Love is in the air……

By on May 15, 2008 in General |

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Love is in the air with a favorite West Michigan bird, the Cardinal. Breeding season starts in February/March and nesting activity is busy during the months of April to July. Check out this awesome picture that “fills the bill” sent to me by Tracey Koperski from the Grand Rapids Press, and after you enjoy the picture read some more Cardinal “bird tales”……

 Mama Cardinal is feeding her brood while Dad is out hunting for more food. These young cardinals will leave the nest at the ripe old age of 10 to 15 days! When they leave, capable of only short 10 to 20 foot flights, they’ll stay close to the nest area under Dad’s careful observation. He helps them collect insects while Mom stays in the nest preparing for the next brood. Listen for Mom’s distinctive call when she wants to get Dad’s attention, he appears quickly when the call goes out, must be he has his cell phone set on a distinctive tone when she calls and wings it back to the nest. Cardinal singing will vary contingent on their mood, from fear of predators to lovey dovey mating talk to territorial “smack” to general communication. A few years ago I interviewed Tim Friend, an author and science editor from USA today about his book ‘Animal Talk’. If you want to learn more it’s a great read including the chapter “songs and shouts” addressing bird communication. Both birds sing beautifully during this season of love, but Mom seems to be the predominant voice and decision maker. She is primarily responsible for choosing the nest site and building the nest, but the male is present and does help. Notice from the nest picture above how the female bent stiff stems from weeds, vines or branches to form the nest shape. If you could see in the nest, she probably created a bed of softer leaves and grass. Cardinal pairs will attempt to raise more than one brood in a season. Slowly but surely these babies will learn from their parents, eventually foraging for themselves and becoming independent about forty days after leaving the nest. Cardinals are great because both parents work together to raise their young. With careful observation, you will see the male and female engage in something called “mate-feeding” where the male will pick up a seed, hop over to the female and the two momentarily touch beaks as she takes the food. One final word of caution…….If you’re lucky enough to have a Cardinal family move in like this one did under an eave, stay at a distance as you observe. You will find the parents to be somewhat nervous and quick to skedaddle in the event of predator intervention. While having a caring and nurturing disposition towards their young, they tend to avoid a fight and will save their hides in lieu of defense. If the nest was attacked, they would return and rebuild the nest and begin the process of developing a new brood. Zoom in for pictures from a distance and turn off the flash. You’ll have some great pictures to add to the family album that “fill the bill!”

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