When the Cardinal Comes Knocking

     When this piece started forming in my mind a few days ago, it felt like a sad story.  I was going to call it, ”A Cardinal’s Lament.”  But now I am not so sure that the drama I have been witnessing is a sad one;  it might actually be a reasonably happy tale.  I am reminded that often what I think I am seeing is different from what is actually going on.  

     For more than a week, the sleekest, reddest, most gorgeous male cardinal has been our close neighbor.  That’s the fun part.  Every chance I get, I feast my eyes on this handsome fellow–perching on our deck railing, swooping from the deck down to a tree in the orchard, or balanced miraculously atop a tall, thin mullein plant.  I adore him.

     But  something this gorgeous little guy has been doing has disturbed my husband Andy and me.  What distresses us is his singular obsession of banging into our downstairs windows.  Every morning, when we get up, we hear him at it downstairs, flying against one window or another and hitting it with his feet.  And he persists with these attacks throughout the day!  We surmise that our cardinal friend sees his reflection in the glass and takes it for a rival who must be vanquished. 

      Between hits, the little guy may flit to a nearby branch, where he perches until it’s time to go at his ’rival’ again.  Sometimes he flies farther into the forest.  There, he may perch on a branch and sing for a little while.   And I mean sing.  These are not the usual chipping sounds that cardinals typically make, but a full-throated, sweet, sweet warble. 

      After a few trilling tunes that must surely be irresistible to any female in the vicinity (they have certainly won my heart), he is silent.  He may cock his head to one side, and then to the other, as if to say, “Wasn’t I good?  Any ladies out there?”  Some more sweet trills.  And then, you know, back to window duty. 

     That’s it, I thought.  He’s lonely, and he’s calling for a mate!  Maybe his obsession with getting rid of all the other imagined  males is distracting him from going for what he really wants.  All this window bashing is leaving him little time to pursue a mate!

     I had to help him.  Reasoning that he would quit hurling himself at the glass if he couldn’t see his reflection in it, I taped newspaper onto the downstairs windows.   Silence.  Minutes passed.   I felt hopeful.  “I think the newspaper is wor–” I exclaimed  to Andy, only to be interrupted by the all-too familiar hit against the glass.

     Only then did I realize that my taping the newspaper to the inside of the glass hadn’t prevented the bird from seeing his reflection!  I would have to put the papers on the outside instead to keep him from seeing himself!  Bother.   The windows are harder to reach from outside, and I would have to secure the paper from wind and rain.  

     I had to admit that, while I didn’t want this dear little bird to exhaust–or maybe even hurt– himself trying to drive away non-existent rivals, I also didn’t want him to go away.  I love having him around.  How I would miss that dear little face peeking in over the window sill, as he perches just outside, looking this way and that.    

     Why, why,why, I wondered, was there no female cardinal around?  I remembered seeing, not much more than a week ago, a female perched in a tree in the nearby forest with a bow-shaped twig or plant stem in her beak.  I assumed she had been in nest-building mode.  Could she have been this fellow’s mate?  But I hadn’t seen her since that day.  Did something happen to her?

     Then yesterday morning I spent some time outside just looking and listening.  From my own perch on a log at the edge of the driveway, I spotted movement among the brush on the other side of the driveway.  It was a female cardinal!  On the ground, she was flitting about, mostly hidden among all the green growth.  Had I not been watching actively, I would not have noticed her.    Maybe she was searching for ingredients for her nest! 

     Then I remembered the words of a master gardener I had consulted about the male’s behavior.   “By the way,” he emailed me, “if he finds a mate, he will be even more territorial.”

     So now I am thinking that our beautiful little red friend is the valiant, but not too bright, mate of the female who is busily building her nest.  While she works, preparing for their family-to-be, maybe he is protecting her from any possible interlopers, keeping her for himself. 

     At any rate, neither Andy nor I now see the male’s behavior as painful or unhappy for him.  He’s a ‘man on a mission,’ so to speak.  He has a full-time job doing what a male cardinal is supposed to be doing this time of year!April Moore

4 Responses to “When the Cardinal Comes Knocking”

  1. Gail Says:

    Thank you for this beautiful and educational story. And the photo is outstanding…

  2. Todd Price Says:

    i liked the story.
    i liked your focus, on what was a minor incident that would have most people feeling annoyed and wishing the cardinal would go away, and figuring why the bird was doing what seemed to you an irrational act, to find the rational behind the seemingly irrational.
    and…you know…i think the cardinal would have appreciated hearing the story…from you, the observer…………………….
    for…the story makes sense………………

  3. Joan Brundage Says:

    What an interesting story! The male cardinal must think he is chasing away a rival male cardinal. You might want to put something over the window to cut out the reflection he is seeing. He could knock himself unconscious by continuing to bang into your glass window. I watched a hummingbird do that once and picked him up, holding him gently in my hand until he revived and decided to fly away. Some birds have killed themselves flying into windows. In NYC, that happens to lots of birds flying into the glass skyscrapers.

  4. Roseann Says:

    I have loved and connected with seeing cardinals as a spiritual sign. I have had a female cardinal tapping at my back sliding doors for many weeks now, I wake sometimes in the way early mornings way before the sun comes up and can hear them singing so loudly and they continue all day and night. This one particular female has many mates around my home there might be up to 10 a day I see usually 2 pairs always, but for some reason this cardinal taps at my door and taps until I come to the window and look out at her, I have tried to capture this on video or just a photo but its like it knows I am about to snap my shot and they fly up into the trees. I have two big dogs that they knock on the door when they are ready to come in with a tap of they’re paws the first time I heard them tapping I was in the back of the house and I said to my daughter what is that noise she said its the dogs knocking to come in I said no the dogs are right here with me. I have been looking up what does it mean when a cardinal knocks at your window and have read many blogs some very beautiful thoughts others a little scary. This cardinal comes at all times of the day there is a blind there and sometimes there is no way for it to be seeing its on reflection its too dark out like today it was storming rain and thunder and it found its way, other times its close to night fall and I have gone out there is no reflection for her to be seeing. Some days she sits on my patio chair looking in at me while I sit and look back at her, I feel like she is trying to give me a sign to let me know something, there is no grass or anything to make a nest out of in the area it comes everyday, its a large white concrete patio I do not have a bird feeder out side anymore so its not coming for food. Does anyone know or has anyone heard of this happening to someone and this has been going on for months now I live in Florida so its not like its because its spring, I just feel there is a deeper spiritual message here and wanted to know if anyone else ever had something like this happen to them? I now wait and listen for her to come and she does at all times of the day and night and I feel blessed and so thankful that God has given me this gift, I feel its a gift not a nuisance at all. Like I said I have read many posts and blogs to the meaning of this and just wanted to know if anyone else has had this experience, it truly is amazing to me anyway.

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