When I was a kid, my parent's got me a beginner's book called "How to Draw Horses." It went through all the basic steps about mapping out the body (including a discussion of the proportions of different horse breeds) and then filling in the ellipses and other shapes to draw a realistic horse. At the very end was a section on shading and drawing hair.
I'm sure there's got to be a basic book with a title like "How to Draw Birds." Dover Books might have one in their Art Instruction
section. Try searching Amazon and Chapters/Indigo, as well.
The most important thing is practice. You can't develop a skill, no matter how poor initially, unless you work at it constantly. One of the tricks I used was to trace my intended subject matter, over and over and over. I wanted to draw nudes, so the lingerie section of the Sears catalog was a great resource for me! In your case, a bird identification book would be a good place to start, or simply print off images of cardinals and other birds from the web.
A few pieces of equipment you'll need: a pack of art pencils or the highest quality regular pencils you can get, a good pencil sharpener (I own a Boston, the style on the right
) and a good eraser (I like Staedtler
brand), and high quality printer paper designed for an inkjet (because it's cheaper than real art paper but still has a nice texture). Basic things like tracing paper and clipboards you can get at a dollar store.
So really, it's all about having high-quality basic equipment and a LOT of persistence