I came across an interesting fact when I typed in a Google search for “redbird” years ago. It wasn’t just that one fact that a Redbird is the same as a Northern Cardinal. It’s also a “Summer tanager,” which is not as well known, but it is a medium-sized songbird that was described by a Swedish naturalist back in 1758. The location given was Carolina but it was revised to North Carolina.
As a Santa Cruz County native, I knew that Santa Cruz High School’s mascot is the Cardinal and so is Stanford’s, which is a school I longed to go to when I graduated from High School. I didn’t have the grades for it but I still liked going there to visit with a friend of mine, Mark Hernandez, who was our Senior Class President at Watsonville High School with other friends like my good buddy Gary Rojas who also made the trips during his Freshman 1987-1988 school year.
We eagerly hung out with his new friends in his dorm and I remember one weekend, we got to see the Cardinal Men’s Basketball team and it was such a blast to be able to be inside that arena, watching the excitement, feeling that rush of being alive, seizing the moment while still in our youth, seeing this team out on the court working their butts off for adoration and respect, but most of all, to win the game.
My wife Melanie, who you will be learning a little bit about in these columns I am now writing as a freelancer, graduated with the Class of 1989 from Webb City High School in Webb City, MO, and was part of the school’s dance team called the “Redettes”. Their team was the Cardinals.
The St. Louis Cardinals are a popular team to root for out here in Central Illinois. Sure, there’s the Cubs, but you still will see those diehard fans with their red and white jerseys and hats, parading around town or at work on game days.
Then we know that Illinois State University is the home of the Redbirds and they had several students that went on to become celebrities such as Jane Lynch, Craig Robinson, John Malkovich, Gary Sinise, Sean Hayes, and one of my personal favorites, Gary Cole, who played Bill Lumbergh in the cult classic Office Space.
Illinois State had banners all around Uptown Normal calling it “Redbird Country” but I have not seen them up in a while.
There are 7 States that have named the Northern Cardinal as their “state bird.” They are Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia, and then finally, Virginia. They are thought of as being a symbol of hope, joy, health, rejuvenation, and celebration. What I’ve found out is that it is also known among bird watchers that fans of the Northern Cardinal are rare, energetic, and always willing to take care of those in need.
Victoria McGovern once famously said, “May you come to find comfort in and remember: cardinals appear when angels are near. So go now, sit outside and drink your tea. Keep a look out for the little red bird — if it is there, your loved one will be.”
I don’t know if Redbird Country could be considered one place though. I think it’s all around us, because in my travels around the Midwest as an Uber & Lyft Driver, I’ve met countless people from all walks of life who are much like the cardinals mentioned in McGovern’s quote. Those people were like angels to me. I had a passenger last night who I talked with and she said, “I’m proud of you for going back to school.” I didn’t know her before that ride and I may never see her again.
So, in the question, “Where is Redbird Country?” – I have to reply that Redbird Country is everywhere but especially, after living here in Central Illinois for almost 20 years now, that even if I was not raised here, it is most certainly in my heart.