Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Whole Lot of Peeping Going On

Baby cardinals, the day before fledging
Yesterday it happened. The first clue was incessant peeping at mid-morning. I moved slowly to the window and saw a brown-feathered baby cardinal standing on the rim of the nest looking right at me. He flexed his wings, took a little hop, and landed on a branch just inches from the nest. I was amazed at witnessing this – and a little worried. Had I scared the cardinal into fledging too soon?

Baby cardinal gets ready to leave the nest.
Two babies remained in the nest, one quite active and one more sedate. I was fascinated by what happened next. Mama cardinal flew into the camellia, hopped up to the branch where the bold Baby Cardinal 1 sat and fed him. She stuck her beak into his open mouth several times, ignoring the loud peeping of the other babies, then flew off. I saw this scene repeat itself several times. Mama clearly was favoring the first cardinal out of the nest.

Baby cardinal 2 practices using his wings. 
Baby Cardinal 2 responded with more activity. He opened his wings. He hopped. Soon he was standing on the rim of the nest. Still, mama cardinal ignored him. Suddenly, he, too took the leap. He flapped his wings and behold! He landed on a higher branch, about two feet from the nest. It took mama cardinal about two more feedings to take notice of him. I cheered internally when mama returned and fed Baby Cardinal 2 first.

Baby Cardinal 2 ventures out of the nest.
Meanwhile, Baby Cardinal 3 had gone for well over an hour without food. I was concerned, but what could I do? I had to leave the house for a couple of hours. When I returned, I checked the nest. Baby Cardinal 3 was now out, awkwardly clutching a branch above the nest.  It stayed there for quite some time. Mama cardinal was nowhere in sight. Neither were the two other fledglings. 

Baby cardinal 3. Notice the lack of tail feathers.
I left the window, reluctantly, to get some things done. The weather had been unsettled all day, hot and humid, with occasional brief showers. A thunderstorm moved in and torrents of rain pounded the earth. I dashed to the window to look into the tree and see how Baby Cardinal 3 would respond to the rain. He was gone.

I haven’t seen the fledglings since. Several times, I walked through the garden looking for them. I could hear peeping everywhere. I tracked the peeping to some large red tip photinias in the neighbor’s yard, but couldn’t see the babies. Later, my husband saw what he thought was Baby Cardinal 1, making short flights between a maple and two camellias, with mama observing.

4 comments :

Heather@RestoringTheLandscape.com said...

How wonderful to have cardinals nesting nearby! We had one cardinal nest in our yard last year, but I only noticed after the babies had fledged.
Heather

Sheila Read said...

Heather, yes, I felt so fortunate to watch the cardinals fledge. I suspected they were ready because they had been so active the day before, so I kept a close eye on the nest (especially because I missed it when the bluebirds fledged a couple of weeks ago). I was determined!

Alan @ It's not work, It's gardening! said...

Of all the baby birds I've seen, I've never seen cardinals -- thanks for posting! I too get really nervous and worried about the chicks, especially when they leave the nest "too soon" (by my judgement).

Sheila Read said...

Alan, yeah, I was worried. But I felt better that the mom was clearly encouraging them to leave the nest. Still, it was a tough day to fledge (in my opinion), with high winds at times and several thunderstorms. But when it's time, it's time, I guess.