¬†¬†¬†¬† 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