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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Backyard cardinals: What do you know about the cardinal?


Above / Backyard cardinals are featured on the cover of the January issue of PN with “Cheers to 2023!,” a red bird theme that is carried throughout the hyperlocal publication for the fun of it. (PN File Photos)

It’s hard to believe already a decade has passed since PN used its cover to raise awareness about the proper and healthful way to feed our wild feathered friends and to promote the upcoming month of February as National Wild Bird Feeding Month. Photographer Mike Krol had submitted an inspiring photo of Lake Osborne at sunrise featuring thousands of Canada geese. The brilliant shot in sepia tones helped tell the story that supports “Let wildlife be wild. Let them find food on their own.”

Lake Osborne photo by Mike Krol, January 2013

Back then, we also created awareness for the Northern Cardinal by recognizing the Illinois State Bird, a non-migratory backyard bird that weighs two ounces and one familiar at feeders this time of year. Instead of migrating, cardinals in flocks of 20 as well as many other birds hide in the bushes and often can be heard singing when not seen during the winter months. Both male and female cardinals sing and can be heard any time of year.

In January and February, natural food supplies appear to be depleted, and sometimes ponds can be thick with ice, making it seem difficult for backyard birds to thrive.

Create your own backyard birdfeeder. All you need is a plastic juice bottle, a 12″ dowel for a perch (sharpened like a pencil to puncture and stick through the bottle), twine to hang it and a bag of cracked corn to fill it. Simply cut an inverted triangle slot above the perch for feeding. Then watch for the backyard birds to find it.

Though the wild birds usually don’t need help from humans, if you enjoy watching backyard birds in winter, naturalists say it’s OK to stock feeders with natural weed seeds such as thistle and other healthful feed including cracked corn and safflower seeds. Be patient. Sometimes it takes a day or two for birds to find new feeders.

For more than two decades, this publication has aimed to present the benefits of the great outdoors and fresh air whenever possible. Consider the words of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the U.S. from 1901 to 1909, when he said, “While my interest in natural history has added very little to my sum of achievement, it has added immeasurably to my sum of enjoyment in life.”

As days continue to grow longer, the Riverwalk, May Watts Park, Knoch Knolls Park and other natural sanctuaries for birds, waterfowl and other wildlife, welcome folks to bundle up and buddy up to enjoy the sights, sounds and seasonal changes that winter offers.

Anyone who has visited the outside drop off mail boxes at the U.S. Post Office on Ogden Avenue can roll down the car window to enjoy the cacophonics of wild birds hanging out inside the large garage at the back of the main building. Other times their chorus of chirps can be heard far in the distance.

No matter what the weather, every day from now until June 21 will continue to get longer in the northern hemisphere as the earth tilts towards the sun. Spring will arrive March 20.

Did you know?

  • The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is a bird in the genus Cardinalis. It’s also called a redbird or cardinal.
  • The male is a vibrant red, while the female is a dull reddish olive, and both male and female can sing. And they sing to each other.
  • Illinois school children selected the cardinal as the Illinois State Bird in 1929.
  • The cardinal is the State Bird for Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.
  • A cardinal number describes or represents how many of something are present. For instance, one red bird was perched on the feeder.
  • A cardinal sin is a serious error in judgment.
  • A cardinal rule or quality is the one that is considered to be important and followed by all.
  • In addition to North Central College, two professional sports teams, the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL and the St. Louis Cardinals in the MLB, feature red birds as their mascot.

Then we remembered another connection to address…

My two younger brothers and I grew up on Cardinal Drive in Muncie, Indiana, a little more than a mile from Ball State University where the Cardinal also is the mascot. Charlie Cardinal has been the BSU mascot since 1927.

In 1954, our parents, Carol and Don “Chips” Crookston, moved to the house that Dad built in Rolling Oaks, a neighborhood on the very west side of town. Among the first things to designate their home ownership was a two-sided wrought iron “CROOKSTON” sign topped with a Cardinal, posted to one of the walnut trees in the front yard.

One summer evening when Ruth Mayer was babysitting, the tree was struck by lightning during a bad storm. That strike sheered a strip of bark from the top of the tree all the way to the ground.

PN File Photo

Fast forward nearly 70 years. One day at a time, the tree grew in diameter and height, and over time the bark slowly consumed the “STON” that is now encased in bark when looking toward the west. The other side shows “KSTON.” Go figure!

And though our folks have passed and the house has new owners, “CROOK” will be remembered for leaving its mark in front of our childhood home where many wonderful memories were made. Now you know.   —Stephanie Penick

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PN Ombudsman
PN Ombudsman
An ombudsman is Scandinavian in origin dating back to Viking times; and refers to a community representative; usually acting independently on behalf of an organization, body of elected officials, or civic group. Thanks Scandinavia for inventing ombudsman.


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