A Winter Almanac: Cold Days of the Cardinal

A winter almanac highlights the magic seven stars of Pleiades and the beloved red cardinal winter bird.


| December 1995/January 1996



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The Seven Sisters star cluster.


PHOTO: JAY TAYLOR/FPG; ROYAL OBSERVATORY EDINBURGH/SPL/PHOTO RESEARCHERS

A royal red winter bird and the magic seven stars of Pleiades are this season's highlights of the winter almanac.  

A Winter Almanac

Through drifting snow and cutting sleet I've trudged and toiled my friends to greet; And tug'd beneath my lumb'ring gear, To wish you all a HAPPY YEAR.
— An Old Almanack,
January, 1824
 

Red Bird in the Snow 

If you can afford to stay snug in your home on a winter day, one of the chief enjoyments you can have is looking out your window at a well-stocked and much-frequented bird feeder. And one of the best sights is seeing a dash of vivid and warm color brought to the pale landscape in the living form of that amazing American bird we call the cardinal.

No bird is more easy to recognize than the male cardinal, almost entirely red except for the conspicuous black mask on his face. The female cardinal's overall color has been called buff-brown and yellowish-olive, but what you notice most are the touches of red that it does have, on its crest, tail, and wings. Its red touches are beautifully artistic, in fact it's almost as if someone had used a paintbrush and stroked the color on here and there. The immature cardinals are also only partial in their redness.

But redness of feathers is not the only physical feature that makes cardinals attractive and likable. The crest on the head is impressive, of course. But have you ever noticed the color of these birds' beaks? The adults' beaks are pink, although I could swear that there is also some gold in the male's w (or perhaps the female's beak looks more pink in relation to her plumage). One way to tell immature male cardinals from females is by color of the beak—the young birds' beaks are rather colorless, sort of dusky.

carole_5
6/13/2007 11:08:59 AM

Cardinals regulary visit my bird feeder full of sunflower seeds. Today, I saw a male feeding his offspring. The baby bird was brownish with no red and made a buzzing sound like a small motor. Bzzz-bzzz-bzzz. Fascinating! What a good parent.






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