As challenging as this past season has been, what with constantly stoking the wood stove, shoveling snow and ashes, and having to bundle up like Nanook of the North, I enjoyed one aspect: Silence from the nutty cardinal that spent countless hours almost every day last spring, summer and fall slamming into windows around our house.
Evidently the bird, which nests in nearby evergreens, was either too busy all winter scrounging for nuts and seeds, or, like the rest of us, too blasted cold to waste energy on such bird-brained activities.
As loyal readers will recall, no matter how many times my wife or I taped paper over our windows to eliminate reflections, the cardinal kept interpreting its mirror image as a rival bird horning in on her territory, and slammed into the glass from dawn to dusk.
At first it was kind of amusing, once I realized the cardinal hadn't injured itself, but after a week or so its behavior evolved from mildly annoying to extremely irritating, especially when the banging and high-pitched whistling started in before 5 a.m. By fall the inside of our house looked like a dungeon because of all the papered-over windows, and all it took was one sliver of exposed glass to provoke a
barrage of attacks that reverberated throughout every room.
Don't get me wrong. I like birds, especially barred owls that hoot, "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all" in the middle of the night; osprey and red-tail hawks that circle and swoop; turkey vultures that glide with the thermals; wild turkeys that trot along forest paths, great blue herons that stand like statues along the water's edge; jays that serve as woodland sentinels and cry out warnings of human intruders; curious phoebes that flit from branch to branch, wagging their tails, crows and ravens that squawk raucously, nuthatches, finches, sparrows, orioles and so many other feathered neighbors. I'm even fond of the wily catbird that repeatedly raided my blueberries last summer until I finally thwarted it with netting.
I feel much less affection, though, for the crazed cardinal.
First of all, on a superficial level, the female has dingy plumage compared to the crimson male, who uses his flashy color to attract a mate.
Which leads me to ponder: Is this the best you could come up with? All that preening and you wind up with an obsessive-compulsive spouse who spends all its spare time slamming into windows.
I can imagine her starting a conversation:
"Dear, we're running low on seeds … Do you mind flying over to the garden and bringing back a few for dinner?"
"OK, in a little while … I'm right in the middle of arranging these twigs for our nest."
Ten minutes later: "You know, I asked you to get some seeds, yet you're still fiddling with the nest…"
"I know, but if I drop this now the whole thing will fall apart. Give me a few more minutes."
Another 10 minutes: "What! You're still working on the nest?! What happened to my seeds?"
"I told you I'm busy right now! Why can't YOU go get the seeds? What are you doing all day?"
"What are you talking about?" I've been knocking my self out, literally, keeping that other cardinal from taking our spot?"
"What other cardinal? That's your reflection in a window!"
"Don't tell me what I saw! I know what you're up to …"
Now that I think about it, I haven't seen much of the male cardinal lately. Maybe he finally flew the coop.
Anyway, this spring we've been experimenting with different cardinal deterrents, and even placed a large, wooden sculpture of a cat peering menacingly out one skylight. You can see from the accompanying photograph how well that worked.
So I guess we'll just have to learn to live with the banging and whistling for a few months.
Or go back to living in a papered-in dungeon.
It could be worse, I guess. We could be besieged by a cape buffalo, rhino or wildebeest, so we should count our blessings.