Feathered Friends

Cardinalis cardinalis

In the U.S.A. the different states choose a state flower, a state bird, etc. to be representative of that state. For example: our Kentucky state flower is golden rod, state butterfly is the Viceroy, and state bird is the Northern Cardinal with the musical sounding scientific name Cardinalis cardinalis.

More states have chosen the Cardinal for their own than any other bird species. Everyone seems to love it.

I remember the first winter we lived here; one morning as I headed to the kitchen, I looked out the back window upon a beautiful scene covered with four to five inches of fresh snow. In brilliant contrast there was a flock of red birds - the Cardinals. I stopped to watch and held my breath with the beauty of it all. I did not even attempt to count the many females, but I did count twelve bright red males as they flew about decorating the snow covered shrubs, trees, and earth like animated red-ribbon bows. I hope I never forget how that looked.

When our children were young they asked me how I could tell the difference between the young immature birds and the mother birds for they were the same color. It is by the color of their beak: the young have gray to black beaks and the mothers have “lipstick on”; their beaks are red.

I do not know a lot about birds but I had noticed and realized that female cardinals sing. I was amazed; I thought only male birds sang. But, I kept hearing certain bird sounds and couldn’t identify them so I quietly tracked them until I found they were coming from female cardinals. Since then I have read that they sing long complicated phrases, even while on nest! And learned that a mated pair will share some of the same phrases.

The cardinals’ songs and calls have several different pleasant sounds that are most enjoyable, sometimes getting louder and louder until I wonder how much louder the bird can get. There is a contented sounding chipping sound; the loud “purty, purty, purty, purty!”; trills; and the loud “cheer, cheer, cheer - chuk, chuk, chuk” (or something like that).

Both male and female of the species will fight their own reflection they see in windows and the side mirrors of cars. They can make quite a nuisance of themselves, to say nothing of the mess, and hours and hours of the constant plunking sound as they attack that intruder in their space and territory.

At our previous house, I grew Sugar Snap peas for three years. The first year we enjoyed abundant supplies of fresh sweet, edible-pod peas. The second year the cardinals discovered there were peas (seeds) inside all those pods “she” was growing on that trellis, and they could just carve them out with their handy strong beak – right through the side of the pods straight to the young juicy pea and hull it right out. They left me a few, so we shared. The third year, the birds got most of the peas. The fourth year, I didn’t even try. Now that we live in a different area, I might try it again. I bet these cardinals do not know that secret, yet.

Also at the other house, we had a small, rectangular shaped concrete slab patio against the back of the house. I grew Concord grape vines along the longest side. Clematis vines grew at the ends. One summer a mother cardinal built her nest in one of the Clematis vines right beside the grape vine. Then she fed her babies grapes. There were plenty to share. They did love those grapes!

The male cardinals are beautiful in their bright red as you can see in these pictures. I wish I had a better photo of a female to show her equally lovely, but understated colors. They remind me of ecru and tan lace with red trim. Oh, and don’t forget… she wears lipstick.


Bird photos courtesy of MorgueFile.com

____________ Back to Feathered Friends Index ____________