We have a pair of cardinals in our yard; I’m pretty sure they’ve been with us for several years now. I love seeing them – Mr. Cardinal in his brilliant scarlet, and the quieter, rosy-hued Mrs. Cardinal, with the striking dark accents on her face.
We’ve been feeding them, off and on, for a while now – not regularly, really, just a handful of sunflower seeds now and then, especially in the winter. I like to think they recognize us – one or the other (or both) will frequently hang out on the fence or the roof of the neighbor’s house while I’m working in the garden.
A few years back, I heard this awful ruckus outside – it was “our” cardinals- both of them! – and they were, quite literally, pitching a fit. I could just see, out the window, that they were taking turns diving toward the ground, coming back up, squawking and clicking and just carrying on something awful.
So of course, I went to investigate, and what did I see?
There was a tiny Baby Cardinal, helplessly sitting on the ground – and the neighbor’s cat was stalking it. Mama and Papa Cardinal were doing their best to hold the feline off, but it was clear they were fighting a losing battle.
The best I could do was to shout at the cat: “Hey! You! Get away from that baby!” And the cat did look up at me momentarily before it went back to staring at Baby Cardinal.
This would not do.
So I went into the house, leashed up the dog, and brought him out to walk past the cat.
That cat had tangled with that dog before, and he knew Baby Cardinal was not worth the wrath of my cat-hater. Baby Cardinal was safe!
Well, last evening Husband came into the house and said that it looked like The Cardinals built another nest in our tree, and Baby Cardinal had evidently fallen out. It was close to bedtime, and I didn’t think much about it.
Not, that is, until I went to take the dog out for his walk this morning, and he immediately dashed halfway across the yard with his “well, what have we HERE?” look.
Let me tell you, Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal were NOT happy. They did stop short of diving at us, but I quickly led the dog out of harm’s way, and I made sure to take him through the backyard when we finished our walk.
I went out to the tree after breakfast to see if I could somehow help our little Cardinal family. Baby was still there, cheeping away, and Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal were both watching him. I couldn’t see any sign of a nest, so I thought maybe I’d put a “temporary nest” – a small plastic bowl lined with a dishcloth – on the crook of the tree, where it would be off the ground and out of range of wandering dogs (and stalking cats).
Surprisingly, Mama and Papa Cardinal simply watched me from their respective perches – they didn’t say a word when I approached Baby.
Baby Cardinal, on the other hand, screamed bloody murder! He screeched and squawked and ran around in circles – and he even managed to get a good bit of lift, trying to fly away from me.
He clearly wasn’t hurt, and I just didn’t have the heart to further terrify him by actually handling him. His parents were right there, watching him from a distance, and keeping him safe.
I suspect this is just part of growing up – learning to fly without assistance.