Nature Bulletin No. 288-A January 6, 1968
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Richard B. Ogilvie, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
In our northern states there are many birds that remain all winter. Some
are year-round residents; others have come from their summer homes
farther north; a few are strays that failed to migrate with the others of
their kind. Farther south you would find more variety but people in the
Chicago area, interested in winter birds, are particularly fortunate.
Surrounding the city are 50,000 acres of forest preserves offering a
wide choice of food and cover. About 20 miles west, the Morton
Arboretum, with its plantations of coniferous trees and wealth of food-
producing shrubs, attracts more kinds of winter birds, perhaps, than
most other places. In many of the older suburbs, because of their trees
and shrubbery, and even in some of the larger parks and cemeteries
within Chicago itself, several kinds may be seen and attracted to
Most spectacular of our non-migratory birds is the Cardinal or Cardinal
Grosbeak, the state bird of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina
and Ohio. The male is vermilion-red all over, except for a black face
and throat. Even his heavy beak is orange-red. Almost as large as a
robin, he has a long tail and a jaunty crest which bristles when he is
alarmed. His wife also has a red beak but her head and body are olive-
gray above, lighter gray below, with tinges of dull red on her crest,
wings, tail, and sometimes the breast. Young males are colored much
like the female, but darker.
In early winter the silence of the woodlands is broken by the tapping of
the downy and the hairy woodpeckers searching for grubs, occasionally
the cheerful "Chicka-dee-dee-dee" of the black-capped chickadee or the
nasal "Yank-yank" of a nuthatch, and -- when they spy you -- the loud
"Thief, thief, thief! " of the bluejays and the cawing of the crows. But,
in January, some of the male cardinals start to sing and we hear those
ringing whistles: "Wet-year, wet-year, weet, weet, weet, weet", or
'"Whurty, whurty, whurty, whurty". If imitated, they often answer, as
they do a rival male. About this time, too, the tufted titmouse is heard
whistling his clear call: "Peter, peter, peter" Later in the year, the
female cardinals also sing -- almost as well as the males but more softly.
Cardinals seem to prefer thickets and forest edges, Their food is chiefly
wild fruits, seeds, and a variety of insects including many serious pests.
They are particularly fond of sunflower, melon, squash and pumpkin
seeds. It is interesting to watch them squatting on a feed tray or the
snow-covered ground, methodically crushing sunflower seeds in their
powerful bills, swallowing the meat, and spitting out the hulls. Before
daylight every winter morning, a few cardinals and several juncoes are
waiting at our feeding station. The redbirds fly a short distance away,
uttering metallic "clinks", when we come to replenish the tray and
scatter seeds and grain on the ground. Soon after, there may be a dozen
or more of them busily eating seeds. There is always an old male that
bosses all the other cardinals but pays no attention to the juncoes
because they prefer small grain. Toward spring, however, he frequently
begins to pass seeds to his mate.
have personalities. It is fascinating to see how alert they are, to
learn the traits of the different kinds, to compare the seed eaters with
the insect eaters, and to detect the differences between individuals of
the same kind. Meanwhile, you learn the details of their plumage,
shape, bill, feet and tail. A feeding station visible from the window of
your kitchen or breakfast room -- even on the windowsill itself -- is
ideal for this pastime.
If you want to see 'em: feed 'em.
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Update: June 2012