The cardinals are growing happier by the day, it seems — do you hear them singing, too? I have a special place in my heart for cardinals. Some years ago my perennial attempt to whistle back to cardinals developed into a long-term (three-year) friendship with a pair who frequented my yard, “Claude” and “Claudia.” After some months getting acquainted, when I would call Claude, more than half the time he came flying in. Often he would allow me to stand within five feet of him. I felt so honored that he trusted me.
What intrigued me was that the visits didn’t seem to be just about food. Claude would swoop down to perch near me, ignoring fresh seed in the feeder, and chirp energetically for five to 10 minutes as I talked to him. Sometimes it really did seem that he came simply to chat, for he then flew away without eating.
I observed as Claude preened, or scratched his rear, claimed the bird feeder before his mate, and sometimes joined her there [see photo]. I learned his ways, and his mate’s, as she became bolder and friendlier, which allowed me to distinguish them from other cardinals. One day I noticed Claude grow suddenly silent and perfectly still. Within a minute, in flew a blue jay, landing on the bird feeder. How did he know the pecking order, I wondered?
One day was unforgettable: I found myself standing between the cardinal pair — each just feet away and both singing their hearts out, their breasts visibly heaving. What a gift. I was transported! And I was certain they were singing to each other, a passionate love song, but maybe it was a canticle to the universe in praise of life. Or they were simply claiming territory — when one is in a reverie, reason may not be the dominant faculty and all things become possible.
I truly missed my friends when they departed. I last saw Claude as he tried to chase another male cardinal out of the yard, and, sadly, I guess he failed. One might question the use of the word “friend” with a wild bird, for, seemingly, we shared no common language — except that we did.
My cherished memories of them endure, as well as the feeling of a truly relational, visceral connection with nature.
Jean Greenwood, Minneapolis
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