All’s well, the cardinals are back

My daughter was walking her dogs near her home in Austin, Texas, and pushing her one-year-old in his stroller the other day when she spotted a cardinal and immediately called me.
Cardinals are special to me, always have been, and so are special to her too. I call them affirmations. Since cardinals are not prevalent here in Northeastern Pennsylvania they way they are in, say, Virginia, where they are the state bird, seeing one around here is a big deal. The “affirmation” part, which I borrowed from writer Carlos Casteneda, is that seeing one means all’s right in the world. Or at least in my world. Mother Nature is telling me so.
My daughter has embraced this concept. I was pleased to tell her there is a family of cardinals living in my hedges, a harbinger of good things to come, I am sure.
A couple of years ago I opened the door first thing in the morning to grab the newspaper off my front porch and spotted a female cardinal perched on the railing. I had never before taken a good look at a female cardinal. That’s because when I think cardinal, I think red. The one on the front of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball jerseys, the side of the Arizona Cardinals football helmets, and on several Christmas cards. Everyone does. People in St. Louis often refer to their team as simply “The Redbirds.” Because, well, cardinals are red, right?
The male ones, yes. But only the males. The female cardinal, with its brown feathers, is rather nondescript.
I heard years ago the reason the male cardinal is so bright in color is to attract predators away from their female partners and babies. From what I’ve found online, however, their redness is not so noble. It’s more likely only to attract mates.
After pausing to examine the female cardinal on my railing, however, I came to the conclusion that while the male cardinal with its red feathers, prominent plume, and black facial mask makes it incredibly beautiful, the female, if given a second look, has a beauty all her own. In fact, she may be even more appealing.
Examining her up close (well, from 5 or 6 feet away) I was captivated about how the color of her feathers, a fawn-like shade, complemented her bright orange beak and grayish-black mask. And there was a hint of that famous “cardinal” red on the tips of her tail and wings.
Looking at her made me think of a question asked of young, and, I suppose old men, too, back in the late ’70s about the TV show “WKRP in Cincinnati.” Jennifer (Loni Anderson)? Or Bailey (Jan Smithers)? Jennifer was obviously the more glamorous, more sexy of the two. But there was something about Bailey if you just took the time to notice.
For the record, I always chose Bailey. For much the same reasons I found myself admiring this female cardinal.
Then she showed me her depth of character. The cardinal, I mean.
I quickly surmised she must have a nest of young ones close by because she was not on my railing for nothing. She was there to protect her family. And I got the feeling there was nothing she would not do to accomplish this end. She chirped, and hopped, and darted to the glider and back, and even zipped toward me once or twice.
“Okay, okay,” I told her. “I get the message.”
As I stepped back to let her calm down, I noticed her spouse, a handsome “Redbird” in all his glory, watching from a branch of a tree. I must admit, he too did a fair amount of chirping. I think it was, “You go, girl.”
And, perhaps, “I’ll be right here if you need me.” But we both knew she wouldn’t.

Ed Ackerman