Our Amazingly Successful Lathrop Cardinals

by Barbara Walvoord

The St. Louis Cardinals this fall accumulated their 100th straight win, plus titles and accolades. They are amazingly successful. So are our Lathrop cardinals. Unlike many other birds, cardinals have increased their numbers in the U.S. since the 1800’s. How come?

For one thing, cardinals have learned to use bird feeders; the ones in my photo were hanging around by Nancy and Herb Steeper’s feeder. And cardinals eat many different foods–seeds, fruit, and insects.

Cardinals like combinations of open and wooded areas, with shrubs and thickets as well as trees. That would be us. We have lots of brush piles and thickets where you can see cardinals flitting about this time of the year, sheltering from cold and snow.

Cardinals are fierce. A male will aggressively chase away other males, pursuing them until they leave the area.

Cardinals can live up to 15 years. And cardinal males are attentive fathers. While the father is defending and caring for his nesting mate and young ones, his color become duller, camouflaging him against predators who might follow him to the nest.

Cardinals are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, signed between the U.S. and Britain (acting on behalf of Canada), to protect birds against wholesale slaughter for feather hats. So you cannot kill a cardinal or confine it as a pet.

Although they are protected by the migratory bird act, cardinals do not migrate, so they are not dependent on multiple environments for their lifecycle. That means, however, that our Lathrop cardinals are fully dependent on us for their survival. We help them by nurturing native plants, which provide more insects than alien plants. We help them by protecting our forests, meadows, and brush piles. We help them by our bird feeders, but more important, by nurturing our native cherry, serviceberry, winterberry, and crabapple, as well as seed-bearing grasses and flowers that stick up above the snow.

And in return we get to see their beautiful red feathers, not on our hats but in our trees, and we get to hear that lovely cardinal whistle, which you can hear at http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=cardinal+bird+song&view=detail&mid=3257702073FAD237428F3257702073FAD237428F&FORM=VIRE1

The land committee’s 20 members work well together, enjoy our land, and enthusiastically seek new members, whatever their physical capabilities–there’s lots of interesting work to do. Contact me at walvoord@nd.edu.

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