Monday, May 6, 2013

Nesting Cardinals

Cardinalis cardinalis                     Order: PASSERIFORMES                          Family: CARDINALIDAE

 I really love cardinals! Who doesn't?!  They are beautiful, excellent singers, and our state bird!  Early in spring (sometimes late February), the male cardinal is the first of my neighborhood songbirds to really sing in earnest.  His "cheeeeer, cheeeeer" song is just what I need to hear after a long, hard winter!

Cardinals are sexually dimorphic, meaning that the male and female look differently.  The bright male is vibrantly suited in red... a color that the female cardinal finds irresistible! :)  The female is more drab... a light brown, pinkish color. The fact that she is drab in color is no accident!  Her coloring allows her to blend perfectly with her nest allowing her to avoid predation.

Cardinals are here year round and often flock together without problems... in fact, you've probably seen many at backyard feeders.  During breeding however, they tend to become very territorial... to the point of fighting their own image in car mirrors, house windows, and anywhere with a reflection!

In the picture below (taken during the spring of 2012), the male cardinal seems to be "courting" the female.  He passed a seed to her during this intimate "kiss".  I can only guess that he is attempting to convince her that he would be a wonderful provider and that she should chose him to father her children!  .... a bit of anthropomorphism (applying human actions and feelings to animals!)

This spring, at the farm, I've been keeping an eye on a pair of cardinals.  I was certain they were nest building in a small stand of white pines.  Sure enough, I inadvertently flushed Mama from the nest while investigating the area.  She gave her nest location away when she left the nest.  I was delighted to find three perfect eggs!  After snapping a quick photo, I left the area, so that Mama could return.  By the way, I once learned that it is best to leave a bird's nesting location via a different route than you arrived... as to not leave a human scent trail directly to the nest for other predators to follow.

Mama Cardinal set diligently on the nest all week.  Birds are really great mothers.  She would allow me to come within reasonable distance.  Although, I never pushed the boundary too much.  The following photos were taken with a telephoto lens.  You can almost "feel" her stillness and silence.  She never flinched, but kept a very close eye on me!

Saturday, May 4, I checked the nest for the first time in a week.  I was absolutely thrilled to find that two of the eggs had hatched!!!  The third had "pipped". This means that the baby had poked his way through to make the first crack in the eggshell.  I knew I had arrived at a very critical time.  The two chicks were only hours old and the third was about to hatch.  I took ONE photo and backed away quickly.  Mama returned to the nest within minutes.  The following morning, she was on the nest.  I said a "well wish" for the family as I drove my car away back towards home.

It is now Monday... and raining.  I wonder how they are doing?  Did they survive the night?  Is the chilly day making feeding difficult?  Is everything okay??  .... will it all be okay?   This is where it gets tough for us humans.  I have to trust in the cycle of nature and know that what is, is what will be.  I wish the the best and will update later.

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