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Hungry Bald Cardinal!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

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!

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • NANCY-
    Having a feeding enables the sweet songs to piece the closed windows and come into our home. I never knew that about cardinals and the molting... but it does make sense. You blogs send me soaring. Thanks.
    1882 days ago
  • _LINDA
    That is an awesome experience!! Today on the trail we watched a woodpecker rat-a-tat-ting away like a little jackhammer on the tree. Couldn't see him clearly, but got glimpses of white and black plummage. A lone two tone whistle followed us along the trail, but we couldn't spot him. We heard another bird but also couldn't spot him as the bush was quite dense along the woodsy trails. Nice to know the birds are showing us spring is really on the way :)
    Thanks for the info -I have never seen a bald bird!
    1882 days ago
    Kindness at its best.
    1883 days ago
  • COFFEE_123456
    That is so funny about the birds letting you know that their feeder is empty. Smart birds!

    1883 days ago
    My Dad has a couple of bird feeders outside his front picture window, so he knows when to refill them. He also puts seeds out for the squirrels. They stand on their hind legs with their hands folded across their stomachs peeking in the window to see if he's available to refill the seed ledge both in front and back of the house. We all get much amusement from the antics of the local fauna.
    1883 days ago
    You're such a good writer and story teller!
    1883 days ago
    Facinating! The blogspot link wouldn't come up right now, so I'll come back later to check it out. I've never seen a bald cardinal. I've seen molting parrots and cockatoos. That whole process is interesting. Very good of you to support your feathered neighbors. I'm sure they depend on you!!
    1883 days ago
  • PHOENIX1949
    Fun blog. Our main backyard birds are Hummingbird, Cardinal, Blue Jay, Grackle/Crow, Mourning Doves, Mockingbird, variety of tiny wrens/finches (central Texas). Unfortunately the squirrels kept commandeering & destroying our bird feeders so we pretty much quit putting out anything but several Hummingbird feeders.
    1883 days ago
    Have to say I have never seen a bald cardinal, so I learned something today!

    We love our birds too and have multiple feeders. Do you have trouble with critters helping themselves to your bird seed?
    1883 days ago
  • UZA77777
    Another sensitive soul, I love it!
    1883 days ago
  • KANOE10
    We don't have cardinals here. That was a cute story. Our hummingbirds will come to our window and look in if the feeder is empty.
    1883 days ago
    Gotta say I'm loving the bird blogs! Remind me of my ex, and when he would feed the birds.
    1883 days ago
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