Birds – Cardinal Grosbeak

Cardinal cardinalis) Finch family


Length—8 to 9 inches. A little smaller than the robin.

Male—Brilliant cardinal ; chin and band around bill black. Beak stout and red. Crest conspicuous. In winter dress, wings washed with gray.

Female—Brownish yellow above, shading to gray below. Tail shorter than the male’s. Crest, wings, and tail reddish. Breast sometimes tinged with red.

Range—Eastern United States. A Southern bird, becoming more and more common during the summer in States north of Virginia, especially in Ohio, south of which it is resident throughout the year.

Migrations—Resident rather than migrating birds, remaining throughout the winter in localities where they have found their way. Travel in flocks.

v Here, while we are given a most charmingly sympathetic, delicate ac-count of the bird ” who has only to be seen or heard, and Death adjusts an arrow,” it is the cardinal’s pathetic fate that impresses one most. Seen through less poetical eyes, however, the bird appears to be a haughty autocrat, a sort of ” F. F. V.” among the feathered tribes, as, indeed, his title, ” Virginia redbird,” has been unkindly said to imply. Bearing himself with a refined and courtly dignity, not stooping to soil his feet by walking on the ground like the more democratic robin, or even condescending below the level of the laurel bushes, the cardinal is literally a shining example of self-conscious superiority—a bird to call forth respect and admiration rather than affection. But a group of cardinals in a cedar tree in a snowy winter landscape makes us forgetful of everything but their supreme beauty.

As might be expected in one of the finch family, the cardinal is a songster—the fact which, in connection with his lovely plumage, accounts for the number of these birds shipped in cages to Europe, where they are known as Virginia nightingales. Commencing with a strong, rich whistle, like the high notes of a fife, “Cheo-cheo-cheo-cheo,” repeated over and over as if to make perfect the start of a song he is about to sing, suddenly he stops, and you learn that there is to be no glorious performance after all, only a prelude to—nothing. The song, such as it is, begins, with both male and female, in March, and lasts, with a brief intermission, until September—” the most melodious sigh,” as Mr. Allen calls it. Early in May the cardinals build a bulky and loosely made nest, usually in the holly, laurel, or other evergreen shrubs that they always love to frequent, especially if these are near fields of corn or other grain. And often two broods in a year come forth from the pale-gray, brown-marked eggs, bearing what is literally for them the “fatal gift of beauty.”