Jul 15, 2009

Cardinal Notes Continued

Two years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal adopted an orphaned white-crowned sparrow chick. Below is the adult version of a white-crowned sparrow. The young have less white, but there's certainly no resemblance to a cardinal. Even so, for about two weeks, I watched Mr. and Mrs. C feed the sparrow, which was almost as large as the they were.

As a minor league birder, I didn’t trust my own eyes, so I googled the subject and found confirmation. Then I called the local Audubon chapter: “Oh yes, cardinals are one of several species that adopt orphaned young from other nests, other species.”

The other evening, Mister sat alone on a wire, where he called and called. He faced away from me, and for the first time I saw the back of his neck swell and recede to create each cluster of notes in one long, descending solo after another. It didn’t sound like panic, but why did he keep going and going like that for fifteen or twenty minutes?

I decided that Mrs. was supposed to be home from the movies long ago, and he was worried, maybe a little cross. I worried with him for a while, then gave up—CSI Miami was coming on, a different version of brilliant color.

I have friends who argue about the possibility of altruism in animals—or humans, for that matter.

What’s the evolutionary advantage of feeding a child from another team?

My friends in high evolutionary places tell me that the Mr. Cardinal’s red or the gold finch’s yellow amounts to a double-edged sword: females have apparently found color attractive, so these seeds of brightness are spread farther abroad; however, a colorful Mister is also a brighter target for raptors and cats. What if raptors and cats are color-blind? Do we know?

As for the missing Mrs. C, she was back the next day. If they’d had nasty words at home or if they’d thrown vases at each other the night before, I couldn’t tell. They presented well as usual, with nonchalance. And as usual, they were the last to leave.

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Anonymous said...

I love this Banjo. I had a mockingbird make a nest in the honeysuckle, just a couple of feet above my lawnchair. He or she gets so upset when I sit there, and will buzz my head.

Your birds, on the whole, are more colorful than ours.

Banjo52 said...

Thanks, AH. I'm real attached to the little buggers, esp. since they stay through the winter.

What was the goofy comedy (movie) a few years ago where the mockingbird made so much racket that somebody killed it? I love them when I'm on the road and see/hear them in a tree top (I'm picturing a place in Kentucky at this moment). But I'm not sure I'd want one in the back yard, esp. if they dive bomb as well as chatter, er, sing--and I think I've heard stories like yours from other people too.

Sorry about your birds' color--plus brown and tan landscape. But I guess it's that or swamp or winter.

On the other hand, I've come to like juncos and nuthatches and some others that most people might find colorless and boring.

slowmo said...

Your characterization of the relationship between cardinals is charming. Even though my brain tells me their behavior is instinctual, my heart prefers to see more to it.
I don't have the patience myself to be a precise observer. I'm glad there are folks like you who groove on it.

Lovers' Lane