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Cardinal Stump

Good morning, everyone. This diary is a celebration of America’s favorite red-crested seed muncher. In the first half, I describe what cardinals have meant to me over the years. If you just want pictures of pretty red birdies, then scroll down past the Cwmpo Family Crest.

During my eight years here, I’ve often been accused of being Catholic, a Stanford grad, or a St. Louis baseball fan. In fact, my username is a simple homage to the dude pictured above. Well, not him in particular – rather, the cardinal kingdom as a whole. However, I would like to say a bit about one particular cardinal:

Mr. C mod

This is “Mr. C” – the first cardinal I ever saw. He visited my mom’s milk-carton sunflower-seed feeder every day during his adult lifespan, also known as my late teens and early twenties. I learned a lot from him about the majesty, intelligence, and essential wackiness of birds. Every morning and afternoon we heard the unmistakable “chip chip” as he approached the feeder. If the feeder was empty, he would announce his displeasure by dive-bombing our living-room window repeatedly until we refilled it. I’ll never know how he managed to do this for years without hurting himself. He also carried on a torrid love affair with the driver's side mirror on my parents' car.

Though bird watching became my main hobby while attending college in cardinal-free California, the avian-related highlight of any given year was returning home to see Mr. C. After he stopped visiting – I’m not sure what happened, but certain actuarial realities may have intruded – my fondness for cardinals became a near obsession.  

By my senior year, cardinal postcards and calendars had replaced Pearl Jam and Nine Inch Nails posters on my dorm room wall, and I was determined to attend graduate school in a red state. Unfortunately, I was rejected from every program except for my in-state backup, and had to endure at least two more years without my favorite yard visitors. I plastered my walls with cardinal pictures and trinkets as motivation – if I worked hard enough and rose to the top of my class, I could re-apply to the programs that rejected me. The plan worked, and I moved to Chapel Hill, NC, to continue my studies. To this day, I’ll neither confirm nor deny that I turned down three higher-ranked programs because I saw more cardinals during my UNC visit.

Cardinals, in fact, are extremely abundant in North Carolina – seemingly one in every tree, including the pear tree in front of my apartment. They brightened the winters with their shiny red coats:

NC winter mod

And they brought additional color to the autumn. No wait, that’s spring, with some bonus residual fall foliage. Gotta love North Carolina:

NC spring mod

There was just one problem with my attempts to capture the scenes for posterity. See if you can figure it out. . .

Hey, good guess! I owned only a non-zoom, point-and-shoot film camera. The last straw was an entire role of 24 exposures – more than $10 to develop – from which this was the best shot:

NC second apt mod

Though I was in debt up to my rapidly receding JewFro, I invested in a digital camera. Even though this was the "wow, 2 whole megapixels? You must be rich!" era, the payoff was readily apparent:

NC digital mrs

The balcony of my last NC apartment was a veritable aviagasm:


However, despite those loud, colorful distractions, I managed to finish my dissertation, only to discover that professors don't get to choose their locales. I now live in Texas and have a decent camera, so here are some pictures:

Cardinal Snow


Cold Fat

cardinal swirl

The Northern Cardinal is the state bird of seven states, more than any other bird: North Carolina, Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

Close up eating

Cardinals typically mate for life. The cycle begins in spring when the males claim a high perch and sing their tiny lungs out. The cardinal’s song is a boisterous, melodic tune with numerous variations. Interestingly, the females also sing – a rare trait among songbirds – though their songs are less frequent and less varied.

Mrs bug

During the courtship ritual, the male feeds the female. However, I like to put aside ornithological correctness and imagine that they’re kissing. It sure looks that way:



The next phase of the ritual involves more than kissing, and is typically off limits to casual photographers. But early in the summer, the unmistakable high-pitched chirping of baby cardinals is heard from treetops and thick brush. Within a couple of weeks, the younglings fledge, appearing in various phases of adolescent awkwardness:




NC feed1

A grad school classmate once exclaimed “I hate cardinals!” After I nearly crashed the car in which I was transporting her, I asked her to explain. “Everyone loves male cardinals,” she said, “but no one ever pays attention to the females.” Even though she wasn't particularly bright – for example, most of her lunches consisted only of M&Ms and a Big Gulp – for some reason her admonition stuck with me, and I’ve always tried to give due props to the lady cardinals and their elegant, understated beauty:

MrsC Snow

And finally, as mobile gamers around the world are intimately aware, Cardinals are adept at conveying certain emotions when they catch pigs stealing their eggs:

angry bird

Originally posted to Adam S. (cardinal) on Sun Sep 16, 2012 at 06:05 AM PDT.

Also republished by Birds and Birdwatching and J Town.

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