Friday, March 11, 2011

Cardinal Love is in the Air: Coming soon to a Tree Near You

Every morning at 6AM, my yippy yappy Yorkie wakes me up and I carry him (yes, carry him) downstairs to the backyard for his morning business.  During his potty time, I usually run to the basement to get my Greek yogurt and won-ton soup for the day but for some reason, on Wednesday morning, I decided to sit in the dining room and watch him.

As I sat watching Jasper turn the snow yellow and wake up the neighborhood as if to let them know he had been allowed to live another day, I heard a beautiful birdsong.  It sounded like "cheet-cheet-cheet-pretty-pretty-pretty."  Sitting very calmly amid Jasper's chaos in our lilac tree was a bright red cardinal, singing at the top of his little bird lungs.  I ran outside in my jammies and slippers so I could get a closer look.  He didn't seem concerned that I was there; he just kept singing as if he was homesteading the branch.

Cardinals winter in Wisconsin so I didn't really think this was a sign of spring until a few moments later when a female cardinal flew in to sit next to the singer.   Mister Cardinal's lovely melody got even louder and more pronounced as she landed and soon he made his swift move, hopping a little closer to her on the branch. At one point, their little heads moved toward each other just like in a Disney movie when the birds heads come together to form the shape of a heart.  I know it's sappy, but it's true!  I was completely taken up in this moment of cardinal courtship and the realization that spring is indeed in the air until Jasper decided to become part of the action. Jasper finally realized that I was paying attention to a creature other than him and he began his incessant barking, scaring the lovebirds off.  "Naughty Japper," as sweet Amélie said on Sunday when she realized he ate the head off of her Princess Aurora.  Oh well, it was time to get ready for work anyway . . .but what a lovely way to start the day.  

Later in the day as I was dealing with Facebook bullying at school and realiziing that I have a love you/hate you relationship with Mark what ever his name is that created Facebook, I slipped away for a moment back to the backyard branches and the cardinal love.  I've always heard that cardinals mate for life so I took a break from the nastydom of Facebook and googled.  I found out that cardinals do mate for life - how sweet - ah but the bad news is that a cardinal's life expectancy is only about a year.  Bummer.  I also found out that the brighter a male cardinal is and the louder his voice, the more attractive he is to the female.  He completes Jerry McGuire would say.  And yes, I discovered that my backyard cardinals were indeed doing their spring courting but I as I read, I realized that I had missed the most interesting part of their courtship (no, not bird sex).

Male cardinals woo their sweethearts with their song and their color, much like our males do but they keep them for life by feeding them!  Male cardinals not only bring home the bacon; they fry it up in a pan and then feed it to their sweethearts!   When those beautiful red birds are courting their drab brown soulmates, they find the sunflower seeds, shuck them and then tenderly place the the morsels into her open beak while her wings quiver with anticipation.  Are you listening guys? And then when the children come, he gallantly and tirelessly defends her and her nest and they are faithful to each other until the end of their lives - a true love story for Disney.

I have an idea for a new cardinal version of Irving Berlin's hit, Cheek to Cheek.  I think it's destined to be a hit on the Birdland Billboard:

I'm in heaven.

And my heart beats so that I can hardly tweet.

And I seem to find the happiness I seek,
When we're out together dining beak-to-beak.

My mother-in-law, Dort, loved birds, but I think cardinals were her favorite.  When they would come to feed in her bird feeder, she was in heaven; you could see it in her eyes.  One of my favorite Dort memories is sitting with her in the kitchen watching the birds; she sat in her wheelchair and I sat in the chair next to her and we talked.  We rarely left the kitchen during our Iowa visits. There was a perfect view of the birdfeeders out the big picture window in the family room.  My father-in-law had precisely placed the bird feeders in the big tree in the backyard years long before I was in the family.  The state of awe that birdwatching inspires is something the Jansens brought to my life.

I think Dort is the one who told me that cardinals mate for life.  I wonder if that's part of the reason she loved them; she definitely had found her soulmate and stuck with him through thick and thin.  But watching the birds was something she and Marv enjoyed together.  They alerted each other when a new bird came to the feeding site so that they each could bask in the moment together.  They would add commentary about a new bird and they would notice when a bird hadn't visited for a while.  And of course there were the times when Dort would gently or not so gently remind Marv that the birds were out of food and he would dutifully scoot out to the backyard to fill the feeders.  I can't see a cardinal without thinking about Dort and missing her.  Thanks for teaching me to sit in wonder at the birds of the world and thank you (and Marv) for teaching my husband about "cardinal love."  I am the blessed recipient of your life and love together.

This picture of the singing red lover is for my dear sweet mother-in-law who we have missed birdwatching with for the last nearly 10 years. (you have to look closely - it's sort of like Where's Waldo for birds!)

 You have to look closely - it's sort of like Where's Waldo for birds!

1 comment:

  1. So they mate for life, but they only live a year? And he basically courts her for her whole life, but it's only for a year? Hmmmmmm, no wonder! Oh, I am kidding. That's sweet, Mom. I remember that about Dort and Marv. I always thought that it was so cute. It makes me want to learn more about birds and plants. I know nothing about either!