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In Your Garden: Bird watching

Cardinal Photo by Karen Blom

Cardinal Photo by Karen Blom

Petunia has been feeding birds for years. Her feeders are right outside her dining room window so she can watch birds as she eats.  The other morning, she was finishing her second cup of coffee while Bunkey was shaving. He nearly cut his throat when he heard her yell, “Bunkey come here right now.” “What the heck?” “It’s a cardinal, a real cardinal,” she answered.

While some lucky bird watchers have cardinals at their feeders on a regular basis, others, without the proper evergreen trees for cover near the feeder, never see them.

Cardinals were so named for the male’s bright red color, the color of cardinals in the Catholic Church. There are actually seven red birds called cardinals but all the others live in South America. Ours are the only ones found in North America, hence the proper name northern cardinal. Odd that, as it is actually a southern bird.  In the early 1900s, it started moving north. The reason it took them so long to get to Minnesota is that they are poor long distance fliers.

Roger Tory Peterson, who is the grandfather of bird books, once speculated that, since the birds don’t fly long distances, perhaps wide rivers, like the Ohio, kept them down south. Once the rivers had bridges, the birds could stop and rest part way across. Of course, people like Petunia who feed birds may have had something to do with it too.

Did you know that bird feeding started after World War II? Only then did people have enough extra money to throw away on frivolities like bird feed. As people started to hang feeders in their yards, the cardinals had the slight advantage they needed to expand their range and slowly, move north.

During the summer, the bird is very territorial. A pair will claim a territory about a half-acre and they will fight to keep their mate and hold their territory. In the winter, not so much, as the hormones that cause this aggressiveness wane. They will group together at feeders and other food sources.

They won’t eat from a tube type feeder. They want their food on a platter that is a platform. Keep it close to the ground, full of black sun flower seeds and enjoy these flashy red birds.

Black sunny seeds in a tube feeder will attract chickadees, gold finches, house finches, downy and hairy wood peckers and nut hatches. The seed that falls on the ground will feed doves, turkeys, and rabbits whether you want them to or not.

Rake the fallen seed up and discard it during the winter to help prevent the messy spring cleanup. That stuff gets really yukky in the spring. Enjoy the birds. They keep the bug population down. If you left your flower bed messy, they will clean that up too and spread a few plants in unexpected places, already fertilized.

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