed as a special messenger because, while they are less common than birds like pigeons, when they are present, they are highly noticeable.
In this video, sisters Deborah Booth Patterson and Jeanne Booth Wright share the story of how their mother who had passed came through to them via a cardinal:
Etymology of the Word Cardinal
The word “cardinal” is derived from the Latin word cardinalis, which means “serving as a hinge.” The root of the word cardinalis is cardo, which means “hinge.”
The cardinal bird is named after the principle Roman Catholic priests who are called cardinals and who wear red. These priests were compared to hinges to underscore their importance and connection between parishioners and God.7
While cardinal birds were named after cardinal clergymen, it’s a lovely case of synchronicity that cardinal birds are viewed as important messengers that remind you of your connection to your angels, spirit guides, or loved ones who have passed on to the spirit world.
Even if you don’t have real cardinals showing up in your life, if you have a loved one who has passed who loved cardinals, you can honor them with cardinal artwork and other related symbols. They will know you are honoring them.
Meaning of Seeing Two Cardinals
If you see two cardinals and one is red and the other brown, they are likely a couple. This is a positive omen for everlasting true love.
If you see two red cardinals, it’s two males. This can also symbolize love. It can also symbolize friendly competition and be a sign to up your game – improve an area of your life and do it better.
Dead Cardinal Meaning
Many people are understandably upset if they come across a dead bird or other animal. If you find a dead cardinal, you may wonder what it means and if it’s some kind of sign. From an environmental standpoint, it can be important to try to find out why a bird or birds have died in your area. The cause can be pesticides, rat poison, or some other toxin. However, cardinals only live in the wild for about three years. So, it’s also possible that the bird died of natural causes.
What’s important if you find a dead cardinal or other animal is to honor them. Many psychics and mediums say that when people or animals pass, their spirits do have some interest in what happens to their Earthly bodies. This is why so many cultures around the world have spiritual traditions about honoring the bodies of those who have passed, whether through burial, cremation, or another tradition.
If you find a dead cardinal, do not view it as a bad omen. Instead, it can mean that you have been chosen to honor their life and their spirit through prayer, meditation, or another way.
What does it mean if a cardinal hits your window?
It’s awful to witness a bird hitting a window. Birds will fly into windows because the reflection on the window appears to be trees or sky. In the case of cardinals, particularly males, they may see their own reflection in the window and think it’s an intruding male.
The Humane Society has recommendations on how you can help prevent cardinals and other birds from flying into windows. In addition, there are a number of YouTube videos with recommendations.
Blue Cardinal Meaning
Many people wonder what it means if they see a blue cardinal. For one, it would be a miracle – because there are no blue cardinals! However, there are blue birds who closely resemble cardinals, particularly those who have crests on their heads.
Blue birds who resemble cardinals include the blue jay and Steller’s jay. In addition, some people think the blue grosbeak resembles a cardinal. (Look for posts on the meanings of these birds soon!)
Cardinal Mythology and Folklore
As a bird who is native to North America, the cardinal is important in Native American mythology and folklore. In general, cardinals are viewed as positive omens in these cultures. For example, for the Pueblo, the cardinal is a directional guardian who is associated with the south. While the Aikimel O’odham, or Pima People, associate the cardinal with lightning, saying the cardinal predicts when rain will come. The Cherokee also believe that cardinals give signs about upcoming weather.8
Native American Cardinal Meaning and the Number 12
While they are not always known for it, ancient Native American cultures used mathematical systems to understand their world. In particular, the numbers 1 – 12 had deep symbolic meaning, with 3, 4, and 7 being particularly auspicious.9
Cardinals generally lay four eggs three times per year, so 12 eggs per year.10 Some Native American tribes follow a 12-moon calendar. So, as non-migratory birds, cardinals could be seen during all 12 moons or all 12 months of the year. Thus, for Native Americans, the cardinal symbolizes abundance and good luck, as the number 12 is a lucky number.
Choctaw Red Bird Legend
For the Choctaw People, the cardinal symbolizes love and matchmaking. One Choctaw story tells the tale of how this came to be:
Once upon a time, there was a lovely maiden who lived by herself in a lodge. She was careful to take good care of her lodge, but she was very lonely. One day, she sat outside her lodge crying. Hearing her cries, a bright red bird came and perched on a branch nearby.
The maiden said to the red bird, “Red Bird, is it strange for me to want to have someone to care for? If it’s not so strange, why have I not found him?”
The red bird felt compassion for the maiden, so he visited her often so she had someone to talk to. In between his visits, he flew around, visiting other villages. One day on his travels, the red bird saw a handsome brave sitting alone by the river. The red bird perched nearby and began to sing. Eventually, the brave forgot his troubles as the red bird’s beautiful singing charmed him.
The red bird sang his heart out but eventually he grew tired. He was also flying back and forth to visit the maiden. Eventually, it was too much for him, and the red bird became sick. Seeing how weak he was, the brave went to him. The red bird fell to the ground but began hopping. He knew had to return to the maiden. So, the brave followed him, thinking he could help him to this nest once they got there.
However, instead of to a tree, the red bird led the brave to a lodge. Sitting outside the lodge, was the beautiful maiden. The brave suddenly understood why the red bird had been singing to him so forcefully.
The brave approached the maiden. At first he was shy. The maiden was so shy she could not speak. But after a while, they began to speak as if they were old friends. And the red bird understood that his work for the Great Spirit was done.11
Cherokee Cardinal Legend
The Cherokee have a legend about how the cardinal became red.
How the Red Bird Got His Color
Raccoon had a great deal of fun teasing Wolf. One day when Wolf’s back was turned, Raccoon snuck up behind him and yelled insulting words about his backside, then pulled Wolf’s tail and ran away.
Wolf turned angrily, but Raccoon had already scrambled up a tree by the river and crawled out on the longest branch. Wolf saw Raccoon’s reflection in the water and, thinking it was Racoon, he lunged into the water. However, the water was deep and the current strong. Wolf nearly drowned as he flailed in the water. When he finally made it to shore, he was so exhausted, he laid down on the river bank and fell asleep.
Once Wolf was asleep, Raccoon climbed down the tree and plastered Wolf’s eyes closed with dung. He then snuck away giggling.
When Wolf woke up, he could not open his eyes, so he began to howl and cry.
A little brown bird heard his cries and landed on his shoulder. “What’s wrong?” the brown bird asked. “I cannot open my eyes. I’ve gone blind,” Wolf cried. “Can you help me? I will reward you.”
So, the little brown bird began to peck and soon he got all of the plastered dung off of Wolf’s eyes.
Seeing the brown bird for the first time and grateful for his help, Wolf said, “Follow me.” He led the brown bird to a special red rock. “Get this rock wet and then paint yourself with the paint it makes,” said Wolf.
The brown bird did as he was told and he became a beautiful red bird. That is how the red bird got his color.12
Cardinal Spirit Animal
When the cardinal is your spirit animal, you have a lucky guardian on your side. Cardinal people enjoy their home life but they also like to dress up, see, and be seen. If the cardinal is your spirit animal, you are probably a person who loves music and the way it brings people together. You are also a person who is very devoted to your mate and your friends.
Another quality of cardinal people is that they are tuned to the spirit world. Cardinal people take note of even the smallest miracles and feel in touch with their loved ones who have passed.
If you’re curious about other animals who might be your spirit guides in addition to the cardinal, you can take UniGuide’s spirit animal quiz and read more in the spirit animal overview post.
Cardinal Power Animal
As the name implies, a power animal can inspire you with their most dynamic traits. So, if you want to transform an area of your life, mediate on the attributes that the power animal represents. For example, you can mediate on the cardinal power animal in situations when you:
- Want to fortify the security and increase the happiness of your home life.
- Are hoping to meet your soul mate or you want to strengthen your relationship with your romantic partner.
- Need some good luck to come into your life.
- Want to fine tune your psychic abilities and tune into loved ones who have passed.
An animal totem encapsulates the protective powers of the animal they represent. Thus, the cardinal totem is a helpful symbol for attracting a healthy, nurturing romantic relationship into your life. Or, it can help to protect the bond you share with your existing partner. The cardinal totem is also a helpful talisman for manifesting more good luck in your life. In addition, the cardinal totem is a good luck symbol for creating a happier and more secure home life.
Cardinal Dream Meaning
What does it mean if you dream of a cardinal? A cardinal dream can be a message or visitation from a loved one who has passed, letting you know they are present and that they are well.
When we are living in the material world, learning on the Earthly plane, it’s extremely difficult when those we love pass on to the spirit world. Simple signs like a visitation from a cardinal or butterfly can give us comfort. The simplest of signs in nature allow us to stay focused on the work that we still have to do here on Earth, even though our loved one has moved on.
Dreams are personal to each dreamer. And while cardinals are often associated with angels, cardinal dream meaning can vary from person to person. Analyzing the emotions you felt in your dream with how you perceive cardinals in your daily life can help you understand what your dream is telling you. Furthermore, learning more about cardinals and what they symbolize in the collective consciousness can broaden your awareness and provide added insights.
A cardinal tattoo is a beautiful symbol that can demonstrate your connection to the Earth and your spirit guides. It can also show the world that you are devoted to the idea of true love and soul mates. In addition, a cardinal tattoo may demonstrate that you are a music lover and believe in music’s power to heal.
Like dreams, tattoos are deeply personal. But hopefully understanding more about cardinal mythology and symbols will bring even deeper meaning to your tattoo.
How You Can Help Cardinals
Thanks in part to the number of people who put out bird feeders, cardinals are not among the many threatened and endangered bird species. However, cardinals do face some threats. For example, habitat loss in southeastern California has pushed cardinal populations further north. In addition, cardinals face threats from insecticides and other toxins in the environment. Furthermore, cardinals or their eggs are preyed upon by cats, owls, hawks, snakes, chipmunks, and other animals.13
If you care about cardinals, you can provide year-round accessible food and water to them with feeders and bird baths. In addition, be mindful if you see cardinal nests in your area. You can also take precautions to prevent cardinals from flying into windows and support bird-protection organizations like the Audubon Society.
You might be interested in these other articles on UniGuide:
- When God Sends a Cardinal
- 222 Angel Number
- 808 Meaning
- Rose Symbolism
- Eagle Meaning
- Duck Meaning
- White Butterfly Meaning
14 thoughts on “Cardinal Meaning & Symbolism & the Cardinal Spirit Animal”
I was down for a nap and just had a dream about having 2 sons and a daughter. Well my husband and I were sitting outside and we saw the brown female and the red male in our yard only for them to be joined by another red male!!! My husband and I was like wow we’re having 3 more kids!
Love it! More bird lovers in the world is a good thing. :o)
I actually looked only for advice about cardinals’ nesting behavior. I have a mother with 4 eggs in my Boston Fern. I leave my house now through the side entrance not to disturb them. I am very excited that they chose my house. I always feed my birds outside, I am a big animal lover and have spent 13 years in rescue, just rescued last week a non-poisoned snake and relocated it to another place. When I was really down a few years ago, I had a cardinal visit me. I could almost get so close that I could touch him. I talked to him, he should wait until I could get the camera. He waited. When a friend told me about the fact that sometimes passed loved ones communicate with you that way and give you strength, I knew it was my husband, father, grandmother, or good friend. It made me so calm and happy. Therefore, I am so happy that they are nesting at my house, two male ones, and other small birds watching over them. How cool to watch this.
Well, that sound like a lovely honor – and that the cardinals know what they’re doing! We don’t have them here in northern California, so I envy you that you get to have them so close by! Thank for rescuing animals too!
My wife and I love our morning coffee on the patio watching the birds. On Saturday, we were overjoyed to watch 3 beautiful males cardinals flying around to yard. We have been married, divorced and remarried and this week, we are renewing our vows. So 3 cardinals matching our 3 “weddings”.
As they say – three’s a charm! Love it. And congratulations!
Hi Kristen, today we saw 6 Cardinals sitting in a circle. They seemed to be resting. We wondered what this symbolized.. We’re in Tennessee near our Cherokee neighbors, but couldn’t find any folklore about this phenomenon. Do you have any ideas?
Wow! What a sight that must have been. And I love the location where you saw them – beautiful Tennessee and near your Cherokee neighbors. I do know that cardinals will flock together. (But during mating season, they branch off in pairs.) When I read your comment, I immediately saw a council meeting in my head – as Native Americans do around a fire. So, it was like it was a meeting of spirit guides.
I am just starting to learn more about numerology but I know the number 6 is associated with family and is considered a harmonious number. One of the reasons is that the divisors of the number 6 (other than 6 itself) – 1, 2, and 3 – add up to each other. The number 6 is also representative of our intuition, or psychic abilities, as it’s ours sixth sense, or ESP.
Finally, 6 + 6 = 12, and 12 is a sacred number for many Native Americans and it’s associated with cardinals, as I wrote about in this post. I hope this helps! Thanks again for sharing this story.
Thank you for that observation!
The most common interpretation of a cardinal is a message from a departed loved one. Whenever you see one, it signifies that they are visiting you. They generally appear when you need or miss them the most. They also come through moments of joy and sorrow to let you know they will always be there for you. Besides, a cardinal can convey other meanings, such as love, truthfulness, and good fortune.
I have always fed the birds I get a variety of songbirds chickadees the morning doves, woodpeckers and of course the Chipmunks are there at the bottom, with squirrels. Unfortunate enough to have a good half acre of woods behind my house. Some neighbors cut down a whole bunch of trees and I knew that’s where Cardinals lived. And this summer they came to live in my yard, and of course I don’t mind that. What upsets me is when people cut down trees for no reason whatsoever except so that their yard looks beautiful. What we need is to worry more about the wildlife and the spiders and the bugs and the bees because that’s what the birds eat and it upsets me so much. I just found this site and I really like it and I do believe that the Cardinal is my spirit bird, my mother passed away this past August and I know she came to me through the Cardinals.
Hi Debra, Thank you for your comment and love of nature. I am happy to hear the wildlife have a sanctuary with you! Too many people have become disassociated from nature. I think that every little bit helps when we care for animals and nature. I am glad you have cardinals where you live. We don’t have them in the Bay Area in California, but we have some other wonderful birds who I appreciate!
Thank you 🙏💯
I appreciate you expounding on their various messages. So lovely.🥰
I’ve been wondering about my spirit animal, and then you make it clear. 🤓
I see them often in many situations: couples, groups, etc. Their songs capture my attention. 🕊️🎶💪
Very cool. Cardinals are special to my mom too. Her friend, an artist, even gave her a painting of a pair of them. I’m glad you have found your spirit animal – or one of them at least!