What Does A Cardinal Represent? (19 Meanings & Symbolism)


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Seeing a cardinal during times of celebrations or hardships can invoke many spiritual or emotional feelings. As a beloved backyard visitor, it is the state bird in seven of the United States.  

The sight of or dream about a cardinal often causes people to pause and ponder about its visit and what it means.  

Commonly cardinals are thought of as a visit or message from a deceased loved one, reminding a person that they are not alone. Cardinals can represent balance, devotion, endurance, self-confidence, and holiday cheer. Some cultures view this red bird in spiritual ways. A rare white cardinal also brings optimistic outcomes for life, wisdom, and more.

Whether you see a cardinal as just a bird, or something more, it can be fun to explore what this beautiful bird means to others. Read on to learn more about these ideas.

Cardinal Representation (19 Meanings & Symbolism)

Northern cardinals (Cardinalis Cardinalis) are beautiful songbirds native to parts of Canada, the eastern United States, Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala.  

Color And Appearance

Cardinals have a short and thick bill for crushing seeds and a prominent crest of head feathers. 

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Males are bright and brilliant red, with a red bill surrounded by a black mask. Females (and juveniles of both sexes) are paler in color.  

Females are brown with duller red tinges and highlights in the crest, tail, and wings. They also have a black mask and reddish bill.

Other cardinal species are the following:

  • Pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus): found in America (southwest) and Mexico (northern); males are gray and red with a yellow bill
  • Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena): found in the United States (west); males are brilliant blue with a dull-orange and white belly; lack of head crest; similar appearance to finches

Please note: This article will focus primarily on the red northern cardinal.

Virtues And Ideas

The sight of the cardinal can mean different things to people and cultures (even with a lack of anecdotal evidence). 

It is not only entertaining to see and hear these birds in your yard but what they might represent to you personally. 

The following interpretations, symbolism, beliefs, and meanings are just some of what others believe cardinals represent to them in their personal virtues and ideas. 

These can be applied to cardinal sightings or dreams about them.

1. A Visit From A Deceased Loved One

Cardinals are thought to be gifts or messages from loved ones that have passed away. This is one of the most common and popular beliefs about cardinals.

The sight of one brings peace, hope, and memories of the deceased person to mind. It can comfort the grieving person knowing that they are not truly alone, giving that person strength and inspiration.

Knowing that a loved one supports you from beyond the grave can help a person search for answers, make decisions, and find the correct path to move forward.

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2. Hope & Renewal

Seeing a cardinal outside or in a dream can be a symbol of hope or new beginnings.

A person may feel renewed or uplifted in mood after a sighting, as its vibrant color and singing encourages optimism.

3. Archangel Messenger

In traditional Catholic churches, high-ranking clergymen are called “cardinals” and wear bright red robes. As a correlation, cardinal birds are associated with angels, hope, and heaven.

The sight of a cardinal may also represent one of the following archangels from the Christian Bible: Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel.

These angels are thought to influence and encourage cultures bringing guidance, supervision, and protection. They rule over the fire, water, air, and earth elements.  

Fire means that you must initiate inspiration and challenge the status quo.

Air means that plans and ideas must take place for intellectual development.

Water represents creativity, relationships, and emotional connections.

Earth is about day-to-today responsibilities and the environment.

When a cardinal is seen it may represent how these elements are affecting your life. Take note of where the cardinal has landed to see what message it is delivering. 

For example, a cardinal on firewood or a powerline means you need to make changes and challenge the status quo. If the cardinal is near water, it is time to work on your creative pursuits.

4. Spiritual Messenger

Some people believe that cardinals are important messengers of guidance, much like the archangel beliefs. 

Rather than representing an angel or element, people see cardinals as messengers between the doorway of Earth and spirit realms. In Latin, cardo means “hinge”, much like that of a doorway.

The sight of a cardinal means it is time to reconnect and pray for better spiritual health, and that you are not alone in your hardships.

5. Balance

These birds live hardy, balanced lives in the wild. Both parents work together to raise healthy offspring.

To some, cardinals represent balance in family and love.

Seeing a cardinal can be a reminder to ensure you have balance in your life, making changes as needed. It can be a reminder to focus on and spend time with your family.

Dreaming about a cardinal can also indicate that things are out of balance. 

This serves as a reminder to lighten the load, set boundaries, and make schedules to keep your priorities and balance in check.

6. Devotion

Unlike many other birds, male cardinals help the females care for and raise the young. 

He contributes more food than the female and continues to care for the fledglings, while the mother moves off to raise another brood.

Cardinals can remind you about the devoted people you have in your life, or to make changes yourself to be more devoted in your relationships.

7. Honesty And Truthfulness

Some believe that the sighting of a cardinal represents a time to reflect on any current situations. 

It is a time to ask if you are being honest with yourself or if others around you are being truthful in their intentions towards you or a relationship.

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Analyzing sincerity in relationships can foster positive change.

8. Set Boundaries

Cardinals are very territorial, especially during breeding seasons. They will fight off intruders, emitting a sharp “tink” call, lowering their crest, and dive-bombing.

Cardinal sightings may be a reminder that you need to set boundaries in your life at work or in relationships.

9. Pay Attention: 2 Cardinals

If you see 2 cardinals at once, it indicates that you need to stop and pay more attention. 

This can be a message about taking note of the physical world or emotional connections and relationships.  

It may be an indication that you need to develop, remedy, or strengthen relationships with others or take better care of your surroundings.

10. Good News

If a cardinal is at your window, it may mean that good news, good luck, or new opportunities are coming your way. 

It could mean that you need to stop worrying. 

People often think this will be an improvement in or an abundance of finances. 

11. Bad News

Conversely, a cardinal tapping at or hitting the window could mean that someone important in your life will soon pass away. 

This represents a message that the cardinal will be there to support you in your time of grief.

12. Lucky Number 12

In Native American culture, the numbers 1 through 12 are strongly correlated with symbolism. 

12 is often associated with cardinals since they can be found all 12 months of the year.

Since cardinals lay 2 to 3 clutches of eggs a year, with 3 to 4 eggs, they often raise up to 12 offspring.

So, if a cardinal is seen, some may expect to have good news or luck within 12 hours or 12 days after the sighting. Perhaps it may even come at 12 o’clock.

13. Romance, Passion, & Commitment

Cardinals produce beautiful songs of down-slurred, two-part whistles that speed up and end with a slow trill rhythm. It can sound like “cheer” or “birdie”. 

While they sing to warn of intruders, or as a signal to bring more food, they also sing to attract mates.  

Cardinals typically mate for life, staying together during the nesting season.

Therefore the sighting of a singing cardinal can be a sign that you are in a romantic, passionate, and committed relationship … or that one is coming your way.

14. Holiday Cheer

Cardinals’ brilliant red in cold and snowy winters brings a sense of holiday cheer. 

Their image can be found on Christmas tree ornaments, holiday decor, and more. Their cheerful color reminds us that spring is coming again and more color is to come into the yard.

15. Positivity

When cardinals are seen outside of the holiday season, they may be considered a sign of positivity.

They are reminders to live life to the fullest, spreading joy and positivity.

16. Endurance

Cardinals endure the winter season, instead of migrating. They do not molt into dulled plumage, making them highly visible against snowy backdrops.

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Their bright color amongst empty trees without leaves shows that “light” can shine in the “darkness”.

Since cardinals endure the winter, they can be a reminder that we can endure hardships too. 

17. Self-Confidence

Cardinals’ bright red presence in the landscape shows that they are unafraid, determined, and proud to show themselves. 

This can be a reminder that we can be unequivocally ourselves, creative, unafraid, and confident in the world. This can inspire new ideas, creativity, taking initiative, and self-confidence.

18. Native American Symbolism: Various Meanings

Native American mythology and folklore see the cardinal or “redbird” as a clear message about life, death, and the world.  

It varies by tribe, but a redbird can represent the following:

  • Sunlight
  • Wisdom
  • Good fortune
  • Romance and matchmaking
  • Predictor of rain
  • Predictor of bloody noses
  • Messenger of good or bad news
  • Carrier of souls to the afterlife (someone is going to pass away)

19. White Cardinal Symbolism

About 1 out of 1,800 cardinals are born with an overall white appearance. While it is not true albinism, it is called “leucism”. 

This is when there is a lack of melanin-producing enzymes. The bird will have some light red streaks, dark eyes, and a reddish beak.

These birds can be at risk because they are seen differently by predators and are also less likely to mate.

However, if you have the opportunity to see one, it can represent the following (much like other animals that are white or rare):

  • Great wisdom
  • Good luck
  • Truth or clarity
  • Fertility
  • Plentiful rain
  • Bountiful harvest

This video gives further insight into the life of the northern cardinal:


In Conclusion

The beautifully red cardinal holds spiritual and emotional meanings for many people. 

It brings about feelings of love and devotion, endurance and hope, and holiday cheer. Cardinals often bring loved ones that have passed away to mind.

Native American cultures honor red birds as signs of carrying souls, plentiful rain, sunlight, wisdom, and good fortune.  

Learning about the cardinal’s devotion to its mate and offspring, and its ability to survive snowy and cold climates, makes it easy to see why it is an inspiring bird to so many people.

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James Goodman

James is a native Texan with a love for birding and outdoor adventures. When he's not birdwatching, you can find him hiking, camping or playing the piano.

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