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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Here's why we have so many Cardinals

Now we have Cardinals almost everywhere

In the 1800s, the Northern Cardinal (its full name) lived in North America only as far north as southern New York and west only to wooded portions of the Great Plains.  It could be seen only rarely in north Texas.

In the 21st century, the Cardinal is almost everywhere in this country (except chunks of the West). This is largely due to their adaptability, and the large number of people who feed birds and create habitat, so the birds can survive harsh winters and hot summers.  Today, their range extends north into southern Canada, into lower elevations of the Rocky Mountains, and east to the Atlantic coast.

Since their origin, Cardinals have only lived naturally along forest edges. However, as man cleared millions of small spaces for homesites, more and more “forest edge” was created. (Basically we created lot and lots of habitat islands within the bigger forests). We even grew and stored lots of Cardinal-food such as wheat and corn within each habitat.  If humans had set out to create habitat for Cardinals, we couldn’t have done much better.

Adult Cardinals escort fledglings (just-out-of-the-nest youngsters) to the vicinity of birdfeeders. The parents bring seeds from feeders to the fledglings, but the adults soon tire of this, and the clumsy fledglings (now knowing where the feeder is) will come by themselves. This occurs in all Cardinal habitats. This “teaching by example” happens often at backyard birdbaths too.  Any birdbath deeper than 2 or 3 inches, however, is too threatening for almost all birds. 

They eat a variety of seed and, sometimes, even suet; preferring a blend that’s heavy on fresh sunflower seeds. If their finely-tuned senses tell them a seed is stale or dry, they’ll just drop it and go to another yard.

OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at in Denton.

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