A Splash of Color and a Promise: Tale of the Cardinals

“If I…forget all I have learned, it is not so much myself that I feel I will be letting down. It is them. The flies and the bee, the river and red bird…all of them who have worked so hard to open my heart and expand my sight. I never lived inside my own wilderness before, and they are the only companions to the world that I have. They are my sole witnesses. How will I explain to my human world that these creatures have unerringly and purposefully been my teachers?”

-Paula D’Arcy, Gift of the Red Bird

Perhaps some of you who have been following this blog remember Sophie, the little cat who for so many years reminded me that love had never forgotten me, that God could always find me even when I was most lost. When Sophie left me in January and returned to her true angel form, I promised her I would never forget.

253770_2087744114711_4326779_n 2011


It has been hard to keep that promise. No one ever said that life would make it easy. There were no lies about that.

This summer a little cardinal family started nesting outside my window. There have been several clutches. Caught by the joy of their bright beautiful colors and exuberant chirpy personalities, I found myself taking so many photographs I was often limited only by what the birds would tolerate and my fear that my apartment neighbors would think I was trying to take pictures of humans.


I am grateful for them – and for the brightness they have brought to a dreary and difficult year. It is not logistically possible given the layout of my apartment complex to have bird feeders. The row of bushes and trees outside my windows is often frequented by birds who enjoy vegetation and insects, but to my knowledge there has never been a nest so close by.


I know their personalities. Dad is loud and vigilant in announcing to the cardinal world that this is a no-trespassing zone. He has a clear and authoritative voice. Dad is the one most easily seen of course. Mom is quieter and has a higher-pitched chirp. She can be quite loud though when it comes to calling Dad because food needs to be brought to the kids or if she’s hungry herself and foraging among the leaves for a meal. Neither Dad nor Mom is ever very far away so if there is a kid or two hopping or flying around, it isn’t that hard to find an adult. The kids have little squeaky voices and converse almost constantly with their parents and each other.

“Junior,” the male I often saw from a previous clutch was relatively brave for a cardinal. Cardinals are easily spooked but some seem to be less so than others. Junior could frequently be seen following Dad or Mom around – mostly Dad – as they foraged. Many times he didn’t seem to mind staying put while I took pictures of him. (Although of course if he had really known that I was doing so, he would have been gone!) He often made me laugh and I could not even tell you exactly why. Actually, I found them all amusing. One morning they seemed even louder than usual and I opened my door to find the entire family practically on my doorstep. They left in a hurry the second I opened the door but I still found it funny that they were all there in the first place.

DSCN1604 Junior

Very Young Junior

DSCN2117 edit2_Junior and Dad_W

Junior and Dad

DSCN2514 junior having breakfast - Copy

Junior Having Breakfast

DSCN3362 Junior and Dad

Junior and Dad Wanting the Paparazzi to Go Away

DSCN3498 junior

You Can’t See Me, Right?

Unfortunately, my Nikon had to be sent off soon after Junior started developing the beautiful red colors that signified that he was growing into an adult male as handsome as his father. Junior didn’t have the squeakiness to his voice anymore but I usually could tell if he was the one squawking because his vocals were significantly more hyper than either of his parents. I was sad that I would miss the last part of his “growing up” as it is naturally much easier for me to find them with a 60X zoom. I do have binoculars but I am aggravatingly slow in zeroing in on birds and focusing before they take off.

A few days after I sent my good camera to the shop, I was working at home and had the door to the screened in porch open. Suddenly, I heard squeaky little cardinal vocals. I grabbed my ineffective and ancient point-and-shoot. Sure enough, when I looked out the window, there was a little brown youngster hopping around on the sidewalk. Clearly, Mom and Dad had been busy.

another junior

Another Junior/Juniorette

The Nikon arrived repaired about a week later. Junior graciously let me see him again and his red feathers were coming in nicely. On the same day, a little buffy ball of feathers peered out at me from the bushes. A beautiful girl, like her Mom.

DSCN0086 juniorette 2

A Juniorette Having Breakfast

Post-publication note: I have edited this post because I have had a Junior sighting! He was perching in the big pine tree the morning of 9/27. He is very handsome and has almost all his red feathers in, but not quite.


I found the “Juniorette” I had photographed earlier in the morning sun to be very shy. I heard the family chirping a lot in the bushes and occasionally saw Mom or Dad but never a juvenile. Then several days later, I went to investigate a loud conversation of squeaks and chirps on the other side of the bushes and found that there were actually TWO “Juniorettes.” One was older than the one that I had seen previously. She was definitely NOT mom or the one I had seen the last time I had seen Junior. I do not know precisely where Juniorette 1 fit into the timeline of Junior and Juniorette 2 but of course it is safe to assume that I am not seeing everybody at any given time.

DSCN0714 Juniorettes 1 and 2

Juniorette 1 and Juniorette 2

The two Juniorettes both seem shyer than their brother and a little bit more difficult to photograph. Still, they have allowed me to fire off a few shots of them from time to time. The Nikon P610 is a great camera for a novice like me and enables me to photograph birds without approaching them closely. However, it is somewhat of a slow focuser at times. I have a few nice pictures of the Juniorettes and great many of little buffy-colored escaping blurs.

DSCN0785 juniorette2

Juniorette 2

DSCN0777 Juniorette 1 20150924

Juniorette 1

DSCN0784 juniorette2

Juniorette 2

The Juniorettes will all too soon grow into their adult feathers as well and depart for elsewhere. And the nest will fall silent as it is unlikely that there will be another clutch. I am not a cardinal expert but it seems that it is a little late in the year for birds to be nesting. According to what I’ve read, when they leave they usually do not go farther than one-mile away from where they grew up. So they will all probably remain “close by.” I also remember seeing a male cardinal around this past winter – who knows if it was Dad or not. However, I also read that cardinals never nest in the same place twice. It does not seem likely that I will have a cardinal family in the bushes outside this window again in the future. But how fortunate I have been that they have been here at all.

DSCN0703 Dad


DSCN0071 mom


My thoughts follow this course often, and then the other day something else made me stop and gasp. A splash of joyful and exuberant color on my doorstep had been brought to me as surely as a little furry being had delivered her message of peaceful tranquility for so many years. “You are never truly lost.”



  1. This was wonderful to read! I chuckled all through the story & so loved the pictures. Thank you for this gift today. I want to let you know that I have lived in my house in the woods (in the suburbs) for 15 years & we have always had a pair of cardinals here, year round, overwintering as well. I live in south west OH. I do not see their nest but I see them flying through the trees & shrubs in the yard. I see them eating many berries & seeds. The berries they relish are grey dogwood, spicebush, serviceberry, japanese beautyberry, black & red currants, cornus florida & seeds from the hawthorn & hosta & other flowers are eaten. I love to see the male feeds the female, so sweet! I am looking forward to future posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • elly k says:

      Thank you Mary! And thank you for sharing your story too! I would have loved to see Dad feeding Mom here but I missed that part. This is a somewhat sneaky couple. LOL


  2. Donna Schulz says:

    I am so glad this cardinal couple adopted you this summer to share with you their family, you are so deserving of their company.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Chi22 says:

    So glad these cheerful birds moved into your neighborhood at a time when you were grieving the loss of your cat. I loved your pictures and your observations of their different personalities. I live in a Chicago neighborhood and can hear cardinals in the trees year round.. So perhaps Mom and Dad will be close by next nesting season even if they don’t nest in exactly the same spot. Since you recognize their voices, you may be able to identify the general location of next year’s nest. In the meantime, I hope another sweet funny feline finds his/her way into your home — I’ve mourned the loss of more than one cat and finding another (not a “replacement”) has been helpful — and I like to think a way of honoring the cats I’ve lost. Take care Ely……….

    Liked by 1 person

    • elly k says:

      Hi Chi, that is an excellent point that perhaps they – or another family will find their way to nest here or somewhere nearby. Thank you for that 🙂 Also, I did end up adopting another kitty a few months after I lost Sophie. I did it partially to give my other cat Lombardi some company and partially because of something along the lines that you speak of when you said that you like to think it’s a way to honor the cats that you lost. I’m only allowed to have 2 cats and Molly was a 5-year old who really needed a permanent home. I think Sophie is looking in on us and is happy about that although she wouldn’t have liked it when she was here (lol). Anyway, thank you for your kind thoughts as always!


  4. Alice Witt says:

    I have cardinals year round in my yard. I had thought more plentiful in the Fall, but have decided that it is because the trees losing their leaves makes them more noticeable. They love the sunflower seeds I put out specifically for my squirrels; and of course the berry trees next door. They are definitely more skiddish than the house sparrows, chickadees, and even my local coopers hawk and its offspring. Can’t help but smile when I spot them in my trees, on the feeders, or picking at the ground under the trees. There is definitely something about Cardinals, my state bird, which make a day more beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. elly k says:

    That is wonderful Alice! There are more around the apartment complex than just these two but I never see them. We have some really tall thick trees that make it difficult. If they didn’t talk so much I wouldn’t know that they were there. 🙂


  6. calabrialu says:

    Thank you Elly! Wonderful birds, we haven’t cardinals, I know it ‘s a North American bird. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Gail says:

    Hi Elly. My Mom used to sprinkle “plain-old X-brand” bird seed on a slab of concrete maybe 8 feet from her back door. Cardinals always found their way to feed there. When the seed ran out and Mom was delinquent in re-stocking, the cardinals would holler cardinal-speak until she went out and re-sprinkled. Mom fed her babies for years until she flew on.


  8. Deb says:

    What a lovely story of your time with the Northern Cardinal family! You’ve captured their individual growth and personalities beautifully. So glad you were graced with this experience (and glad the camera came back quickly). I had an abundance of Cardinals this year, with so many pairs and juvies that I couldn’t keep them straight (but maybe, if I’d paid as much attention to detail as you did, I could’ve picked each one out).

    Liked by 1 person

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