Advent Thought for the Day: 2

Reading time 3 minutes

December 2nd: Cardinals

I have never seen a real cardinal bird, and yet they follow me wherever I go. On my buying trips in India and China and I can guarantee that almost every product I select, whether it be a bauble, a snowglobe or an advent calendar, will carry a representation of this handsome little bird.

Cardinal birds, also known as redbirds, cardinal-grosbeaks and cardinal-buntings, are most common in the southeastern USA but have expanded their range, even settling as far north as Canada. Only male birds sport the brilliant red plumage which gives the cardinal bird its name. The strong colour is critical to mating success; the brighter the feathers, the more appealing they are to female birds. Like our native robin, males can be aggressive when defending their territory. However they are also social outside the mating season. Images of handsome scarlet males perched on snowy branches are one of the most potent symbols of Christmas in America, just as red-breasted robins are here in the UK.

For fifteen years I spent this particular weekend in the USA, catching up on the retail scene stateside. I’ve skipped the last two years due to budget, but I do miss picking up gifts at Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma. There is something nice about giving gifts that can’t readily be purchased in the UK. That’s getting more and more difficult as retail becomes more globally homogenous, which I find a bit sad. This week I shall be travelling in The Netherlands and Germany instead, and hope to take in a few Christmas markets. There I can be confident of finding lots of little gifts that retain the uniqueness I am seeking. TFG.

Categories: Christmas, Musings

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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16 comments On "Advent Thought for the Day: 2"

  1. Hi, Dan – I’ve been following for a year or so. I too am a frustrated gardener; slowing turning my 8x8m plot into a secret jungle. I love the blog. I’m enjoying your advent posts, but for some reason there are no photos in the email versions? There are with the rest of your posts… please keep blogging x

  2. Cardinals are indeed territorial – I’ve witnessed them spend hours flying from a branch to attack their own reflection in a nearby window. Tap Tap Tap, flutter away. Beautiful but not too bright!

  3. We have a pair that nests in our garden yearly. They come to the feeders early and late in the day. I often wonder where they go during the day.?? They are as beautiful as you imagine. Even though the female isn’t brilliant red she is a shade of gold with red highlights and is quite beautiful.

  4. The cardinal is our state bird here in Ohio. I have learned much about it from your post I didn’t know. One tends to take something for granted when it is so common. I have them nesting in my yard every year and they are frequent guests at the bird feeders in winter. I will cherish them more now since reading your post. Happy holiday traveling and shopping.

    1. Thanks Cindy. Sometimes we need a nudge to remind ourselves of what’s right in front our faces, although I imagine cardinals are hard to miss. How lovely to have them nesting and feeding so close to your home. Dan

  5. So interesting that the abundant cardinals in Southwestern Ontario are not so in the UK! The male’s bright spring call is music to the ears of many (annoying to others). I remember the Romantic poets referring to the nightingale. I would love to see and hear that guy!

    1. No cardinals here, but we love and revere our robins in the same way. Robins are super-friendly when it comes to humans, often eating out of your hand. However the males are very aggressive towards one another.

      Nightingale are just slightly larger than robins and quite plain-looking. They are restricted to the very south eastern parts of England and only visit during the summer months. To hear one is quite special.

  6. I had never seen a cardinal either, until I went to Oklahoma. While driving, my friend said, “Hey, there”s a cardinal.” as if it was no big deal. I looked over, expecting to see a robin or some slightly red bird that could easily be dismissed as such, but instead saw a real live male cardinal flying along side us for a few yards. It looked so unreal. I mean, why would a bird want to be so blatantly red? Wouldn’t that make it a target to predatory birds? I did not get the opportunity to ask him. He flew away.

    1. Great story Tony. Often animals are brightly coloured if they are venomous or dangerous. Clearly not in this case, but I believe it’s a means of attracting a mate. The redder and brighter the feathers, the more chance Mr Cardinal has of finding perfect partner.

      1. Well, yes; but it seems risky. It gets the attention of predatory birds as efficiently as it gets the attention of the ladies.

  7. Hi Dan; The cardinal was my mother’s favourite bird, she lived just north of Toronto. They are startling against a snowy backdrop, just as delightful against the parched browns that prevail in the absence of snow. I was in Ontario the second half of October enjoying some late autumn colour. The trees are
    bare now and the temperatures are dropping, so hopefully the cardinals are making a welcome appearance. Hope you get to see one, wear a warm jacket jacket!

    1. I hope I do too, some day. My garden is full of sparrows, doves, magpies and blackbirds – all marvellous but not bright. The most startling visitor I get, normally in the New Year, is Percy the Parakeet. He’s one of hundreds of rose-ringed parakeets that have set up home on the Isle of Thanet. They’re a long way from home, but they seem very happy. Their green plummage is equivalent to the cardinal’s red. What a festive pair they would make!

  8. I concur about the increasing homogeneity of retail. I make a few trips outside of my normal circles at this time of year to find the unique, pretty items. But guess what….in my area the stores that have the best potential to have something unique are the small garden centres 🙂

  9. Hi Dan, I bought some fantastic brightly coloured paper mache birds for Christmas presents last year ( not cardinal). I loved them so much I couldn’t give them away ! they now live in my greenhouse, and sat amongst my tomatoes and cucumbers all summer. Looking forward to your next 23 days as we head to Christmas.

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