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Cardinals: Good neighbors, bringing smiles in winter

December 22, 2017
Bob Madison , For the Chronicle

They stand out against a blanket of new-fallen snow.

Even when just flitting through the winter green of honeysuckle or low-slung fir trees, the cardinal is among the best-dressed birds in the neighborhood.

He may be clad almost entirely in red, but nobody thinks he's just a showoff or that he's grabbing the spotlight only for himself.

We like the cardinal as our neighbor because he's a familiar sight. And his quiet style isn't laced with bragging or selfishness; He's friendly - not standoffish or secretive.

If we fill our feeder with sunflower or safflower seeds, he'll be glad to say a polite "thank you" in his most elegant way.

Provide him with a supply of cracked corn and he'll show you the red plumage that we associate with the Christmas season.

Cardinals don't molt in the winter, nor do they migrate to a warmer climate.

Just in from a stand of evergreen trees, he lands nimbly and begins to quietly eat the seeds.

He's certainly not overconfident; nosier blue jays or starlings will send him back to the cover of underbrush or firs.

His tufted red crest gives him a regal look, but his behavior is anything but snobbish.

Surrounding his seed-popping beak is a mask of coal-black feathers, further enhancing his noble appearance.

When a low temperature dominates the afternoon, he doesn't retreat. Instead, he fluffs his feathers, trapping the warm air next to his body and making himself look like a bird that has eaten more than he needs to maintain his dignified figure.

Even the red-tinged females are clotheshorses. Their light brown feathers have fringes of light red and the same goes for their crests.

Cardinals seem to like our company - and not just because we provide them with seeds and suet on weather-imperfect days.

If we clear a snow-free area on the lawn or next to a path and add seeds to the equation, the cardinals will land there and eat our handouts.

If Santa Claus gets top billing at Christmas, the cardinal receives the best supporting actor award.

Smoke may spurt out of chimneys and hover near the ground, and snow may cling to the green branches of needled trees, but the cardinal is still going through his daily routine - which includes bringing smiles to our tired faces.

 
 
 

 

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