Shyamala Rao - Artist
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Welcome to my blog. This will be an ongoing blog in which I will discuss things I am working on, as well as my thoughts on wildlife conservation. Please come back to this page regularly, as I will update it from time to time.

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March 12, 2012

Backyard Beauties III: The Northern Cardinal

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:14 am

A Brillaint Northern Cardinal looks coyThere is no one who has ever sent or received a Christmas card that has not seen a brilliant fire engine red bird with a gleaming red beak, a black face mask and a sassy spike atop the head? This red bird in a winter wonderland in the Christmas cards says it all, this beauty is an urban resident, year round, in almost the entire United States.

The bird is the Northern Cardinal. It is so well known around these parts and even someone utterly uninterested in birds is likely to have noticed this beautiful, bright red bird zipping around. The Northern Cardinal is ubiquitous and seen everywhere in Texas, in back yards, flower gardens, copses of trees and in the urban woods. The males are striking as they flit around, bright red and with a spiked tuft on their heads they are readily spotted. In fact they are unmistakable. The males are frequently seen perching high up on trees at first light of day and can be heard singing their A Brilliant Northern Cardinal bathed in light and shadowhearts out. Theirs’ is a lilting four note song which is so uplifting it truly does herald the start of day. For me the song and the sight are as warming to my soul as the first rays of the sun are to the body. These birds don’t leave the area as the seasons alter and remain faithful and regular visitors to the bird feeder. They are daily visitors and bring a smile to the onlookers. When the male of this mid-sized bird is perching he photographs well with his striking red plumage and red beak and the most amateur of photographers can look quite proficient with a few pictures of these gorgeous red flying wnders.

There are eight different types of Cardinals in North America and the one that is frequently seen at the feeder in my back yard is the Northern Cardinal. The Latin name is Cardinalis cardinalis. In the past these birds were kept as caged pets but fortunately for the birds this practice was outlawed by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, 1918. Today we are able to enjoy the exuberance of these gorgeous birds while they are living free in the outdoors. I did read somewhere that the birds were named for the Cardinals at the Vatican, with their red caps and red robes. The word Northern is used since the range of this bird in North America is the northernmost of all the different types of Cardinals.

A cardinal at the feederThe Northern Cardinals are 8 to 9 inches in length and weigh about 1 ½ ounces. The adult male is a stunning red color and has a bright red beak, a distinctive spiked tuft and a long red tail. The male has a black mask right around the red beak. The female Northern Cardinal is an olive and beige-brown color with an orange beak, gray face mask around the beak, a reddish spiked tuft and red stripes on the wings and tail. In the male and the beaks are cone shaped and are strong. The juveniles have the same coloring as the adult females until they are full grown and then the males molt and shed their dull plumage and don their Cardinal’s red robes and cap. All the stages of development and change of plumage can be witnessed right at the feeders in the back yards in Texas since these birds are our permanent residents and non migratory.

Northern Cardinals mate for life and during courtship the male will bring seeds to his mate. On occasion the male will be seen to bring seeds to the female and then he proceeds to feed her, carefully and tenderly. If you observe this once you will become a fan of these birds for life! The pair builds their nest together with twigs, dry grass and dry leaves. The nest is built in about a week and is used only for one season. The female lays three to five eggs each one is gray speckled with blue, green and brown. The female incubates the eggs for 2 weeks and then she cares for the hatchlings for another 2 weeks. The male Northern Cardinal helps to feed the female and the fledglings until the young birds can fly and feed themselves. The Cardinals may have two or rarely three clutches of eggs each year. Unfortunately the Cardinals have a very high mortality rate especially for the juvenile Cardinals, as is the case with all the small song birds. The primary predators are cats, hawks, shrikes, owls, squirrels and snakes.

A Female Cardinal in the Oak Tree IIIThe Northern Cardinal is easy to attract to back yard feeders; sunflower seeds and safflower seeds are especially popular. The diet is seeds, grain and fruit. In addition they consume copious amounts of insects primarily beetles and caterpillars. Apple and cherry trees are a major attraction for these colorful gorgeous birds. Watching the cautious approach of the male to a feeder and chomping energetically on the sunflower seeds and then calling out to his mate to come and join the feast is a sight to behold. It is so utterly charming and these birds are so watchful and tentative but at the same time they are so readily visible that their lives are lived in a captivating contradiction!

Every bird watcher knows the utter delight of the first visit of a Northern Cardinal to the backyard bird feeder. Look at the photographs I have attached to this article and you be the judge. I have experienced hours of delight listening to their sweet four note call “cheer, cheer, cheer, wheet “and watching them bathe in the bird bath and feed at the feeder. Setting out a back yard feeder just to have the Northern Cardinals visit you daily is a gift and a joy. They are one of the earliest arrivals to the bird feeder each morning. Then the birds pop in many a time during the day. Northern Cardinals are usually the last ones to leave for the night. They leave in a flurry of red feathers with the unspoken promise of returning with the morrow.

A Female Northern Cardinal at the Feeder IA Male Northern Cardinal close upClose up of female cardinal II

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1 Comment »

  1. I love your birds! No worries about them leinavg…they come here for the winter! I enjoy them very much. We have a Riparian just down the street for our snow birds! Yes, love will keep us together. And commitment! Love the colors in that one and your water color is pure delight. **blows kisses** Deb

    Comment by Toni — October 20, 2015 @ 6:38 pm

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