I spent last week in Illinois, and although it was a sad family visit in their cold and barren winter, I had many lively reminders of the beauty of life on earth. Family and friends were a big source of the comfort, but I have to say, the northern cardinal was a prevalent reminder of beauty and strength for me.
What a bird! They are the state bird in Illinois (and seven other states too) and populate more than half of the United States, so they’re hardy survivors and we can expect to see them around for years to come. But that doesn’t mean they’re to be taken for granted. Some folks, I noticed, don’t even look up when the cardinal flies by. Many people, however, stock their feeders in the worst winter months with seeds (cardinals love sunflower seeds) and even provide heated bird baths; and in turn the crimson bird provides many thrills for many people.
In winter it is a striking sight against a snowy white backdrop. Right now Illinois residents are on the cusp of spring so you can hear the cardinal’s “woit woit woit” song in the darkness of a frigid dawn. Cardinals are around in summer and winter, permanent residents in their range. Although there are a few spots in southwestern U.S., Hawaii, and even southern California where cardinals live, mostly they are common in the eastern and midwestern states. They don’t live in California where I reside, so I just love to travel to parts of the U.S. and Central America and find them. I can’t seem to get enough of the northern cardinal.
There are several “cardinals” in this country, but the northern cardinal, the all-red bird pictured here, is a true cardinal with the latin name of Cardinalis cardinalis. Some exotic introduced birds in Hawaii are called cardinals like the Red-crested Cardinal and the Yellow-billed Cardinal, but they are not technically cardinals. And there is another bird in the Cardinalis genus (Pyrrhuloxia), found near the U.S.-Mexican border. The Red-crested Cardinal seen here was hanging out on the beach with us, exploring this coconut one balmy lovely day on the Big Island in Hawaii.
Being a birder, I love every bird. I think they all have something to share. But I do have my favorites, and the northern cardinal is one of them. I’m not alone either. So many people love the northern cardinal. What’s not to love? They’re big (nearly 9 inches long) and flashy, around all year, and faithful to feeders. The male is all red except for some black around the bill and tail, the female is an elegant light brown and red; and both genders have scarlet-colored seed-eater bills, as well as a dashing head crest.
Just about wherever you go on this planet, there are beautiful wild birds gracing our presence…all we have to do is look around and enjoy. And hats off to those special people who go the extra mile to maintain bird feeders and provide sustainable habitat to keep their birds happy.