Meeting the Neighbors ~ The Singer

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)


A new neighborhood means new neighbors, and I’m beginning to make their acquaintance. I’d heard this fellow chipping, chirping, and whistling every day since my move; mornings and evenings, he’d  occasionally burst into song. I’d not been able to spot him, but last Sunday at first light, I noticed a flash of red on the ground and there he was: illuminated by the rising sun.

A female — perhaps his mate — caught my eye, but she remained hidden deep within the bushes. In time, I suspect I’ll have a chance to meet her as well.


Comments always are welcome.

96 thoughts on “Meeting the Neighbors ~ The Singer

  1. Nice shot of one of my favorite birds. I watched them for years at my parents’ feeder, and they’re very pleasant neighbors– never chasing the chickadees away, and happy to eat shoulder-to-shoulder with the little ‘uns.

  2. You are sharing your world with a wonderful fellow, Linda, and I have no doubt that the object of his affections will be equally appealing. She is a little more ostentatious, but subdued, tasteful and dignified. I hope she will come calling soon.

    1. They haven’t yet come to the pair of feeders I’ve put out, but in time they may. I had to put the feeders closer to my patio than I like, but I’ll add a water bowl; that should help. A pair of doves was surveying the scene from a nearby branch last weekend, and I found a wren poking through the sunflower chips and shelled peanuts in the platform feeder yesterday. There’s a good bit of cover nearby that would appeal to a wren, so we’ll see what happens.

    1. Isn’t it a pretty thing? Their song is beautiful, too. They’re among the earliest to rise, and almost always the last birds to sing at night — such a nice end to the day.

    1. When I was growing up, it was common to hear them called ‘redbirds.’ It never occurred to me to wonder which came first: the name of the ecclesiastical official or the name of the bird, but I found that the scarlet robes of Roman Catholic cardinals provided the name.The college of cardinals was given canonical form by Pope Eugene III in 1150, and in 1294 Pope Boniface made red cassocks, stockings, gloves, and hats their official garb, so red had been the trademark color of a cardinal long before the explorers discovered the bird.

      1. We can go a step farther back. In the same way that we metaphorically say something hinges on something else, or that something is a pivotal step in some process, the Catholic Church chose to call their highest members cardinals based on the Late Latin adjective cardinālis, from the noun stem cardin- that meant ‘hinge.’ And so the fact that our bright red birds ended up getting called cardinals hinged on the fact that Pope Boniface chose red uniforms. Had he chosen a different color, say bright blue, our buntings might now be called cardinals.

        1. The association between the color red and the bird known as a cardinal is so strong I hardly can imagine a blue cardinal. It certainly requires effort. But now I understand why the four points of the compass are called the cardinal points, and how the cardinal numbers got their name. To be honest, although I’d heard of cardinal numbers, I couldn’t have told you what they were. Now I’m straightened out on cardinal, ordinal, and nominal numbers — that’s a lot of learning for a lunch break!

            1. That’s exactly the page that cleared it up for me, and led me to play with sentences like, “When the seven cardinals arrived for the ceremony, the second in line was wearing the surplice that belonged to number three.”

  3. It is that time of year and cardinals can be like roosters, starting early in the morning. I have many in my yard and the males spend a good part of the day chasing each other, even flying under my patio roof. I had a cardinal I named Red Boy that waited for me to feed him in the morning. He would hop around next to the window I sit by in the morning until I came out. Then he would wait on the roof and fly beside me as I walked to the feeder. One day I stepped out of my door (I guess I was late) and he flew under the porch roof right towards me, but pulled up to the ceiling fan before hitting me. To add to Steve’s comment, I also heard that the Swedish love cardinals. For a fee, I would let them sit in my backyard and serve them tea.

    1. Lucky you, to have so many! I had bluejays who were that comfortable — and that demanding — in my last place, but it would be wonderful to develop the same sort of relationship with the cardinals. You’re right that they sing early and late; like the doves, their evening song is peaceful and lovely.

      I know that Swedes love the color red, so I’m not surprised they’d like the bird, even though it’s not one of their natives. Perhaps they’ve adopted it; the only member of the cardinal family I found in the list of their birds is the rose-breasted grosbeak. One thing’s certain; there’s nothing more striking than a group of cardinals in snow. There’s a reason they so often show up on Christmas cards!

      Have you ever had one that insisted on fighting its reflection in a car mirror or window? I’ve seen that just once. We finally covered the mirrors to keep it from hurting itself.

      1. My neighbor claims they peck on her windows. I’ve only seen a Mockingbird peck on car mirrors. I once had a Woodpecker drill on the metal part of my chimney everyday during mating season and he started at dawn.

      2. Yes, they ‘fight’ with themselves in the spring when all birds are at their most territorial but they’re usually very cautious around here the remainder of the year. LOVE our resident pair but especially his “Pretty, pretty, pretty!” from his highest perches… A sure sign that spring has arrived.

    1. This has been my holiday season for cardinals of all sorts, hasn’t it? Who knows? Maybe the one hanging on my Christmas tree invited the real one to set up shop in the bushes outside my window!

    1. Sometimes I think if we could translate their song, it would be, “Look at me! Look at me!” I’ll be glad when we move a little farther into spring, and mating season. That’s when the songs really become both loud and long.

      I learned the most interesting thing. In Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope is the thing with feathers,” she doesn’t name a species, but we know it wasn’t a cardinal. Cardinals originally were more of a southern species (they used to be Cardinalis virginianus) and none had been seen in the wild in Massachusetts during Dickinson’s life. The first record of a nesting pair in Massachusetts didn’t come until 1958!

    1. I haven’t seen him again, but I hear him — or one of his friends. I have seen a wren, which really was unexpected, along with a pair of doves. I’ve heard bluejays, too, but only occasionally. Come February, I suspect there will be a little more action.

    1. I didn’t realize they’re confined to the eastern parts of the U.S. until your comment sent me looking. Their range has extended farther north, but not west. It’s good that all regions have their special creatures, but I do wish everyone could enjoy the cardinals. They’re sweet and feisty, and wonderful songsters as well as being beautiful.

          1. Yes, and all too often ‘range’ maps published by specific countries end abruptly at their border. Strangely animals, pollution, wind drift, etc. do not acknowledge or obey man’s arbitrary divisions…

            1. Sometimes people don’t, either. Some of the worst problems in West Africa (and presumably other parts of the world) arose after attempts were made to impose geopolitical boundaries over tribal associations. Hence, the oddity of “Liberian Kpelle,” “Guinea Kpelle” and so on.

            2. Aye, I’d even go so far to say that most of the world’s difficulties have resulted from lack of respect of one sort or another… :/
              The Golden Rule… Such a simple concept and universally taught but so difficult to practice

  4. And won’t it be FUN when spring arrives and you get to watch their nesting ritual?? I love cardinals and am glad they stick around here, even during winter. Their stunning red color really brightens up what often is a dreary landscape.

    1. Red is a cheerful color, isn’t it? I suspect red and green became traditional holiday colors because of cardinals, holly berries, and pine trees — put them all in a context of snow, and they’re beautiful. Whether I get to watch a family form and grow is yet to be determined, but there’s no question I’ll get to hear plenty of singing.

    1. It is, indeed. It’s been quite fun to look around — and listen — for these new ‘neighbors.’ The humans around me are very nice, as are their dogs, but I have a feeling there are other creatures I’ve yet to meet.

    1. In a way, it recalls your photos in the dimness of the swamps. If it hadn’t been for that single shaft of sunlight, there wouldn’t have been a photo. The effect of sunrise on the ground can be just as lovely as sunrise in the sky — especially when the subject is so handsome.

  5. I always find it satisfying to see and photograph the avian performer in my garden or immediate vicinity and your Northern Cardinal is a real beauty. Hopefully, it’ll come a bit closer and reveal more of its handsome red coat.

    1. They can be even more vivid than this one when they’re in full breeding plumage. This one seems a little dull on his back and sides. He might be young, or he might still be coming out of his molt. The Cornell site says, “Many [newly molted cardinal] feathers, especially on the neck and back, are tipped with gray. During fall and winter, these tips slowly wear off, revealing more and more brilliant red. The birds reach the peak of brilliance right when they are selecting a mate.” It will be fun to watch.

  6. One of the things I miss about no longer feeding birds (at least through most of the year because-the feeders attract bears) are the cardinals. We usually would see them in pairs and despite the brilliant cardinal red of the male, I always preferred the females. I like the bit of morning light you caught illuminating this fellow’s front and I’m sure you’ll get to meet the missus in no time.

    1. I must say, having to think about bears at the feeders is a step up from fussing over squirrels or raccoons. A couple of bloggers I read have detailed what a half-determined bear can do, and it’s not pretty. Apparently it takes some real creativity to deter them — or just taking the feeders down, as you did.

      The females can be just as striking, especially when their red bills and black markings are especially vibrant. On the other hand, it’s not always necessary to choose between the male and female. Take a look at this gem, that was found in Texas. There are some fascinating things out there.

      1. Some friends arrived home one night to find a bear had climbed through an open window and ransacked their kitchen which had a large metal trash can full of bird seed. They had bears coming to their outdoor feeders regularly and Mark had go some shots of the male, presumably, pulling the suspended tube feeder down for the female to eat. But they never thought one would come into the house. There’s more though. Anita got up in the middle of the night to go downstairs for a snack and found a bear half way through the window coming back for seconds. Fortunately the bear was not in the kitchen or there would have been serious trouble. They put bars on the windows after that. They love wildlife, Mark is a moose photography specialist and Anita birds, but that was just a bit too close, I’d think. We have had our feeders knocked down and one year they disappeared, later to be found in a neighbor’s yard. We would put them out once hibernation starts but this year is so warm that they are still roaming the area.
        That is a rarity for sure and well worth the notoriety it received. There have been white cardinals reported but that isn’t a gender issue.

        1. Did I ever tell you the story of the raccoon that broke into the living quarters of some Texas Parks and Wildlife guys down on Matagorda Island? The darned creature took off a kitchen window screen, and when they found him, he was sitting on the kitchen table eating peanut butter with his paws. He’d taken the lid off the jar, and was having a high old time. Sometimes clever can be just as effective as brute strength. I’d sooner take on a raccoon than a bear, that’s for sure!

          I’ve seen white squirrels, but never a white cardinal. The bird would be a show stopper, for sure. I know there are yellow cardinals, as well, but I’ve never seen one of those, either. One was spotted in Alabama a couple of years ago, and it was a beauty.

          1. No, you hadn’t told that one to me before and it’s a good one. Every once in a while you hear a story about raccoons getting in a house. They are pretty smart and that’s one reason we never installed a door for the dogs. Of course another reason is then we would have needed a fence but the dog door would have been a raccoon turnstile. I don’t remember where, but I once saw a picture similar to what you describe with the biggest fattest raccoon imaginable chowing down in someone’s kitchen. Absolutely, a bear in the house would be unbearable.,

            1. And then there was the no-so-smart couple in Austin that discovered raccoons like marshmallows. They began feeding the critters the sweet treat on a regular basis. Then, the guy decided he’d see if he could tempt them into the kitchen. He could. Eventually, the couple got the bright idea to bring them in the back door, lead them through the house with a marshmallow trail, and send them out the front door.
              It was great. They amused and amazed their friends.

              Then, they left town for a vacation. The raccoons were amazed, but not amused. They broke in the house, rampaged through it, and departed, leaving the couple to explain it all to their insurance company.

            2. Until I started looking at YouTube I had never seen Letterman. I am not always fond of his humor but he had a lot of good guests and you could occasionally see him awed by one of them.

            3. He was much funnier and not as caustic in the beginning. Of course, my favorite still is Johnny Carson, but I’m not sure we’ll ever see his kind again.

            4. Probably not, but it often happens that some folks are so singular that others may try but never truly repeat. Although he was at times more silly than funny, I think his level of humor at that time was a bit more developed than most of what we see now.

        1. How about that? Another one in a million. It’s interesting that one showed up in Alabama and one in Florida. I wonder if there’s something working in the gene pool over there? And I wonder how many others there might be?

  7. Yes, the male will chirp his head off. Just hope a nice female will respond. It can’t be easy to just sit there and do so your best just to be ignored.
    We had a bird feeder and the nicest of birds would turn up and then those terrible corellas turned up chasing all birds away and dominating the seed supply. And then, ..the rats turned up, so now no more bird feeding.
    I don’t know what I would do if a bear turned up!

    1. I think this fine fellow already has the attention of a potential mate. I do hope they build their nest in a tree and not in the shrubs where they’re hanging out. The landscapers can get a little over-enthusiastic when they show up with their trimmers, and a nest in the wrong place could come to a sad end.

      Rats can be a problem, for sure. I’ve had to deal with raccoons in the past, and while they’re cuter by far, they can be just as destructive. Besides that, once critters like rats or raccoons show up, they can be far more expensive to feed than the birds. They can empty a set of feeders in an evening, and they’ll be more than willing to do it the next night, and the next, until the feed supplier tires of it!

  8. What lovely neighbors you have and so glad that the noise they make is dulcet to your ears. I only enjoy one pair, but I surely do enjoy them! Mine are shy, though and flit away at the slightest movement.

    1. I’m glad you have at least a pair, even if they are a bit shy. Just seeing that brilliant color is enough to bring a smile, and you certainly do make up for a lack of cardinals with an abundance of other birds.

      Speaking of which — I finally have identified the mysterious song/call that I spent months listening to without ever seeing a bird. I heard the same song last weekend, right in the bushes in front of my patio. I looked and looked and finally found the tiny brown bird that was singing — it was a wren! I had no idea such a small bird could put out so much sound. I went to the Cornell site to double check, and sure enough, that’s what it was. No wonder I never could spot the bird from my balcony in the other place. I hardly could see it when I was only a few feeet away. I have seen it one time in my platform feeder — more exciting than the cardinal in some ways.

  9. Mr. Reddy is a fine specimen for his species. I don’t believe I know of anyone who does not like a cardinal. While growing up, I knew this beauty as a “red bird.” and it was not until high school when I had access to the very small basic school library that I leaned its proper name. Up until about 10-12 years ago, I could count as many as 25 cardinals at one time- in the low branches of the trees, in the possum haw holly, the bird feeders and, on the ground- literally red birds all over the front part of our yard. They mostly came at specific times, and they were always the last birds that came to eat very late in the evening just before night settled in. I could count as many as 20 plus at one time. Now days I seldom see any and I attribute encroachment of their habitat and the hawks that moved into our area plus the fact that I no longer put food in the feeder. I stopped feeding for two reasons, Rats were attracted to the bird feed and were living in our outdoor sheds. And, I saw at least one hawk nearly very day and I did not want the birds to be easy prey for the hawks.

    1. I read somewhere that the cardinal is one of our most popular birds, and I certainly would believe it. For one thing, it’s easily recognizable. Even people who aren’t birders and don’t know much at all about birds know the cardinal. Like the robin and dove, its song is associated with the beginning and end of the day, and I think it evokes a sense of peacefulness. It certainly does for me. They are the last of the birds to hang it up for the evening. When I visit friends in the hill country, the cardinals will sing until almost total dark — such fun.

      It must have been wonderful to see so many at a time. I’m sure the feeders did attract them, but I can understand putting an end to that when the rats showed up — as they often do. I suspect that the feeders I’ve put up may be too close to the building for the birds to be comfortable coming to them, but we’ll see. If no one favors the peanut feeder I have up, I may switch it out for thistle, or a combination of shelled sunflower and safflower. I can’t use any feed that has shells, like striped or black sunflower, due to regulations here. I’ll just have to see what happens. It took about two days for the squirrels to figure out that there was a new game in town!

    1. I smiled at your bit of ambiguity. I wasn’t sure if you meant not all of our neighbors appreciate the birds, or if some of our neighbors are more annoying than the birds. I’ve certainly lived around people whose ‘chirping’ was highly annoying, but in this new place, I’m lucky to have neighbors who love birds, who aren’t noisy themselves, and who even were happy to have me put up my wind chimes. Permanent neighbors never are guaranteed in an apartment complex, but right now I’ve got some good ones.

      1. I wasn’t aware of the ambiguity in my statement, Linda, until I re-read it, so I can’t really claim both meanings. It was the second suggestion I had in mind.
        I’m glad to hear that you have been blessed with good neighbors, which can make all the difference in the world.

        1. It’s occurred to me that one reason the ‘feel’ of this new place is so different, neighbor-wise, is that this complex provides a good bit of short-term corporate housing for companies contracted to NASA and so on. Those people tend to land in the water view apartments, where I was before and they’re never seen or heard. Here, I have the piano-player above me, a Hispanic grandmother next to me, and a very young couple across the hall. There’s more ‘chirping,’ especially when the grandkids are around, but it’s nice.

            1. It’s actually quite faint: only loud enough for me to know when she’s playing. She seems to be quite accomplished, tends toward classical, and makes it a practice never to play between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. Perfect!

    1. You do have the brilliantly colored European kingfisher, and the blue tit, and your robin, but I’ll grant you that the cardinal is a cut above even those — at least, colorwise. It’s just impossible to describe how brilliant they can be during mating season, when the males turn an extravagant red. I hope this one decides to stay around so I can see the change.

        1. I hope you do, sooner rather than later! I see our belted kingfishers quite often, but even though they perch in the open, they’re quite skittish and hard to photograph without a lens that allows a little distance.

  10. You’re fortunate to have this beautiful bird around you. What’s also nice is to see the male feeding the female when he’s courting her. I saw it many years ago.

    1. They’re delightful to watch during courtship and nesting. The male is attentive and often sweet, at least to human eyes. It’s fun to listen to the families communicate once the babies have fledged, too. They’re quite vocal, and it’s easy to find where the young ones are hidden away by the chippings of nervous parents.

    1. We’re a little short on snow down here, but you’re right that where snow and cardinals coexist, the sight can be breathtaking. Around here, the males will perch in the upper branches of trees when they’re singing to attract a mate, and in the right light they really can shine against the sky.

    1. That’s an interesting article. I thought they mated for life, and the article confirmed that. It surprised me to read that they have 28 songs. They certainly do rival our mockingbird when it comes to singing: not only in terms of song variety, but also in endurance. They can go on and on, especially in spring in summer — which is just fine by me!

    1. They are pretty, and wonderful singers. I was thrilled to hear one sing for just a few seconds this afternoon. It’s a little early for them to be serenading potential mates; maybe he just was tuning up.

  11. Lucky you…how I miss them! And I think it was the song more than the visual that moved me. Don’t the females sing a little too? I seem to remember that. They’re so beautiful.

    1. Yes, both male and female sing. I heard one of them singing yesterday morning from a treetop somewhere — the first song of the spring. Today, I happened to catch them rummaging around the hedges just as the edge of my patio. My hope is that they’ll eventually find the feeder that hangs above the spot where I found them. With chickadees and wrens coming to it now, they may decide to stop by and check it out!

      1. Ah, I’m envious that you heard that whistle – but I HAVE been hearing Song sparrows, and common as they may be, I treasure their sweet, interesting songs.
        I can’t imagine that the Cardinals wouldn’t join the gang at the feeder – keep us posted!

        1. The cardinals are coming by, but they’re keeping to the ground, where they have nice cover in the shrubbery. The feeders are getting more active, though. I have doves, house finches, mockingbirds, chickadees, and cardinals as regular visitors, and yesterday I saw sparrows for the first time. There are some bluejays that have stopped by for peanuts, but if past history is any indication, they won’t become regulars until nesting and raising their babies begins.

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