Archive for Cardinalidae

Indigo Bunting male 5/16/18

A sparrow-sized member of the Cardinal family, Indigo Buntings have a cerulean blue body while only the head is a true indigo. They like old fields, woody edges, farmland and open woodland where the male sings his fairly complex song from a high perch, usually a treetop, but sometimes a wire. Winter males are brown with speckled patchy bits of blue, while females and immatures are brown all over with highlights of blue in the wings and tail. In summer they mostly forage for insects, and raise their young on protein, becoming seedeaters in winter.


Northern Cardinal male 1/17/18

Can you imagine New England without cardinals? Actually you don’t have to go back very far in history to find that, not even a 100 years. Cardinals, or Redbirds, came from the southeastern US and began spreading north and west, taking advantage of warming temps, the habitat changes that come with suburban development, as well as the popularity of backyard bird feeding in winter. Cardinals don’t migrate, they need year round territories with dense thickets, where they typically rear several broods in a season. It’s no surprise that when people compulsively “tidy up” the brambles and thickets on their property they later wonder what happened to all the songbirds.


Northern Cardinal female 10/9/16


A pair of Northern Cardinals live in my backyard year round and here’s the female cruising the cherry tomatoes. Her last batch of 5 youngsters are over in the lilacs with dad, they look much like her but lack the coral-colored beaks of adults. There are 2 other members in the Cardinalis genus, the much grayer Pyrrhuloxia of the southwest and the Vermilion Cardinal of South America, but the extensive cardinal family (Cardinalidae) also includes tanagers, chats, seedeaters, new world buntings, and a number of grosbeaks.


Western Tanager male 12/31/14


Winter vagrants don’t get much flukier than this. Here’s a male Western Tanager, a songbird of western coniferous forests that should be wintering in Central America, but somehow has wound up in a Kennebunk Maine neighborhood instead. It was discovered during the Christmas Bird Count, and appears to be sticking around. It wasn’t easy to photograph yesterday, it would only come out into the cold winds briefly to grab one of these fruits, and then disappear back into the thick spruce to eat it. In summer this bird’s head is mostly a brilliant red and its body an even brighter yellow.

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Northern Cardinal female 11/13/14


There is an heirloom tomato called Cardinal, but these are the last of my cherry toms she’s visiting. Female Northern Cardinals have a gray face mask setting off her coral lips while the males have a black mask against flaming scarlet. Juvenile birds are similarly colored but the bills are dark. She isn’t as much of a red lightbulb as the boys, but she’s quite colorful on her own with red highlights on her head and in her wings and tail. Northern Cardinals don’t migrate and female Cardinals are one of the few female songbirds that sing.


Northern Cardinal male 8/28/14



Northern Cardinal female 7/30/14


I love this picture for highlighting just how subtly colorful a female Northern Cardinal can be, particularly when she’s soaked from sitting through the torrential downpours of the last few days while brooding her nest. She is Hot Lips, he is Handsome. In this pic Handsome is giving her a nest break so she can grab a snack, though in deshabille. She’ll be much more composed by the time she kicks him off the nest in about an hour, maybe longer this day since she is all wet. She’s giving out a loud and near constant “chip” in that determined way cardinal pairs have of keeping in touch with each other.


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