This past weekend I found a bird nest in one of my climbing rose bushes and carefully watched to see what sort of bird had laid the three eggs in it. Wild birds are Nature’s adornment for the farmstead and it turned out my visiting nester is a female cardinal. I wish her great success in hatching the eggs although her choice of nesting site is going to make caring for the roses a little difficult for a few weeks. I really hope a snake doesn’t make a meal of her babies and we can enjoy their beauty and song as they discover their wings and take flight. Its song is so pleasing as to have earned it the nickname Virginia Nightingale as early as 1834 and likely much earlier. Let’s see what our forebears had to say about this lovely songster.
“The Cardinals are noted singers. Both sexes sing, but the song of the male is more frequent and a louder and clearer whistle. . .To the young in the nest he [the male] is an untiring provider of worms and grubs, and thus most useful in the garden. Nothing can be more comical than his behavior when he first conducts his young family out into the world while his mate is engaged with her second sitting. He is as fussy as any young mother, hopping about in great excitement, and appearing to think the whole world thirsting for the life of his pretty little ones”. – “Birds & Nature Magazine”. June 1904.
“After the robin the cardinal’s nest is the easiest to find, and perhaps the most common. Nests are usually placed low in bushes, or at moderate heights in thickets and saplings. Grape-vine tangles and porch trellises are favorite places and occasionally nests are saddled upon horizontal limbs of trees.
In construction the nest varies from tidy to disreputable, according to skill and season. A typical one is composed externally of long stiff weeds and leaf stems, and measures roughly seven inches across, with an extreme of thirteen inches. Next comes a mat of dead leaves, mostly beech [no beech near us]. Inside this in turn is a tough basket work of grape-vine bark and a lining of fine fresh grass cured in the nest. It measures, inside, three and a quarter inches in width and two and a half in depth.
The eggs are quite variable; even those in the same nest are hard to reconcile, both as to shape and markings. Because of the similarity in appearance, cowbirds’ eggs are easily imposed upon the cardinal. Professor Jones and I once found a nest with the bird on whose three eggs were to the best of our judgement the combined products of as many cowbirds.
The young hatch out in about fourteen days, and are ready to leave the nest in ten days more. The father is especially devoted to his offspring, and often cares for them while the female is busy with another nest. “ Have a delightful summer, gentle reader, and visit often. “Birds and Nature in Natural Colors”. 1914.