Tag Archives: Northern Cardinal

Merry Christmas!

Wishing friends and family a joyous Christmas

Papa Cardinal eating fruits of native sumac.

Why Do Birds Attack Cars andMirrors

It’s a new routine. Wherever I park my car on a particular wooded lane, I return to find mama Cardinal attacking the car’s reflective surfaces, both side mirrors and the windshield. She perches in the branches above chortling a medley of warning songs and then swoops in to peck and gnash at herself. I have tried moving my car further down the lane and have covered the mirrors with bags, but still, she perceives my car as “the enemy” and finds a shiny surface at which to strike.

Northern Cardinals, American Robins, and Turkeys are the species we most often hear attack  cars and windows. Northern Mockingbirds and American Goldfinches fly at reflective surfaces as well. The behavior is a territorial display; the bird sees in the object its own reflection and imagines the image is competition, or a threat to its nestlings. Some birds, like Mourning Doves, don’t require a large territory whereas I have read that Black-capped Chickadees will chase off interlopers in as much as a 17 acre territory. The mama Cardinal may continue for the entire nesting season, which is of concern as I don’t want her to wear herself out. Next time when at the wooded lane I’ll try parking even further away.

Cape Ann Winged Creature Update

Featuring: Brant Geese, Black-capped Chickadees, Black-crowned Night Heron, Blue Jays, Cardinals, American Robins, Mockingbirds, Savannah Sparrows, House Finches, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Common Grackle.  

Beautiful iridescent feathers of the Common Grackle.

Spring is a fantastic time of year in Massachusetts to see wildlife, whether that be whale or winged creature. Marine species are migrating to the abundant feeding grounds of the North Atlantic as avian species are traveling along the Atlantic Flyway to summer breeding regions in the boreal forests and Arctic tundra. And, too, the bare limbs of tree branches and naked shrubs make for easy viewing of species that breed and nest in our region. Verdant foliage that will soon spring open, although much longed for, also obscures nesting activity. Get out today and you’ll be richly rewarded by what you see along shoreline and pond bank.

Male Red-winged Blackbird singing to his lady love

Once the trees leaf, we’ll still hear the songsters but see them less.

Nests will be hidden from view.

Five migrating Brant Geese were foraging on seaweed at Loblolly Cove this morning.

Red-breasted Merganser Bath Time

Cape Ann Wildlife: A Year in Pictures

snowy-owl-gloucester-massachusetts-c2a9kim-smith-2015My husband Tom suggested that I write a year-end post about the wildlife that I had photographed around Cape Ann. Super idea I thought, that will be fun and easy. Not realizing how daunting and many hours later, the following is a collection of some favorite images from this past year, beginning with the male Snowy Owl photographed at Captain Joe’s dock last winter, to December’s Red-tailed Hawk huntress.
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Living along the great Atlantic Flyway, we have been graced with a bevy of birds. Perhaps the most exciting arrival of all occurred when early summer brought several pairs of nesting Piping Plovers to Gloucester’s most beloved (and most highly trafficked) of beaches, Good Harbor Beach. Their story is being documented on film.

piping-plovers-chicks-nestlings-babies-kim-smithWork on Mr. Swan’s film will also resume this January—the winters are simply not long enough for all I have planned!swan-outstretched-wings-niles-pond-coyright-kim-smith

While photographing and filming Red-winged Blackbirds this past spring, there was a face-to-face encounter with a hungry coyote, as well as several River Otter sightings.

female-red-winged-blackbird-copyright-kim-smitrhFemale Red-winged Blackbirdeastern-coyote-massachusetts-kim-smith

The summer’s drought brought Muskrats out from the reeds and into full view at a very dry Henry’s Pond, and a short film about a North American Beaver encounter at Langsford Pond. Numerous stories were heard from folks who have lived on Cape Ann far longer than I about the extraordinary number of egrets, both Snowy and Great, dwelling on our shores.
three-muskrat-family-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithThree Muskrateers
female-monarch-depositing-eggs-1-copyright-kim-smithnewly-emerged-monarch-butterfly-copyright-kim-smith-jpgThere were few Monarch sightings, but the ones seen thankfully deposited eggs in our garden. Thank you to my new friend Christine who shared her Cecropia Silkmoth eggs with me and thank you to the countless readers who have extended an invitation to come by and photograph an exciting creature in their yard.

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Pristine beaches, bodies of fresh water, and great swathes of protected marsh and woodland make for ideal wildlife habitat, and Cape Ann has it all. With global climate change pushing species further away from the Equator, I imagine we’ll be seeing even more creatures along our shores. Butterfly and bee populations are overall in decline, not only because of climate change and the use of pesticides, but also because of loss of habitat. As Massachusetts has become less agrarian and more greatly forested, fields of wildflowers are becoming increasingly rare. And too fields often make the best house lots. Farmers and property owners developing an awareness of the insects’ life cycle and planting and maintaining fields and gardens accordingly will truly help the butterflies and bees.
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Thank you to all our readers for your kind comments of appreciation throughout the year for the beautiful wild creatures with which we share this gorgeous peninsula called Cape Ann.

The images are not arranged in any particular order. If you’d like to read more about a particular animal, type the name of the animal in the search box and the original post should come up.

I wonder what 2017 will bring?

nine-piping-plovers-napping-gloucester-copyright-kim-smith

sandpipers-copyright-kim-smith

HOW COLOR IS CREATED IN BIRD FEATHERS

In thinking about how colors are created in bird feathers, I wondered if it was similar to how color is formed in butterfly wings. I learned that yes, it is very similar, and that bird feather color has evolved in several ways, from pigmentation present or as a result of light refracting through the layered structure of the feather.

Northern Cardinal Male Kim SmithColor from Pigment

Pigments are colored material found in plants, animals, and nearly every physical substance in nature. Pigmentation in birds comes from three different sources: melanins, carotenoids, and porphyrines.

Melanins are tiny bits of color in the feathers of birds and in their skin. Melanins produce colors from palest yellow to rusty red browns to the richest black, depending on where the melanin is located and in what degree of concentration. Feathers with melanin are the strongest of all. A bird’s flight feathers are the most susceptible to wear and usually have the highest degree of melanin.

Red-winged Blackbird male Kim SmithAmerican Robin Kim SmithRed-winged Blackbirds and American Robins are strong flyers. Their flight feathers have rich concentrations of melanin.

Carotenoids are produced by plants. Birds that eat specific plants, or eat something that has eaten the plant, acquire pigment from carotenoids. A carotenoid-rich diet is responsible for the beautiful vermillion feathers of the Northern Cardinal, as well as the electrifying cadmium yellow of the male American Goldfinch. Another example is the pink feathers of the flamingo, which also have a diet rich in carotenoids that come from the crustaceans that they eat, which ate algae. Melanins and carotenoids can interact to produce feathers such as olive green.

The third group of pigments are called porphyrins and they are the rarest, found only in a handful of bird families. Porphyrins are produced by modified amino acids and all share a common trait, which is to fluoresce bright red when exposed to ultraviolet light. Porphyrins are found in some pigeons, owls, and turacos.

The intensity of the red of the Northern Cardinal is an example of how feather color plays an important role in the survival of a species. Cardinal foods high in carotenoids include rose hips and dogwood berries. The brightest red birds usually have superior breeding territories, with the greatest abundance of their preferred foods. The reddest birds make the most successful parents because of their ability to bring an increased amount of food to the nestlings. When Cardinals are raised in captivity on a diet lacking in carotenoids, with each successive molt, the feathers become paler and paler.

Like butterflies, birds can see color in the ultraviolet spectrum (we humans cannot). Perhaps the way we see birds is entirely different from they way they see themselves!

Part Two Structural Color continued tomorrow.

Red-winged Blackbird in flight male KIm SmithMale Red-winged Blackbird

Cardinal Attacking Mirror

Black-capped Chicadee and Northern Cardinal feeding hungrily during blizzard

Dear Gardening Friends,

During inclement weather, particularly when it is blizzarding, please don’t forget to knock the snow off, and clear the base around, your feeders. While working on a drawing this afternoon and looking out onto the snowy backyard scene I observed a half dozen species of our feathered friends searching for food at the bird feeders and in the fruit-bearing shrubs. The fearless Black-capped Chicadees, with cheery birdsong chic-a-dee-dee-dee, have their amusing habit of darting in for a seed and skedaddling away as quick as can be to crack it open against a firm surface. Particularly sweet was a cardinal pair. They took turns at the feeder; while one was eating, the other was always close by and at the ready with a warning cry.

A question from one of my dear readers:

Dear Kim, I have a question that maybe you can answer. Last summer a male cardinal sang his heart out every day from the tree tops around our house. I thought he must be calling for a mate, but I never saw him with a female at all. Then the most curious thing happened: he began to perch on either my or my husband’s side mirror on our cars. He would peck away at the mirror and flap his wings. It was then that I concluded that he was desperate for a mate. This fall and winter, a male and female have appeared. There is a male (maybe the same one) that has started perching on my car mirror again. Since it is December/January, and if it is the same cardinal who now has a mate, it may have nothing to do with trying to find a mate. If you have any ideas, let me know.
Male Northern Cardinal
Dear Wendy, Although I have never observed male cardinals attacking mirrors or windows, they are well-known for this territorial behavior. The birds see their own reflection and believe it to be a competing male.  A group of male turkeys in Rockport has become a real nuisance, aggressively attacking the poor mailman because they see their reflections in his shiny white truck. The species that most frequently display this behavior are: American Robin and Northern Cardinal, and occasionally Northern Mockingbird, American Goldfinch, Wild Turkey, and Ruffed Grouse. To read more about it, go to Mass Audubon’s page on Birds Attacking Windows.
Stay warm and cozy,
Kim