20 Cardinal Tattoos to Remember Loved Ones


Memorializing a loved one with a cardinal tattoo is a great way to pay tribute to them. Not only does it show that you loved and respected them, but it also conveys how you plan on keeping their memory alive.

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If you get lost on exactly what kind of tattoo you should get, then think about all the things they enjoyed, including cardinals. The time of day, season, activities, and places they loved to visit will give you plenty to think about. But here's a short list of ideas to get you started.

What Do Cardinal Tattoos Mean?

It's no surprise that this lovely ruby or pale, brown-colored bird represents many things for many people. Across cultures and people globally, you'll discover that cardinals can be religious across multiple spectrums, ancient and mythical, and even psychological, given the various things these birds mean in dreams. 

As a tattoo, the cardinal represents many things, including hope, family, love, nobility, and more. The tattoo can also add meaning wherever you ink, such as your body's right or left side or covering a scar. Even the day, time, and location can impact the importance of the tattoo. 

But in the end, what cardinals symbolize when they become part of your body is up to you to define.

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Memorial Cardinal Tattoo Ideas with Flowers

Choose from cultivated or wildflowers with summer or winter themes and various tattooing effects for visual appeal when using flowers.

1. Male cardinal and yellow roses

Yellow is a happy color. Think of the sun, swallowtail butterflies, gold rings, daisies, and even yellow roses. 

Choosing a bright red male cardinal with a yellow rose will then signify both family and joyfulness. If you need a pick-me-up, you can look at the boldness of color and remember brighter days. 

2. Watercolor flowers with cardinals

A more recent trend in tattooing has been the watercolor technique, which, admittedly, fades more quickly than color-saturated tattoos. 

Still, the style allows for broader use of colors in a way that might otherwise look messy. Here, the splashes of color can react or create a sense of movement with the cardinal in flight or when perched.

Pro-tip: Flowers are more than just a backdrop. They can be tattoos on the cardinal as well. 

3. Prairie flowers with cardinal

Choose from any of the wildflowers located nearby or ones that remind you of the places you'd visit with your loved one. 

Create a colorful, dramatic scene on your forearm or leg, or choose tiny tattoos between fingers and shoulders.

4. Cardinal on spruce

Create a wintry scene with a cardinal perched on a spruce branch, with berries, pinecones, and a few red flowers for effects.

Include your loved one's name and the date of their passing on a branch, or ask the tattoo artist to create a kind of sash for visibility. 

5. Stained glass

Consider another option where the flowers look like rosettes on church windows, and cardinals can be tattooed as if soldered by the artist's hand. The result may not have as much shading or detail, but it will look like a little stained glass window.

Black and White Memorial Cardinal Tattoo Ideas

Black and white (or black and gray) tattoos are a popular technique that only uses black ink and then dilutes the color to create varying shades of gray. Maintain the theme or add dimension with a single color rose bloom, feather, or something else. 

6. Black and white flowers with red cardinal

Opt for a black and white backdrop for the tattoo to make the red cardinal pop. Choose to color the entire cardinal in red or add a red shade to its tail, head, and back.

Include a quote from any number of famous poems about cardinals, or challenge yourself to write a short poem for them.

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7. Cardinal with a timepiece

Human existence seems to rely more and more on the notion of time as time shapes us whether we have too much of it, very little to spare, or none left to give. That said, the classic timepiece or one with a chain and analog face is a popular idea for tattoos.

Adorn it with a cardinal and compass or human eye (or anything else) for depth of imagery.

8. Cardinal with majestic wings

Extend the wings and tail feathers of the cardinal past their natural state so that they imitate the breadth of love or friendship of a lost loved one. 

As a black and white tattoo, the extra wing and tail feather lengths will highlight their personality traits to give, soar, and bring joy. After all, a person's true character often resembles that of a late afternoon shadow than one at midday.

9. Hawaiian theme with cardinal

Cardinals are not native to Hawaii, though they're now common throughout the islands and known to sing, chirp, and trill at dawn. 

If your loved one often vacationed on any of the islands, you might like to remember them in a place of which they were most fond. Include anything they enjoyed doing that would suit the piece's character and location on your skin in the tattoo. 

10. Tree of life with cardinal

The tree of life is a symbol that escapes no culture. Some believe it connects those on Earth with the gods and goddesses above. Others believe it represents a universal source of wisdom, enlightenment, or a kind of equilibrium to the world.

Wherever your beliefs land, choose to include the cardinal on one of its many branches so that your lost loved one remains present when you pray, meditate, commune with nature, or do whatever you choose to do to find your spirituality or worship.

Small Memorial Cardinal Tattoo Ideas

Minimalism meets maximum meaning for small memorial cardinal tattoos with a few considerations for placement or the alteration of how one generally sees patterns and traditional ink. 

11. Finger tattoos

Tiny finger tattoos favored by celebrities with social media accounts have been made famous, making them a kind of fad that can turn people away from wanting to get inked anywhere on their hands. But that shouldn't stop you.

Small red feathers, simple cardinal outlines, and even more detailed cardinal heads and beaks can fit discreetly anywhere between your fingers. Since they're so small, you can also get more of them for the same price as a larger tattoo elsewhere.

12. Wrist infinity tattoos

The lemniscate (infinity sign) is an algebraic symbol, and its use has found a path through ancient history, symbolism, graphic design, and even encoding. Like any timepiece, the symbol adjusts to how you view it. 

Add in a cardinal, and you might create something that means endless hope, an eternal familial bond, or even enduring love. The typical placement for this memorial wrist tattoo is on the same side as the most dominant hand so that you can look at it often.

13. Flock of birds

Flocks of bird silhouettes have nestled into mainstream movies, art, children's literature, and now, tattoos. You may even recall seeing a few pictorials with blackbirds rising from a single feather or soaring across an autumn moon. 

To represent cardinals, keep the original theme but add one red silhouette for effect. Design your ink with as many shapes as you like and with whatever background seems fitting.

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14. Red outlines

Instead of the traditional black outline, choose a red design. Keep the shape, including the spikiness of their head feathers, add in a black eye for general effect, but leave the entire tattoo otherwise without detail. 

The tattoo will end up looking like a child's drawing of a bird, making it ideal for anyone looking to represent children and general youth.

15. Cartoon bird

Skip the realism and choose a cardinal tattoo that is more cartoon-like. Add tiny bird tracks for effect if the tattoo is anywhere near or on your feet. 

Large Cardinal Memorial Tattoo Ideas

Most tattoo artists will agree that memorial tattoos are very cathartic for people as they're able to sit in a chair, discuss the life and memories of their lost loved one, and finally leave with a piece of art that makes them proud. The bigger the tattoo, the better the chat.

16. Abstract Japanese art

Mix and match your art, using a balance of modern aesthetics with traditional pieces such as origami-shaped birds perched in the front of a realistic-looking branch filled with cherry blossoms. Or opt for seigaiha (waves) below a soaring male and female cardinal. 

17. Choose your favorite season

One can't help but notice the wild, gorgeous red male and yellow female cardinals soaring, swooping, and perching throughout summer. Even more impressive is the striking contrast of their feathers against the snow-backed greenery of winter. 

18. Flowers and vines

Expand your ideas from using one or two flowers to expressing yourself with a bountiful display of floral grandeur from your shoulder to wrist. Create a story that wraps around your arm so that no two angles tell the same tale.

Include flowers that have yet to bloom and even ones that have reached full-color display. Leave areas black and gray or color the entire piece for an art piece to be proud of.

19. Full poems and quotes

Often, memorial tattoo quotes have few words, but you can change that to an entire poem or perhaps the full excerpt from your favorite book.

Where you place the cardinal and any other images depends on where the tattoo is located on your body and how you'd like them represented next to the words.

20. The blackout tattoo

Are you looking for a cardinal tattoo with more of an edge? Consider adding a blackout feature such as inking an entire lower leg in black with a contrasting red cardinal. Include concepts above, such as the timepiece, spruce, and even abstract Japanese art.

Pro-tip: Blackout tattoos are more expensive, take longer to heal, cost more, and because they completely blackout pigmentation, you won't be able to check for such things as melanoma.

Getting Inked for the Very First Time

If this is your first tattoo, do your research. Talk with artists and sift through their portfolios. Then pay for a sketch before you even think about sitting in the chair. After all, you want to be happy with this permanent art piece—and the artist wants you to be satisfied, too.

  1. Ghloum, Emilio. "The Significance for a timepiece." The Ontarion, The Ontarion, 26 March 2015. theontarion.com 
  2. Michalak, Jodie. "Should I Get a Color or a Black and Gray Tattoo?" Byrdie, Byrdie, 26 June 2021. byrdie.com
  3. Stanton, Kristen M. "Tree of Life Meanings, Symbols, and Mythology." Uniguide, Uniguide, 24 June 2021. uniguide.com

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