Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Birdlore: Northern Cardinal The Romantic Bird

Imagine you are in a blustery, white, clearing, the sun glaring balefully down on you and the surrounding snow reflecting the intensity of the harsh light into your squinching eyes. 

You wonder what life could possibly exist in such a cold, dreary and disheartening place as you trudge through the knee deep hardened snow.  You continue to glance about, shading your straining eyes from the bright light with a hand, when what to your wandering eyes should appear...a dart of red bobbing across your path, a Northern Cardinal!

In some Native American cultures, the sighting of a Cardinal is considered a good omen.  The Cardinal is a symbol of relationships, courtships, and faithfulness to one’s partner.  For a Cardinal to cross your path may be a sign that a romantic relationship is going to start soon or the renewing of an already existing relationship.

This traditional belief lends from the Cardinal’s monogamy and courtship behaviors in the wild.  A male Cardinal will mainly seek out a single female and attract her attention with his bright, vibrant, red plumage.  He will sing to her with a musical whistle-like call, “cheer cheer cheer” and bond to his prospective mate with courtship feeding.
The male cardinal shares seed with the female in order to bond with his prospective mate.
Cardinals are dedicated to protecting their mates and territories from other Cardinals with incredible ferocity.  It is not unheard of to see a male cardinal try to fight off his own reflection in windows or mirrors!  (I’ve often seen male cardinals perch on my work truck raising a fuss, simply because the truck was the same bright red as the bird himself!)

One Choctaw tale tells us how a Cardinal plays the role of matchmaker during his vast travels.  Cardinal finds a lonely and virtuous maiden.  Later, he also encounters a lonely Indian warrior.  Befriending the Indian brave, the Cardinal lures the warrior to the home of the maiden.  Uniting the pair, they find, at last, friendship and a lasting relationship.

So, if you ever find yourself outside and alone, and you hear a Cardinal singing his song of ‘cheer’, just image that he is singing it to you, his beloved.

The next time you visit the World Bird Sanctuary find time to rest on one of the benches near the feeders.  Chances are very good you may spot one of these beautiful birds.

Submitted by Jessica Bunke, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

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