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The cardinal that made me see red


I nearly polished the paint off of my brand new Chevy Impala to the point you could part your hair in the shine. It was dark blue and every time a car had the nerve to pass by my house on the dirt road where I lived, I was outside with a bottle of spray and a dish rag wiping every particle of dust off it. The rims were spotless and the tires shined like an ebony vase from the Ming dynasty. This car was new and by golly I was going to keep it new.

I kept my new car parked in the circular drive about thirty feet from my front door. During the spring I always kept my doors open to listen for bird song. Many times I would hear the last notes of a White-throated Sparrow before they departed for another year. About this time I would hear the territorial call of the beautiful Hooded Warbler, letting all the others know that this was his turf, at least for this season. Soon I would hear the call of the Great-crested Flycatcher, sounding like a coach with asthma blowing a whistle.

It was while sitting in my overstuffed leather recliner made for the Giants of Gath that I noticed activity around my new car. A male Northern Cardinal was flying back and forth from the rear view mirror on the driver's side of my car. He would perch on the edge of the window and peck at his reflection in the mirror. I quickly pried myself out of my Gath recliner and headed out the front door barefooted as a yard dog and right away stubbed my big toe on a root that I had been planning to get rid of for ten years. I hobbled to the car waving both hands to scare the bird away. Reluctantly, the criminal cardinal flew off in the direction of the woods that surrounded my home. I noticed right away that he had left scratch marks in the rear view mirror where he had begun to make war with his would be adversary. "Oh no you didn't" says I. This had to stop "toot sweet".

The next morning I woke to find that the cardinal had returned and not only had he proceeded to let the bird in the mirror know who was king, he had left a trail of his meal the night before running down the side of my brand new, dark blue, polished to the hilt car. All the veins in my forehead popped out and I gritted my teeth so hard I heard a molar crack in the back of my jaw. I headed out the door with my bucket of soap and water in hand and gagged as I cleaned up the mess left by the demon cardinal. As I scrubbed I pondered on how to fix this disgusting problem. My next step was to take a trash bag and a large rubber band and tape it all around the rear view mirror. This went over like a balloon in a hurricane. The next morning the demon cardinal had torn through the bag and proceeded to thrash the bird in the mirror all the while leaving me evidence that he had consumed a rather large batch of blue berries the evening before. I had been a birder for nearly ten years at that point and had spent a great deal of my time fighting for the rights of birds but this Nazi Cardinal had to go!

Next I tried parking my car in another location, good luck with that. Next, I tried cutting out a large bird of prey out of black cardboard and placing it on the window next to the rear view mirror. The Nazi Cardinal pecked some more at the glass and pooped on the bird of prey.

This was the last draw. I headed for my closet and pulled out the shotgun. Of course, I could not bring myself to shoot it. What a chump! Spring finally gave way to summer and the courting season had come to an end and I was able to retire my wash rag and bucket. Fall rolled around as immature cardinals flew from one side of my yard to the other, clad in their cinnamon brown that would later turn a brilliant red. Winter came and brought with it the first snow I had seen in years. On my feeders the red of the Cardinal made a stark contrast with the pure white snow.

Spring came again and again came the peck, peck, peck, poop, poop, poop cardinal. The water hose and bucket would follow.

Oh well, cardinals only have a life span of about five years.

J. Morris, has been birding, teaching and writing about birds for 20 years. He is the founder of the Mississippi Coast Band of Birders.