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Where We Left Off:
In the previous case file, we obtained more information about the copycat who lurks in our yard. Many questions still remain.
Staten Island Chuck was again the more accurate rodent predictor of the weather. He proclaimed an early spring. People reported having crocuses bloom three weeks too early! Gus and Oliver were pleased because it meant they could get outside for adventures sooner and longer. Among the activities, Gus chose to visit the trees over the border (technically trespassing). They make the Gus Superhighway which provides him with a vast network of fallen trees at different angles for amazing vantage points of critters below and above.
At this northern border, there is a natural wall of rocks (probably from glacial movement) but it’s become overgrown with brush. Plus, when the humans have to gather fallen branches and twigs after high winds, we throw them wherever we can back into the woods.
One of my personal favorite things about this time of year is that there isn’t foliage on the bushes so I can see the small birds much easier. There is one bird that is fairly easy to spot even when the bushes and trees are in full bloom: the bright red male cardinal.
Gus and I spend plenty of our outside time distributing bird seeds. All kinds of critters enjoy the snacks, but the birds are not shy about getting first pickings. I noticed a couple of cardinals following us around the way the blue jays normally do in warmer seasons. When I took their photos, I realized how expressive these small songbirds are.
I also used our outside time to observe how Gus and Ollie interact with the birds. Oliver LOVES to talk to the birds! Gus rarely talks to them. He prefers to get in position where he believes the birds can’t see him; then he chooses when to leap up and scare them. I honestly don’t know if the birds can’t see him as he believes. Some birds are braver than others. Certain birds are smart enough to do a fly-by first and see if Gus is around.
I’m writing up this case file a few days after Valentine’s Day 2023. Merchandise displays are pink and red. There are some great episodes of television about how much this “lovers’ holiday” can suck. I listened to the cardinals this week while the cats and I were out and it got me to equating the color of red with not only anger, but the passion of the birds.
I didn’t know cardinals were nicknamed “the Angry Birds” until today; I thought that was just the name of the video game (*disclaimer: I may have known but forgot). The black mask of the males against the blood red feathers can look intimidating. I found one site with a lot of cardinal facts and it says that a female will prefer a male with a lot of black on his face.
Other facts from Chipper Birds affirm that cardinals typically mate for life. Sometimes, they break up, but it’s not as common as human break ups. I also learned that there’s a genetic mutation that can present as yellow cardinals instead of the bright red! When you take a good look at the female coloring of a standard cardinal, warm tans and yellow are visible with the blushes of red. I think they’re incredibly pretty. It seems that yellow is always there but not dominant.
When it comes to coloring, there’s another little secret mentioned on the Chipper Birds site:
Like flamingos, cardinals are able to adjust their appearance by adjusting what they eat. Brightly colored fruit will help keep the cardinal’s red.
I wonder what keeps them red in the winter. Foxes and other mammals change their fur coloring with the seasons. Some lizards and octopi change with their backgrounds in a second or two. The cats didn’t provide any more data on why these male birds are bright red against white snowy environments. I guess they still want their mates to spot them even after they’re hitched. Their calls to each other probably a much stronger bond than their physical appearances.
If you missed the previous case where we researched gynandromorphism, take a look and learn about that fascinating chimera mutation.
We seem to have two mating pairs of cardinals who reside close to our backyard. Oliver is hopeful that they can become confidential informants by the time Spring officially begins. We’ll need reliable critters to report to us on activities of the Chipmunk Mafia, the Blue Jay Gang, and the Volepyres!
Case Status: Open