They say all babies are beautiful, but there has to be some exceptions.
Nestled in a redbud tree, ten feet off the ground, exposed to the worldly perils of flightessness and helplessness, this baby Northern Cardinal waits to be fed. Instinctively motionless when surprised, he froze in place.
I found him by accident while pursuing a different bird through the
trees...House Finch…baby...got away.
But this younger baby Northern Cardinal didn’t have the ability to flee. He was too young to fly…a captive subject.
He could just barely escape sidestepping along a branch. Predation is a constant threat for young birds. Some birds eat other birds…it’s just that way. Raising a brood to adulthood takes good luck and experience in the bird world.
Remaining unnoticed is a key survival tactic.
Nearby, a 1st year Eastern Bluebird was foraging on the ground. He looked far more self-reliant than the young cardinal as he hunted alone. But, there was danger for him, too…cats. Feral cats are a major predator on birds of all ages. He was finding his own food while keeping an eye on his surroundings. He found an earwig in the leaf litter and was about to enjoy it.
In the tree above him sat a somewhat older Eastern Bluebird. He’s just now losing his spotted baby breast feathers and beginning to look more like an adult.
Meanwhile, the baby Northern Cardinal balanced midway between hunger and sleep, possibly dreaming of his next meal. Composed while still exposed, he waited for a berry delivery from Dad.
I know I was holding up the food service as Dad landed in a nearby tree…beak stuffed with berries…eager for me to go away.
I, too, remained still, hopefully hiding in plain sight. I suspect he noticed something was amiss with me however…standing on a two-foot stepstool in a straw hat and flip-flops; I may not have been completely invisible to him.
It made me wonder, though, do Northern Cardinals know they are red and that a red bird in a green tree is not all that difficult to see either?
It didn’t bother me that I was delaying dinner, as berries are easy to find in August in Wisconsin and there would be a rapid recovery of the food service as soon as I left. It’s not often I find a bird that can’t fly away and I was waiting for the money shot…feeding time.
Then baby cardinal spotted Dad and suddenly all of Dad’s deceptive dodging and stealthy tactics became pointless. The rapid-fire, high-pitched chirps coming from this little cardinal’s beak notified everyone in earshot of his whereabouts and that he was hungry.
Adding to the danger of being tiny, vulnerable and alone, a Bald-faced Hornets nest was nearby. Bald-faced Hornets are easily excited, bad-tempered and tenacious in their attacks when someone disturbs the nest. Birds and hornets are not natural enemies, but my activity between these two could have tipped the balance…luckily it didn’t.
The hornets came and went about their business without concern for either of us.
When Dad arrived with a mouthful of fresh berries the young cardinal couldn’t contain his excitement. Whatever he was chirping, Dad understood. Dad was being cautious at first, and then darted in to deliver the goods to his impatient little offspring who had endured hunger long enough.
It’s magical how a mouthful of regurgitated black berries can immediately excite and brighten the day of a baby Northern Cardinal.