The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Bill Lindemann, Fredericksburg Standard/Radio Post, Kerrville Daily Times, August 2003, © 2003

Northern Cardinal While picnicking at Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park today, someone pointed out a Northern Cardinal, a.k.a. "redbird," or just "cardinal," working over a parked car's side-view mirror. Unhappy with the fact that a "competitor male" had apparently entered into his territory, he felt compelled to run this intruder off. Every year I receive telephone calls from readers asking advice on stopping cardinals from pecking at one or more windows at their house. The callers want to know what is wrong with the bird and also how to solve the problem.

The bird's behavior is not much different from human reactions when some little thing begins as an irritation and becomes an obsession. After seeing his (sometimes her) own image in the car mirror or window and not being able to make it go away, the bird, too, becomes totally determined to chase the other "bird" away. Once the obsession sets in, there is nothing you can do to convince the cardinal that the mirror or windows are playing tricks on him. In time the bird gives up, probably conceding to the tireless challenger. However, the cardinal may move on from one mirror or window to another. The birds have been known to persist at a window for a week.

Despite this little quirk, cardinals are among the most admired and recognized wildlife in our country. Except for those people who live in the northwestern part of our country where the cardinal is not found, the rest of us more or less take this bird for granted. I have had friends from the Pacific Northwest comment on how stunning this bird is and how they can't watch it enough. We see it and think, "Oh, its just a redbird," or not pay any attention at all. Sometimes when I see a particularly vivid bird, I catch myself admiring it and its beauty, realizing then, how easy it is to ignore it on a daily basis.

I always thought that the general color of cardinals was more or less the same, but while birding a few years ago in southeast Arizona, I noticed the birds there were a more intense red. A few locals reminded me that their cardinals were redder than all other cardinals in the country. I tended to agree with them, making the stipulation that I had not conducted any color studies of our country's cardinals.

Not only are these red birds with black faces colorful, but they also have very pleasant songs with which to serenade us in the mornings and evenings. Their songs that include, "Cheer, cheer, cheer," or "purty, purty, purty" have a peaceful sound. They afford a wonderful combination of sight and sound.

The bird is so admired and loved that seven of our states have named it their state bird. If you are a St. Louis baseball fan, or live in a town whose school mascot is the cardinal, love of the bird takes on an added dimension. Considering the love and affection around for this bird, I think we can afford some sympathy for its obsessive, misguided challenges to its own image-even when they occur for days at our windows or car mirrors.


At 8:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have a cardinal in PA that has been going after our car mirrors and those of visitors for more than a month. We've been putting rags or socks over the mirror to avoid the inevitable bird doo doo down the side of the cars. We expect him to be there all summer.

At 8:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello from austin, texas
We have red birds who have been
pecking on windows on 3 of the four sides of our home for the last 2 years! My kids are now used to it but it drove them crazy in the mornings for quite awhile.
The latest is one pecking on the hood of my car as well as the side mirrors and front window.
Why is this the only variety of bird I ever hear about that has this "obsession" ????

At 4:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

also from Austin...
I have a pair of cardinals that have targeted the windows in our home for destruction. I am discouraged that a fellow Austinite has had the same problem for 2 years. Is there nothing I can do?

At 1:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our male cardinal has been pecking (and pooping) at windows and car mirrors for over 2 years consistently. They can live for many years. My neighbor refuses to "bag" his mirrors and his truck is bombarded all day long.

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