|copyright: dedayrace at www. flickr.com
I have to dig out an old bird book to look up more about cardinals. I remember that at the turn of the twentieth century, “redbirds,” then a common name for cardinals, did not winter north of St. Louis. In the last century the winter range of Cardinals has grown to include southern Wisconsin and Northern Michigan.
I once heard territorial song from a cardinal as he perched at the tip of a large bush one frigid January morning just outside of Chicago. This morning, in early December, the cardinals aren’t singing yet, but they are clearing their throats.
My theory is that, these days, there is much more stuff for cardinals to scavenge. Seeds are abundant from local gardens and what ecologists call “edge.” “Edge” is the ecological niche that borders forests. It’s where bushes, grasses and wild flowers find a healthy place to grow, produce seeds and provide “cover” for birds. It’s taken a few hundred years for us to beat back the forests and carve out space for our farms but now their is plenty of edge, enough to support winter flocks of cardinals, sparrows and other passerines.
Forget harsh Northern winters. After all, common sparrows and blackbirds seem to have had no trouble managing cold and snow. The cardinals have learned that they are welcome to the winter table, too.