Four Baby Cardinals
A Photo Journal by Susan Rose
In mid-April, 2015, I found these four speckled Cardinal eggs while trimming a Tea Olive bush. I stopped immediately and hurried to get my camera.
Since local Mockingbirds and House Sparrows lay eggs of similar appearance, it was the female Cardinal on the nest that gave a positive identification.
I can barely see the nest through a bedroom window. I have to photograph it outdoors while standing on tiptoe and holding leafy branches out of the way.
For those who don't see Cardinals where you live, here are photos of these beautiful birds. The males are bright red.
Happy birthday, little ones!
I know this is the birdies' first day (4/25/15) because yesterday evening I saw eggs.
It's hard to tell which end is up in this jumble of newborn nudity. The babies wiggle just a bit, maybe in response to me jiggling their bush.
Twice today we've had heavy rain. (It's storming as I write.) I'm sure that Mama Cardinal is spreading her wings to keep her children dry.
Mama! Mama! Is that you?
Mama, I need another bug!
The babies are more active this morning. Especially the one in the back.
My oh my, what great big eyes they have.
I think the cloud of fine gray fuzz is for insulation, like an ultra-soft blanket . It's called "natal down."
Mom and Dad are busy finding insects for the kids. They supposedly take turns tending the nest, but I've only seen Mama so far.
After the false alarm about food, the birdies settle in for a Sunday morning nap. (Another one.)
These little cuties need to do lots of sleeping, eating and growing. They're scheduled to fly away to a nearby bush in just nine days.
The Cardinals are tiny—about half the size they appear in the photos. Their vulnerability makes me feel protective.
Look at the wings!
The birdies look like tiny warriors with fuzzy Mohawk haircuts and ammo strapped to their arms.
Their eyes are starting to open just a bit. All four birds are the same size. Mom and Dad aren't raising any runts.
I finally saw the male Cardinal near the nest this evening.
When nothing is dropped into their open mouths, the birdies slowly sink back into "nap mode."
Thank You, Lord, for the beauty of Your creation. This work of Your hands is inspiring.
The four "bobble heads" were difficult to photograph today because of heavily overcast evening sky and the need for longer exposure.
Each day the birds grow in strength as well as avian beauty. (At this age, beauty is certainly in the eyes of the beholder.)
Today their wing feathers are noticeably longer, and they have sprouted the beginning of spinal feathers. I find the coverage patterns fascinating.
Notice the teeth and serrated edges inside their beaks. These serve to keep insects from escaping.
Here you see the birds a little closer to their actual size. They really are small.
Can you believe they will take short flights in just one week?
The wing feather growth rate is incredible. It has to be a high priority since the Cardinals will be flying in six days.
Notice that overnight, the little birds have acquired neck and head coverage.
The weather is currently cool at 58 degrees along with drizzling rain. The inward-facing huddle is a consistent formation and probably serves to keep the babies warm.
The birds break from their typical huddle and enjoy the warm, sunny day.
The babies' eyes are now open, but they don't appear to see me. With sharper focus soon to come, my presence will surely frighten them. Past experience tells me they will "freeze" and try to camouflage.
Notice how strips of feathers are still emerging in new places.
I'm sure that being dull gray instead of Cardinal red is a protection for the babies. Their predators are many, and their survival rate is low.
I think the birds are seeing me today, but they're fairly aloof about my presence.
The tips of the feather sheaths are breaking open to release the actual feathers. The birds look like they have lice, but I think the white specks are just "split ends" and debris from the feather changes.
A few times this evening, when the birdies thought they were getting food, not only did their necks stretch upward, but they actually stood up to extend their reach.
Morning sun shining directly on the Tea Olive bush brings a new palette of color.
Feathers continue their escape from confining sheaths. But it seems that external change has slowed in deference to internal growth.
I'm thankful the birds have not yet succumbed to predators. I think their location near my front door is a deterrent to large birds that would carry them off for lunch. And, I've sprinkled Sulphur beneath the bush to repel snakes.
My cat will be confined to the house on the days these birds are learning to fly. (They'll be flying low and sometimes on the ground.)
This afternoon view of the Cardinals shows more feather release. (See the far left wing and the breast in center back.)
The birdie in center back has a very high cuteness factor.
Notice the white, putty-like globs on the outside left of the nest. I think these are "fecal sacks." The birdies' poop comes out wrapped in this little bag, and the parents carry it off to another site so it won't attract predators.
Look at the red-tinged wing feathers! It's Sunday morning, and these birds are dressed to worship the Lord in their special tiny-bird way...mostly just by "being."
I thought the babies were seeing me clearly yesterday, but I've changed my mind. In this side view of the nest, they didn't turn to look at me.
These Cardinals do have adequate "upper vision." They can be easily tricked into their "feed me" pose if I wiggle my fingers above their heads.
Here's that lady again.....
I think she likes us.
I found a general statement about bird vision: It's fully developed at day six.
Sunday evening in the shadow of my house brings cooler tones, but it doesn't dampen the adorability of these tiny babes. Mom and Dad surely agree. They fed them nonstop today.
Just before this photo, the birdies were sleeping with every wing spread to form a blanket. Only their heads could be seen above the feathery covering.
I'm at a loss for words. What can I say about such pure, innocent beauty?
Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good - Genesis 1:31.
Yes, indeed, it is very good.
Okay, guys. I need to stretch my legs. Ooops! Sorry, Sis. Was that your head?
This poignant scene tells me the birds will probably leave the nest tomorrow. They look almost ready today, and I'm sure some amazing growth will occur tonight.
The birdies are already flapping their wings. They climb all over each other and reposition easily. Soon their little crests will stand up, just like Mom and Dad's.
By the way, there's another Cardinal nest near the back of my house. The nest is high, so all I can see is the parents arriving with food.
God is good!
The little nest seems terribly, awfully empty. Just yesterday, it was full of life.
But all is well. Today that life has moved to larger territory.
This is the only fledgling I was able to locate this afternoon. It was perched in a small bush, only two feet off the ground.
The birdie was in "freeze and be safe" mode, so I grabbed it easily from behind and moved it to a safer place (while it squawked and struggled ferociously). It's now on an upper branch of a large bush that is tangled throughout with Honeysuckle vines.
I would love to know where the siblings are. I hope they made it to the nearby Live Oak tree where Mom and Dad are calling from. Since they fledged at day eleven instead of as early as day nine, I think they're strong enough to travel 50 feet in a series of short hopping flights—fast enough to be safe.
As for this bird perching in the Honeysuckle, it's beautiful and strong. I think it will be fine.