Backyard is for the birds

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 20, 2010

Our daughter called me to the kitchen window Saturday. “Look,” she said, pointing to a sassy male cardinal (red bird) in the back yard on a spot where Friday’s snow had melted. The brightness of the sun against the remaining snow made its feathers almost glisten. Its beauty was breath-taking. We stood and admired it until it flew away.

For years, I’ve noticed the cardinal (red bird) population that visits our yard. Other birds, like blue jays, doves, various kinds of sparrows, mocking birds and others visit our bird feeders and scratch around in our yard often. They seem to pop in unexpectedly—here today, gone tomorrow, back again another day. Not so with red birds. They’re always around. I think they nest in bushes next to our fence and in low trees in our wooded lot next door. I am pretty certain they live close by and continue to raise their families there year after year. I understand that they typically raise as many as three broods a year.

All day Friday as the silent, gentle snow dropped white coating on tree branches, posts, bird feeder tops, the lawn, and eventually the driveway and the sidewalk at our house, numerous red birds appeared. Some hopped around on the ground; others perched on branches and my short backyard clothesline. I felt a bit guilty that we hadn’t stocked our bird feeders in anticipation of the snow.

Early Friday afternoon, I looked out the master bedroom window to see if the snow was sticking on our driveway. I noticed movement somewhere under the trees in the woods I faced. Sure enough, there were several red birds hopping around out there. They reminded me of excited south Alabama children enjoying the first sight of snow in their lifetime. It looked like those birds had some kind of game going on among them as they hopped and flitted around in the underbrush.

I’ll never forget the morning after Hurricane Opal. Perched atop some downed branches and trees in our back yard were several red birds, both male and female. Opal had wrought destruction; maybe even destroyed some of the birds’ habitat. Nevertheless, their presence among all that mess was encouraging.

Red birds not only fascinate me because of their beauty. I love to watch them at the bird feeders. I’ve seen them give each other morsels. I thought it was the mother or father feeding his/her almost-grown young, but I read somewhere that it was a spring-time courting ritual between male and female.

Did you know that at one time people prized cardinals as pets because of their coloration and song? The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 banned their sale as cage birds and provided special legal protection for them. It is illegal to take, kill, or possess them and those who violate that law are subject to up to a $15,000 fine and imprisonment for up to six months. Isn’t it great to have them around to enjoy?