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What Does It Mean When You See A Cardinal? (Symbolism & Meaning)

State bird of West Virginia is the Northern Cardinal

Birds symbolize many things, but do you know, what’s the cardinal meaning? What does a red cardinal symbolize? Most commonly, they’re associated with love, strength, good fortune, determination, good luck and happiness. But not only.

It’s also a common belief that cardinals are sent to those in need during difficult times. For example, if a friend or family member recently passed. It’s believed that if you see a cardinal while grieving, it’s the loved one who passed.


Cardinal Meaning & Symbolism

Northern Cardinal

© Elaine R. Wilson

Red cardinals meaning comes from their beauty, lifestyle, and behavior. They are, of course, known for their brilliant red feathers, but this is not all that is to them.

As with everything, cardinal symbolism can also be specific to you and your experiences, but there are some general symbols too.

Cardinals predominantly symbolize:

  • Self-confidence
  • Strong personality
  • Power. This could be over yourself or even others
  • Mental and physical alertness
  • Family and the importance of it
  • Embracing your passions
  • A loved one after their passing & the spirit world
  • The skill to adapt to any circumstance without a problem
  • Protection
  • Importance of sharing with others

Northern Cardinal’s red plumage shares qualities with the sun: enthusiasm, passion, liveliness, and strength of a person’s heart. Cardinals encourage us to realize and explore our hidden talents through your words, work ethic, and actions.

They are thought to be a good omen, even though they have a fierce personality.


What does it mean when you see a cardinal?

Seeing a cardinal can mean a few different things. It all depends on the person seeing it and what’s happening in their life at the time. Meaning also changes based on spiritual and religious beliefs.

Native Americans believe that if you see a cardinal and you’re single, there may be a romantic relationship in the future. If you’re already in a relationship, you may experience renewed courtship and romance.

Cherokee also believed cardinals bring news, be it good or bad.

To others, seeing cardinals is a sign of manifestation and encouragement for you to take action to achieve your goal.

Their red plumage is supposed to capture your attention, stop you, and make you realize that you need to change your actions. It’s a common belief that cardinals come to those who need inspiration and empowerment so they can make their dreams a reality.

They serve as reminders of the past and the future – messengers, comfort, angels, heaven, souls, guardian angels, and at the same time, new beginnings, and overall serve as a positive omen.


Cardinal Spiritual Meaning

Cardinals are wonderful spirit animals to have. They’re often associated with adventure, enthusiasm, energy, and determination.

Northern Cardinal

© Alan D. Wilson

These red birds represent every part of you that makes you unique and special. Their bright color reflects a person’s colorful personality. Not only can they represent personality, but they’re also known to be signs of remarkable progress and personal transformation.

In a Cherokee legend about how cardinals got their colors, transformation and selflessness are huge parts. In the legend, a raccoon teased the wolf and tricked it into jumping into the water to what turned out to be a reflection.

The wolf barely made it out and collapsed from fatigue, but the raccoon came back and filled the wolf’s eyes with mud. But then, a small brown bird came and pecked the mud away.

As thanks, the wolf directed him to a red stone and advised the cardinal to rub his feathers against it. According to the , the cardinal got the brilliant red plumage we know and love today.

Native American tribes cherished cardinals, so cardinals hold a huge part in their mythology and folklore.

Cardinals are also very confident, which you can commonly see at bird feeders! It’s not uncommon to see them scare off other birds so they can have a perch or even scare them from feeders so they can have a turn eating.

Northern Cardinals encourage you to live life to its fullest potential and explore and take risks to grow as an individual.

Christianity is known for its own cardinals, too. However, these cardinals belong to the Catholic Church – they are senior members of the clergy. While cardinals are not mentioned in the Bible, they are associated with God through angels and loved ones who have passed.


Meaning: Romance

Cardinals symbolize romance in a lot of ways. These birds are bright red, a color often associated with passion, and these birds are very loyal to each other. Cardinals are monogamous, meaning they only have one mate at a time and spend a lot of time with said partner.

However, if you see a cardinal pair in the wilderness, female cardinals look vastly different from male cardinals. This has to do with their laid-back nature. Males are fierce protectors. Females are protective too, but their main task is caring for their young.

If a cardinal crosses your path, it may mean that you will find love shortly. If you’re already in a relationship, it can mean that you’ll find a new commitment with your existing partner or experience a deeper connection with each other.


New Beginnings

Cardinals symbolize a lot of things, and new beginnings are one of them. You could be going through a rough time, and a cardinal will be there to tell you to accept the new beginning and move forward.

Northern Cardinal

However, cardinals represent new beginnings for everyone, even those who may be content with their lives. Most people believe new beginning symbolism is only for those experiencing trying times. This is not the case!

You could have a great job, be financially stable, and be in a happy relationship, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a new beginning coming your way. Be sure not to overlook the situation if you think cardinals are trying to tell you something. It could be a sign that it’s the right time for you to make a change.

But for next, let’s see, what’s the cardinal meaning on tattoo.


Red Cardinal – Tattoo Meaning

As stated previously, cardinals represent a few different things. So it’d be pretty easy for one to guess by gazing upon these incredible birds why they mean so many different things. Below, you’ll find the common reasons why people get cardinal tattoos.

Cardinals represent traits like:

  • Hope
  • Passion
  • Love
  • Energy
  • Grace
  • Renewal
  • Nobility
  • Family

If you’ve seen cardinal tattoos in person or looked them up online, you’ll notice that there isn’t any variation to cardinal tattoos. An excellent example of bird tattoo variation is Hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are tattooed in so many different ways, while cardinal tattoos tend to stick to portraits with their standard bright red color.

Read more: Bird Tattoo Meanings & Ideas

It’s completely understandable why there’s no variation when it comes to these tattoos because why change such a beautiful, distinctive piece? The cardinal’s bright red plumage really helps set cardinal tattoos apart from all the others.

Even though the designs are often simple, it’s hard to ignore the inherent beauty of the red color. Cardinal Tattoos are a great way to show pride, love for your family, hope, etc. Many people will get cardinal tattoos in honor of loved ones as well.


Frequently Asked Questions about Cardinal Meaning

What do cardinals represent?

Cardinals can represent a lot of things. Some of the more popular meanings are romance, confidence, new beginnings, strength, good fortune, a loved one saying hello, determination, and happiness.

What does it mean when a red cardinal crosses your path?

When a cardinal crosses your path, it could be trying to tell you that a new chapter in your life is coming. If you’re single, there may be a romantic relationship in the future. If you’re already in a relationship, you may experience renewed courtship and romance!

Cardinals crossing your path can also mean you must take action to achieve your goals. They’re supposed to make you realize that you need to change your actions and provide inspiration to do just that.

What is the spiritual message of a cardinal?

Cardinals are often associated with adventure, enthusiasm, energy, and determination. These birds represent every part of you that makes you unique and special. Their bright color reflects a person’s colorful personality. Overall, these birds encourage you to live life to its fullest potential and explore and take risks to grow as an individual.



As you saw, cardinal meaning is quite wide. Cardinals are beautiful birds that are known to be the bird that gets people into birding. They stand out and represent a lot of different things. You’ll be happy to know that seeing cardinals means all good things.

Seeing one should always be exciting because it means good things are coming your way or a loved one is saying hello. Since these birds represent so many different things when you see one, you should be sure that you’re paying attention to the birds’ behavior and how often you see them.

Watching their behavior will help give you a better idea of what it’s trying to tell you.

About the Author

Brianna Goulet

Brianna loves to get outdoors for everything creative and fun. She has a passion for birds and is a hobbyist wildlife photographer based in Central Florida. Her goal is to share everything you need to know about birds so you can get out there, explore, and identify confidently!

Let others know your thoughts or ask an expert


Sunday 17th of December 2023

I have a red bird following me,what do that mean?it started when I moved here from California.


Monday 18th of March 2024

@Dorothy, hi I was just reading the meanings behind Cardinals and as I was scrolling I came across your name. Which is my grandma's name who passed away in August of last year I been really missing her. Your name gave me a sign that the cardinal I just seen was her! ❤️ Thank you!

Sam Crowe

Tuesday 23rd of January 2024

Hi Dorothy,

You can read here:

Regina Cooper

Monday 6th of November 2023

I'm currently in the hospital. This morning a cardinal was trying to get through the window. My grandson pointed it out to me and my entire mindset changed. I started feeling the presence of my late mother. Wonderful comfort and peace surrounded both my grandson and I.

Patrick O'Donnell

Wednesday 8th of November 2023

@Regina- It's amazing what birds can do isn't it? Wishing you healing and more birds.

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