By Susan Howell
One of the most abundant and colorful birds to inhabit my yard is the Northern Cardinal. Over the years these permanent residents have provided me with not only their beautiful song but also a little bit of wild bird drama. The striking red plumage of the male certainly outshines the rusty brown female, but from my perspective unlike other wild birds their different coloration easily differentiates one from the other.
During the winter months an impressive flock of Cardinals coexist in my yard finding shelter in the dense shrubs, vines and understory trees that grow in my yard. This vegetation provides good nesting and roosting areas as well as offering protection from hawks and other predators.
Spring ushers in mating and nesting season where territorial drama begins as males begin looking for mates. Normally this process plays out without much fanfare; minor disputes are observed as these bold colorful males chase each other around. A display which up until a few weeks ago always appeared to be more bark than bite. At least that is what I thought; little did I know that a battle was slowly brewing. It began with an aggressive aerial pursuit between two male Cardinals that escalated into some serious wing to wing combat. At the heart of the matter, I believe is one particular female maiden which appears to be the object of their desire.
While outside one morning a strange rustling sound caught my attention. Before I could say (ouch) these two males violently hit the pavement of my driveway, a fight worthy of any neighborhood bar brawl, these birds were obviously out for blood. Not only did this startle me, it managed to wake up my old cat Dixie from what seems like the ten year nap he has been taking. The fight ended as quickly as it began leaving one stunned bird on the ground. While I wondered if he was seriously hurt, old Dixie began to contemplate the birding days of his youth. Slowly Dixie and I began to approach the downed Cardinal our motives of course entirely different, the bird meanwhile regained his senses and luckily flew off seemingly no worse for the wear.
Dixie went back to sleep, while I went about my day with the certainty that one battle scarred Cardinal claimed both victory and the fair maiden restoring peace once again upon my land. Hardly the fairy tale I envisioned, these dueling lotharios have continued their violent battle which leaves me to wonder how much longer can this avian soap opera last.
FYI: Mated pairs of Northern Cardinals can often be seen with one another. Unlike many other songbirds both the male and female sing.