How the Northern Cardinal is helping me through the virus crisis

First of two parts

If there’s a singular song of spring, it’s the call of the Northern Cardinal.

That loud, distinctive whistle is often the earliest note of the morning in much of the country. When the full bird orchestra eventually joins in, the Cardinal still holds the first chair.

Ever since the virus chased us all into our homes, I’ve added a morning birding walk under the guise of exercise (a loophole where we live.) It’s an antidote to the uncertainty; the first arrivals of migration are showing up right on cue in eastern North Carolina, while the year-round birds are hard at work gathering food, building nests and pairing up.

The female cardinal with its mute plumage and bright beak.

Almost everywhere I walk, Northern Cardinals are there to serenade. Their repertoire is rich and familiar, including that flute-like “cheer-cheer” opening, their steady chirps, their staccato zip-zips that sound like something from a video game. It’s not too strong to call it incessant on some days.

But then it switches to a gentler tune and all is forgiven.

If you’d like a reminder, here are recordings from the American Birding Association. And here from Audubon, down the page to the right, is a long list of the cardinal’s biggest hits.

The cardinal’s dominance doesn’t stop with its song.

This is the early riser that I suspect of waking us up each morning.

While many bird species are in decline, the Northern Cardinal has been expanding its reach the past century until it can be found all across the northern, eastern and southern U.S., and reaches over parts of the southwest. There’s a whopping 120 million Northern Cardinals in the hemisphere, decorating the landscape with flashes of bright red and orange.

Cardinal don’t migrate, so they can spend energy on other things, and their growing numbers reflect those strengths. Their omnipresence has been rewarded with popularity. Seven states have named the cardinal as their state birds.

A male and female pair

To go with its memorable songs, the cardinal is a striking bird in any season. The male remains bright red throughout the year, and the females a muted gray orange with a bright orange beak. With the springtime growth pushing out from every branch, the plumage of a pair of cardinals is combination worthy of a postcard.

Thank you for reaching the end of this post about one approach to birding in the midst of quarantine. Watch for Beverly’s take on this topic next week.









3 responses to “How the Northern Cardinal is helping me through the virus crisis”

  1. Hmmm. I was wondering because walking my dog a few days ago in the rain I saw many of them everywhere I looked. it made me feel lucky. It seems maybe they don’t mind the rain either. Nice to feel it is ok to get closer than 6 feet too!

  2. Those photos are phenomenal!

    1. Anders Gyllenhaal Avatar
      Anders Gyllenhaal

      Thanks so much for your kind note. Hope you’re doing well in the midst of all this strange time. Why don’t we find a time to get on the phone and compare notes. We’re free today, and also tomorrow, and the next day, as well as the following week and also the next couple of months.

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