SMITH COLUMN: Northern Cardinal

Published 9:30 am Thursday, June 16, 2022

For reasons that don’t require full disclosure, I have set up a temporary desk in our kitchen by a bay window that blissfully connects me with the outside world — so lush and green, from trees to neatly trimmed grasses to hedges to evergreen bushes and flowers.

In the foreground, there is a patio with wrought-iron furniture which serves as an accomplice to the many birds which come our way. I can hear them singing in the early morning twilight. To start your day when birds are singing is one of life’s riches blessings. It comes without cost. Nature doesn’t charge. Nature doesn’t ask for stipends to enjoy its handiwork.

As chipmunks dart about, I see a variety of birds strutting out of sync and without purpose but forever poised to scarf up anything edible — from insects to food scraps. I watch them dance peripatetically, engaging in bird talk, which makes me wonder what they are saying.

Perhaps they are complaining that we don’t have a bird feeder, which is something that I have considered quite often, but don’t feel moved to embrace the obstacles for such a perk which might make them stop by more often — such as hanging a trough where the squirrels can’t get to it. 

I’m sure a bird feeder has to be raccoon proof as well as squirrel proof. With the deer who constantly come through our yard, my guess is that they would be attracted to a free meal same as the rest. However, a bird feeder compatible only for birds would enhance fulfillment. 

Already, I have emotional enrichment for the birds which stop by without any diet incentive. I have spotted since early March the following: A blue bird which makes me think of royalty. Then there are the occasional sparrows which offer nothing redeeming — the middle class of the world of ornithology which makes them important. Like crows and houseflies, you bump into sparrows anywhere you go on planet earth, although I have not been to Antarctica. 

A blue jay will pay a visit every now and then. You always know when a blue jay comes around. All you have to do is listen for his squawk. When he brings along his mate and friends, an unrestful cacophony interrupts the atmosphere. A mockingbird, a wren, a red-headed woodpecker but never our state bird, the brown thrasher, have greeted me lately.

This brings me to my favorite fine feathered friend, the Northern Cardinal.  I have named him “Stan the Man,” for the greatest Cardinal (other than those who have gone on to be Pope). That would be the late Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals. For the longest time, all I knew about this most beautiful of birds was that it was all red, hence, we simply called this bird a “Red Bird.” That was down on the farm years ago when a provincial upbringing had me unwashed and unaware of many facts that would someday bring about joy in learning.

Whatever I am doing, I pause when “Stan the Man,” comes calling. His red cloak gleams brilliantly in the sunlight encroaching the patio. Every time I see him, I pause and salute his existence.

The Cardinal is nature’s masterpiece. All that vibrant and classy red, complemented by a black mask around his face. A dashing Cardinal, like “Stan the Man,” makes my day as it is getting underway.

The northern cardinal can be found from Maine to the Midwest down through the Texas-Mexico border, from Nova Scotia to Belize. You can find them in Arizona, not the football team in Phoenix but those such as “Stan the Man.”

I love to hear “Stan the Man,” sing but I had to go to the Internet to share with you his lyrics: “cheeeer-a-dote, cheeeer-a-dote; purdy, purdy, purdy…whoit, whoit, whoit, whoit, what-cheer, what-cheer, wheet, wheet, wheet, wheet, cheer, cheer, cheer, what, what, what, what.”

Makes me want to go to St. Louis, put on a baseball jersey featuring two cardinals perched on a bat, find my way around the base paths, singing lustily, “cheeeer-a-dote, purdy, purdy.”