The Male Cardinal: What a Romantic!

He woos the women while chasing off male competitors who dare enter his territory.

I've been enjoying what I think is a greater number of cardinals this year than I recall seeing in past years.

And because of some behavior I observed earlier this month that piqued my interest, I have actually done some reading about their habits and mating traditions.

I was photographing a male cardinal that was feasting at a feeder in a friend's backyard.

He would eat for a moment, fly off, then come back almost immediately and repeat the cycle.

At first, I thought my presence at the sliding glass door was making him skittish.

Then I wondered if perhaps male cardinals assist in raising the babies, and thought maybe he was returning to the nest with food for the family.

So I started watching to see where he was flying off to, knowing that his nest must be close because it didn't take him long to fly back and forth.

Well, I was wrong.

He wasn't taking food back to the nest—he was taking it to a female cardinal perched on a branch in a nearby tree.

"Hmm," I thought to myself. "I wonder if taking food to the female is part of the courting process."

And indeed it is.

The male cardinal, in his effort to court and snag the female cardinal of his dreams, wines and dines her during the wooing process.

This guy was apparently hedging his bets, because I soon discovered he was courting two females.

At first, the girls sat next to each other on the same branch, and then one flew away to perch atop a nearby fence rail.

The handsome, bright red romantic patiently carried food to both of the women, though I did notice that his eating pattern at the feeder was along the lines of "five for me, one for you, five for me, one for you."

I also learned that cardinals mate for life and that males establish a territory and then are extremely protective of that turf.

I witnessed the truth of that piece of bird trivia first-hand last year when I discovered, each morning upon getting in my car, a slimy smudge on my passenger side-view mirror.

It definitely looked biological in nature, but was not waste, if you catch my drift.

Each day, I'd clean it off, only to have a new deposit the next morning.

Then I saw a male cardinal attacking the side-view mirror of a neighbor's pickup truck. Only then did I realize that the bird was protecting his turf by fighting off the "other male" he saw in the mirror.

Talk about an exercise in futility—how frustrated that poor bird must have been that he wasn't man enough to chase off his competitor!

Marge Neal (Editor) May 23, 2012 at 07:28 PM
Anyone else noticing more cardinals this year?
michele c dimity May 24, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Thank you-I love your info and the pictures. Nature is so cool. Good job. MCD
nancy cook May 24, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Such a great story, Marge!


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