A Juvenile Northern Cardinal

I have said it before, but I will say it again, juvenile birds are so weird. With both the disheveled appearance of their developing adult plumage and their equally awkward behavior, it is little wonder many people’s first reaction upon seeing a juvenile is to assume the bird is sick.

In my backyard I have become accustom to certain juveniles. House Sparrow juveniles, for example, are almost a constant throughout the summer. However, last summer I received a few visits from a juvenile Northern Cardinal and I must say, seeing it in person made such an impression.

I think part of the shock has to do with my impression of adult Northern Cardinals. An elegant, almost aristocratic bird, the Northern Cardinal never seems to have a feather out of place. Male and female alike seem to treat the feeder and their fellow birds with disinterested disdain.

So perhaps it is the elegance of the adults that created such a strong contrast between them and their gawky juvenile. When it first landed, it made quite an entrance. Instead of a graceful decent, it more or less plopped out of the air. Once on the ground it began to wander. Like most toddlers, its attitude was one of wonder, as it explored everything with great interest and curiosity. Every other bird in the area was of particular interest, no doubt because they might be convinced to feed this pitiful little guy, so he didn’t have to fend for himself.

I say guy, but the sex of my juvenile could not be determined by appearance. Juvenile Northern Cardinals are similar in appearance to a female, but they are a duller brown throughout. The only hints of the Northern Cardinal’s famous red can be seen with some red tinting at the breast and tail. During its first visit it’s plumage looked particularly bedraggled. However, it visited more than once over the course of the summer, so I was able to see the progression from the scruffy youth toward the sophisticated adult. If you think about it, it was looking pretty good, considering that it was born naked except for a few tufts of grayish-brown down.

Additional Source:

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Cardinal/lifehistory

The Twin Hawks

This past July I had an accidental encounter with a pair of young hawks, who I believe were siblings. I had just tucked all my camera equipment away when I noticed a very large fluffy lump on the grass. I was in the parking lot of Lambert Castle, which is terraced above the lawn, so it was a level below me. I crouched down to see what it was. That was when I realized it was a Red-Tailed Hawk, awkwardly strutting around on the ground. Cursing my luck for putting the camera away so nicely ten minutes earlier, I rushed to my trunk to put my lens back on the camera. The Hawk didn’t seem to notice my movement in the slightest. So far, so good. I got a few photos from where I was, still with the Hawk not even seeming to notice me. So I decided to test my luck and I made my way to the stairs for the lower level.

I approached the stairs slowly and took a few more photos. The Hawk still seemed completely oblivious to my existence. So I continued down the stairs. I used the fountain as a blind to get even closer to the Hawk undetected. It finally did seem to notice me, and hopped up on the wall. I decided to continue trying my luck, and I slowly approached the wall, staying far enough away not to really panic it. The Hawk decided to show off, turning around in slow circles, so we had ourselves a little photo-shoot. At this point I knew I had tons of photos, so with nothing to lose, I began to slowly walk closer.

That was when the Hawk decided it had had enough of me. Off he flew. I kept my eye on him, figuring he would head for the trees, way up on the mountain. Instead he headed for a tree at the other side of the lawn, so I decided to follow for some “Hawk in tree” photos. I approached the tree at a slow walk, keeping my eye out for him as he wandered around the branches. I noticed he had very quickly ended up on the opposite side of the tree. But nope… there he was on the lower branch he had flown too….oh my, two of them!

While they were in the tree I was able to get a very close look at their bodies and it was then that I determined they both had enough downy white belly fuzz that they were probably both juveniles, probably siblings, rather than parent and child.

Eventually I decided I had been bothering them enough and I walked off. I didn’t make it to my car before the two of them whistled at each other and then flew to a telephone pole in the parking lot. So I swung my camera around again and decided to take some photos of the two of them together. It was then that the most amazing thing happened. They were seated on two tiers of the same telephone pole. The lower bird turned its head, saw its companion’s tail feathers and chomped down! He held on for a few minutes before he finally decided to let go.

They then proceeded to turn toward the trees on the ledge above the parking lot, calling expectantly up. My guess is that they had been permitted a small excursion as a learning experience, but now they were done exploring and playing and expected their parents to fly down and collect them. Right now! When I finally got tired of waiting for something to happen and headed back to my car they were still sitting there, anxiously watching the treeline.

A Day in the Backyard

A leisurely weekend morning spent in the garden with a book, a cup of tea and my trusty camera, ready for action. Many of my usual customers stopped by, including a pair of Cardinals, several Mourning Doves, House Finches and Goldfinches of both genders and a Catbird. A Brown-Headed Cowbird grabbed a quick snack at my feeder and a Northern Flicker rested on a branch for about a minute, but I wasn’t quick enough with my camera. A young Grackle even took a few drinks from the bird bath.

It is amazing that in just the span of a day or two the baby birds sticking their beaks through the hole of their birdhouse are suddenly up and out. The frantic and awkward flapping which at first glance appears to indicate an injury, is really the international bird body language for “I’m hungry.”

Today the baby House Sparrows that have been living in one of the birdhouses in our yard ventured out into the world. They didn’t venture very far, just a few branches above their home, hopping more than flying from branch to branch. They are still being fed directly by their parents, the adults’ beaks going right into the eager open mouths of the chicks. Their coloring is such that they could almost pass for an adult, if a bit smaller in stature when you have mom or dad right next to them for comparison. But when you look closely, the fluffy, downy feathers are still there.

The quiet, still morning air was constantly pierced with the shrills of much larger babies, the Blue Jays now have their babies out of the nest. I believe their cries rank among my least favorite sounds of the summer. As gawky as the most awkward teenage you can think of, Steve Urkel comes to mind, you could almost think they are so ugly that they are cute, but then they open their mouths and shrill again. The adult Blue Jays had all they could do to satisfy their bottomless-pit children. They came to my feeder, gulped down the food, shoved it down the babies’ throats, repeat. Suddenly breast feeding doesn’t seem that bad.