There was a day when I noticed a female Cardinal having some sort of fit that didn’t involve a domesticated cat or a dog. This could mean one of any number of things but I suspected and it was confirmed to be a Grey Rat Snake. These are notorious egg thieves and devourers of fowl. I’ve relocated more than one out of a henhouse and usually release them under my own house just to keep the rodents honest. You cannot like your odds against a rat snake if you’re a rat. If the rat snake is pushing over six feet in length you can’t like your odds if you’re a rat and you’re armed. It will end poorly. Leave now.
Let’s be realistic here; Hickory Head is not for the timid or the weak or the unlucky. Living in the woods isn’t a Disney movie and mom Cardinal had spotted a largish Grey Rat Snake moving towards the Oak where her nest was laid. The snake could easily reach the first limb that hung down and from there… well, it was going to be a buffet of Cardinal eggs. The Grey Rat Snake looked at me and wondered what my part in this might be. Certainly mom Cardinal thought things had gone from worst to worst still. So I picked up the snake and tossed it back into the woods. I got the loping shears out and lopped off the limb hanging down. Yeah, I know, it’s interfering with the way nature works, but that’s the way it has to be sometimes.
That was a while back. A couple of years ago I discovered a Cardinal nest in a young Oak tree that hadn’t been born when I moved out here thirteen years ago. That interference thing, it has a reach on it, it does, and even though I hadn’t planned it that way, me bringing in my own pack of tame wolves had helped that Oak tree stay alive long enough to hang a Cardinal nest on its head. The deer and the wild vines kept the back acre from ever having any Oaks grow up there but the mutts keep things tamped down and keep the deer away. The Oaks have returned in a big way.
This year I put out a bird feeder outside my bedroom window and noticed there was a mated pair of Cardinals who frequented. I also noticed they had their nest in a tree that had not yet been born when I moved here. Now there is a tree, a nest, and it’s all in the flooded part of my property where there once was a firepit. At least two of the trees I’ve grown here, accidently, have been homes to Cardinals.
Now there are five Cardinals who come to the feeder; there is the male and the female, there is a young male, and there are two young females. I like Cardinals. I like the bright red of the male’s coat of feathers and his black mask near his beak and face. I wonder if the mated couple will drive their young away or if their young will hang out and build near them. I know Blue Jays are more or less social creatures but I have no idea about the redbirds.
If there are winners with my birdfeeder and tame wolves there have to be losers, too. I know that the dogs kill small mammals and I know they’ve more or less eliminated a lot of the underbrush that once called the back acre home. I’ve gone in and killed off a lot of the vines that drag young trees down. I have to keep cutting them back each year, but each year the trees get taller. They eventually will reach a height where the vines can’t kill them.
I wonder if I should put some boxes for Bluebirds because I have seen some of them here as well. The Indigo Buntings are much bluer than Blue Birds, mind you, but I think they are more seasonal. I also wonder what would happen if I caught a Grey Rat Snake trying to sneak into a Blue Bird box. That is certainly going to happen if a box goes up.
I also wonder what will happen if I keep feeding the Cardinals. This is the first generation that has seen this much birdseed this deep into the season. If I keep feeding the younger generation will they lose some of their ability to find food without me? Will the population of certain birds, who like this seed mix go up? What happens to the species who share a habitat with the Cardinals yet do not have the same feeding habits? I think about these things because I live out in the woods and everything is connected. You can’t throw even the smallest pebble in the pond without ripples.
I’ve noticed the younger birds are the last to leave the feeder at dark. I wonder if the older birds just eat supper earlier, like older humans do. Hmmm, do they have an AARP?( Avian Americans Resisting Poultry? ) But the young make seems to be more stressed out than his two sisters. I know nothing about birds. I may have to start reading about them. And where do these next generation of birds roost? There are trees aplenty here but clearly they aren’t all staying in one tree…are they? So much to wonder about when it comes to birds and so little time to Google them.
So now we wait until next year and see if we have one pair of Cardinals here or if there is a second pair. How long do these birds live, I forgot that question, and do they mate for life, or at least more than one year? I’m already leaning into the idea of trying to figure out how to tell one Cardinal from another. Where to look?
In the back of my property stands a massive Oak. Three or four hundred years old, it has seen its share of humans come and go, the brief lives of people vanish quickly in its shade. I wonder if there is something the Cardinals watch and if they wonder how quickly lives are lived, in some other form.