Thursday, August 16, 2007

Cardinals Rule

There is a crumbling cement birdbath in the shade of the white pine and the black spruce beside it. In the drowsy warmth of mid-afternoon I watch as a cardinal drops from the skeletal branch of another black spruce, a dead one that I have been too lazy to cut down.

The red dandy lands on the rim. He cocks his head from side to side checking out the neighborhood, but the old black cat is asleep in a puddle of sun, and the dog is too hot to be bothered.

After a wary moment he makes a quick hop forward into the small puddle in the middle of the dish. He flutters a bit with his wingtips low splashing the water about.

After a moment or two, his mate joins him. She stands guard on the rim as he bustles in the water. Then he hops back to the rim to stand guard as she takes her turn. She splashes briefly before a small cluster of chickadees, attracted by the movement, come plummeting out of another nearby tree. She hops back out to the edge, startling them into flight, but they don't go far. They land on the tips of the live spruce, making the branches bounce. They are little balls of black white and brown amidst the green needles like little ornaments.

They dive back singly from time to time, splashing quickly then zipping back up to their perches. Madam Cardinal is not amused and soon leaves the rim for the depths of the pine. Milord, however, stays for a while, seeming to enjoy playing 'boogie man' to the tiny chickadees.

It seems to be mutual, for when he finally flutters up into the branches of the dead tree, the small birds abandon the birdbath too.

The cardinal seems to settle in on his perch his plumage a brilliant contrast to the blue sky behind him and the stark brown of the dead branch. I wonder what he is doing. I get the binoculars.

He is preening, working all of his feathers with his beak. He sits there, grooming himself for at least five or ten minutes, unperturbed by a few visits from his mate who seems to have an "aren't you ready yet?" attitude.

I look away for a minute and when I look back he is gone.

I realize that my observations are simplistic and tend to humanize animal behavior, but I must say that I always admire the seemingly uncomplicated lives of the small creatures in our neighborhood.

An incident like this puts me in mind of a poem that I have always liked.

A lizard ran out on a rock and looked up, listening
no doubt to the sounding of the spheres.
And what a dandy fellow! the right toss of a chin for you
and swirl of a tail!

If men were as much men as lizards are lizards
they'd be worth looking at.

D.H. Lawrence

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