The Musical Northern Cardinal

            The scarlet-colored male Cardinal with a flaming crest on its head is now a familiar backyard species because it is classified as nonmigratory and spends all winter here. It makes a beautiful Christmas card to send your friends, posing with bright, red plumage against a backdrop of white snow drifts. It got its proper name Cardinal after the high-precedence, clerical position in the Roman Catholic Church.

            The female of the species is much less decorative in drab plumage painted by Mother Nature to be camouflaged when sitting on her nest. Both male and female Cardinals are classified as passerine to be of the Finch species to sing musical tunes to each other, as illustrated. He sings loudly to find her because he wants everyone to know he is looking for a mate so that other males will stay out of his territory.

            When he finds a mate, he flutters his wings from side to side next to his proposed partner. If she happens to repeat his tune, they often begin to serenade each other with the discovery that they are now both well matched. They serenade each other with a high pitched “chip, chip, chip,” followed by what sounds like a “wheat, wheat, wheat,” when they tune their notes together into a mixed melody.

            They can employ up to nine tones of muscles in their syrinx, which when tightened and then relaxed generate the melody they have in mind and are trying to produce. At the turn of the 20th century, Cardinals expanded their habitat range into farther northern states, as also did what was to become the Northern Mockingbird and overlapped the symphony of their combined orchestration.

            Perhaps this combined migration is a side effect of global warming, but when spring comes to Buzzards Bay, this extraordinary orchestration together will come drifting with a prevailing, onshore breeze to entertain local bird watchers. The Mockingbird is able to imitate up to 150 other bird songs in its repertoire and seems to know what birds it can quickly tune into their delivery.

            If we are blessed with a concert experience, it may be worthy of my creating my own poetic verse:

            Their combined songs may come carried on wings,

            This music might be spiritual when each of them sings.

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