This morning as I was listening (and looking hopefully) for robins, I noticed a cardinal perched on top of my bird feeder.
He was cold. He had his chest feathers puffed out over his feet. And (I grabbed the binoculars) he had no head feathers at all! Bald!!
Then I realized: the bird feeder was empty. And he was eying me reproachfully. Turning his head sideways and looking right at me. He sat there for a good ten minutes until I understood that he was sending a message.
I was still in my dressing gown. But I put on my duck boots, got the canister of bird feed, and headed out the back door. He didn't move far, just hiding in the hemlock close to the back deck. I could hear him making soft "chip, chip," noises -- not the usual cardinal sounds at all. (More along the lines of , "My goodness humans are kinda dumb. Takes 'em awhile, doesn't it? And they call US birdbrains. Really!!")
I told him that I was filling the feeder. And not to go away. I made sure that there were lots of red skin peanuts and black oil sunflower seeds within easy reach. And went back into the house as quickly as possible.
A few minutes later, he was back at the feeder. And I've seen him several times since then today, eating hungrily.
Of course I was worried he had some kind of disease, mites perhaps or a significant nutritional deficiency. But apparently not. Apparently (I (found a piece on the internet, link below) some individual blue jays and some individual cardinals just do moult this way, every year, exposing bald skin on their heads. He's apparently growing in his new spring plumage. Which should be brighter than ever. And I can expect the process to take about two weeks. All of which is most reassuring.
But in the meantime: that poor cardinal has no toque! Gotta be cold! And of course he needs optimal food to grow his new head feathers.
On several occasions I've had chickadees come right to the window to let me know their feeder is empty -- finch type, so they can hang upside down, and their suet block. Chickadees are so friendly, they'll sit right on the fence while I fill their order! (And already their chickadee song has changed from "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" to "sweet spring"!).
But this is a first for cardinals. And my cardinal absolutely knew that he was communicating with me. Absolutely knew once I understood what he needed, I would get right to it!!
OK, then. I've waited table before for way less agreeable types, that's for sure. And it will be fun to watch those cardinal head feathers grow back into that usual saucy crest!