A Cardinal Story
Ever since last winter when we hung a bird feeder off our fire escape and started spending time staring out the window, we have seen a male and female cardinal most days. I’ve always wondered if it was the same couple that I saw every day. I just can’t think of anything so beautiful as a cardinal. Especially with a little white cover in the background.
The sound of a cardinal — that painfully small, little “chip… chip” — was the first song bird call I think I ever learned to recognize.
As winter gave way to spring, I started to hear the male cardinal making the craziest call in the mornings – so loud!
A know-nothing bird lover, I had no idea cardinals had this other loud crazy call. In fact, cardinals have at least 16 different calls according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. So much to learn. I was hearing its “birdie – birdie – birdie” call.
My son and I often noticed that he would seem to find his girlfriend after making this loud call. Was he using it to let her know he was looking for her? Was he trying to impress her? Or was it just to let the slowly awakening world know that he was a glorious, manly cardinal and that this was his stretch of Brooklyn backyards? I honestly have no worldly idea.
But we always rushed to the window to observe what happened after he would make this loud call, and it always seemed to involve hooking up soon after with his pretty yellowish friend with the little scarlet flourishes.
As spring turned to summer, the birdie-birdie-birdie calls seemed to fade away, but now I started being awakened by incessant high-pitched chirping. It could only be a baby bird. It would just go on and on and on. I felt in my heart like it was a baby cardinal, and it sounded so close. But I could never see it. Great job on hiding that nest, you two!
One day I hung a peanut feeder in Bird Feeder Ally (aka my fire escape) in the hopes of getting a blue jay to pass by for our viewing pleasure. And one did! If only all my plans worked out this well. I would hear a loud shriek early in the morning, boastfully announcing the unmistakable arrival of a blue jay. “The loudly honorable Mr. Blue Jay of… several blocks away, gracing you with his handsome, yet annoyed-sounding presence.”
I would run to see it, my kitchen window a front row seat to a blue jay peep show. It would labor for about a minute to wiggle a peanut out, and fly away with it immediately. Show’s over, bird pervs!
But the show wasn’t over… it got even better when Albert (by now we had named the stud cardinal (after another stud Cardinal)) got wind of the peanuts. For whatever reason, he never cared too much for my black sunflower seeds. Maybe the house finches who flocked to them are jerks and he just didn’t want to associate with them.
But he quite took to the peanuts. And once he did, he decided to proclaim, in all his glorious, manly redness, that these peanuts are clearly hanging in the stretch of Brooklyn backyards that have clearly been established as Cardinalistan, and, as such, are rightfully and unequivocally his.
One morning the blue jay came by for his morning feast, and Albert was not having it. There were fisticuffs. (Beak-icuffs?) Little in size, but big in redness, Albert mobbed the astonished, and much larger blue jay, and told him, what I can only imagine was some variation of, “Peanuts all for me! Be gone, blue monster from the depths of hell!”
And the blue jay left! Albert prevailed. Go little guy! You tell ’em who’s boss. How I love it when the little guy wins. Do you know how smart blue jays are? The odds were not in Albert’s favor.
But it gets better.
As summer began to wind down, I would see Albert on the peanut feeder often. Until one day, I heard a slightly more grown up sounding baby cry, while Albert was fiddling with a nut. After he deftly liberated a bit of peanut from its shell, Albert flew down to the ground (my lucky downstairs neighbor’s garden yard) with his prize. And who was there waiting for him but his screaming, hungry little brat.
I watched as Albert fed him my peanut – sorry, his peanut. Right into the little guy’s mouth. Albert, you stud! Is there anything hotter than a man caring for his baby?
I have since witnessed this beautiful drama a few times and watched as the little bird, who is able to fly by now, would shriek his little shriek and flap his wings while standing there waiting for food. His little standing-in-place wing flapping – I wish you could see this.
Oh, I could cry just thinking about it. Life is so fragile, yet this new little cardinal has made it so far. He came into the world, a world full of violent squirrels, diseased raccoons and a comically evil EPA that wants to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But he is still here, even as an entire bird species may have been wiped away by one storm a thousand miles south.
Nature is powerful. Life is mysterious. I think even small triumphs of survival deserve to be taken note of.
So I am grateful to have witnessed little Ozzie (oh yes, we named him too) coming into this world. I am positive now that the cardinal I stared dreamily at all winter long was, indeed, the one and only Albert, hero among birds, God among dads, glorious, manly and redder than you could ever dream of being.
This all happened in a backyard in Brooklyn. Viewed from a kitchen window, one story up.
Note: I am not a bird photographer, clearly. Trying to get photos of this beautiful family. I will post if I do. I will also note if I discover that Ozzie is in fact a “she.”
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