Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Northern Cardinals in Alice, Texas

Female northern cardinal. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I am back in Texas. I just can't stay away. I love this place--the flowers, birds, wildlife, it's all so beautiful! After two years in the Arizona east valley dust bowl I sold my house, bought an adorable old farmhouse on two acres and moved to Alice, Texas. 

This is Fabio. It was a rough drive, but he loves Texas. I'd like to find a place that prints small dog t-shirts so I can order four of them that say, "I survived the move of 2022!

It was a stressful move with 16 animals in cages in the back of my truck, but we all survived the drive. The six male ducks were divided into two large cages where they were able to stand and walk around. My single female Muscovy, Squeaky, was in her own cage, but also able to walk around. Penny the Peahen was also caged separately in a cage fit for a queen. The four dogs were seat-belted into the two trucks. The cats were in cages (large enough to move around) on the back seat of my truck and the two rabbits were also in separate cages where they could move around. When we arrived in Texas we discovered the sale of my house in Arizona was delayed for six days so we slept in a hotel room with the dogs and cats then changed the hay, water, and feed for the caged animals twice a day. It was a great relief to finally move into the house! 

Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Last night, though, after only two weeks in Texas, we had a casualty. My lovely Mallard, Blackie, was killed by a weasel. We identified the killer by the tiny teeth marks in the neck and the fact that he somehow managed to squeeze through a small gap between boards. I am heartbroken. I love my ducks and was looking forward to another 18 years of quacking and waddling from him. He will be missed.

Male northern cardinal in Alice, Texas. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

There are many other birds around the house to keep my ducks company, though. The birds I see and hear the most are the northern cardinals. They are quite vocal, and both male and females participate in the choir. According to Birds and Blooms the northern cardinals have 24 songs that they share. 

Female northern cardinal. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

The male and female partners communicate to each other through songs, as well, and the females have a specific song they use as a mating call. They are generally monogamous and form lifelong bonds. I love listening to their conversations. They also make a frantic "chirp chirp chirp" sound to alert others to danger, such as roaming cats.

Juvenile male northern cardinal in Alice, Texas. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Prior to 1918 it was legal to own northern cardinals and other songbirds as pets, but the Migratory Bird Act forbids their sale as caged birds. They don't migrate, though. At my house they appear to be nesting in the trees that run alongside the house. I can hear them calling to each other when they come into the feeding area. They like the brush and low trees for the shelter and nesting materials they provide. They will have multiple rounds of hatchlings throughout the year, from two to four during their brooding season, which runs from March through August. They have 1 inch speckled eggs that take a couple weeks to hatch. 

One of my favorite photos of a male northern cardinal. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

So here's a few fun facts about northern cardinals. First, these are busy birds! Once the eggs hatch, dad will feed the hatchlings regurgitated bugs up to eight times a day while mom searches for the next nesting sight. Second, northern cardinals are called "northern" even though they live in the east, central, southwestern United States, and Mexico, because they are the northernmost bird in the cardinal species. And finally, the northern cardinal is believed to have been named after the Catholic Cardinals who wear red robes, and a flock of northern cardinals is called a Vatican! 

Train tracks and bluebonnets in Fredericksburg, Texas. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman, 2010.