A few days ago I got a very big surprise at my new tray feeder in the willow tree, one I honestly never thought I'd get. A big part of adding new and different kinds of feeders to my yard this winter was the expectation that they would attract different birds for us to see. Nothing against Mourning Doves, I actually quite like to watch them as they puff up their feathers to stay warm and decorate the fence, but they already had a spot to feed right next to our living room window. I got Song Sparrows the day after I hung the new feeder, which was a bird I'd never had in the yard before. But somehow its nondescript markings and ironic lack of an interesting song did not excite me too much. I figured that having been in the tree for over 3 weeks the prospect of the tray feeder luring any more new birds at this point was relatively weak. You can only imagine my delight, then, when I peered out the window and spotted a female Northern Cardinal in the tree just above the feeder and her bright red male counterpart cleaning up some spilled seeds on the ground below it. At first when I saw the female through the screened window and slightly foggy morning I mistook her for a Mourning Dove, as their coloring is roughly the same when viewed from the front. But then the striking pink bill surrounded by black of the Cardinal stood out to me and I knew exactly what was visiting. I yelled to Mandi and I think she thought I'd cut my finger off or something I was so worked up, but I called her over and she watched with me as the male hopped up in to the feeder, poked around and then flew away with what I have to assume is his mate.
I was elated, but at the same time I worried that they'd found the seed I offered in the tray less than adequate, and that was the reason for their abbreviated visit. I braved the cold and went to check the feeder, and it was worse than I'd expected. There was a grand total of 4 seeds left in the tray, a result I'm sure of the Mourning Doves eating extra to add calories on an especially cold night. I hurried in to the garage and poured what was left of the discount seed I'd bought into the tray and kept watch the rest of the day for the Cardinals to return. I didn't see any sign of them again until after 5:00 when the sun was starting to set, at which point the male took a perch on top of my grill for a minute or two and then flew off without a trip to the feeder.
Happily, the next morning I spotted the pair again taking turns with the doves in the feeder. Lily and I made a trip yesterday to buy some black-oil sunflower seeds to replace the mixed seed we'd been offering, knowing that it's the food of choice of the cardinals. I know that Northern Cardinals are quite common feeder birds and that their decision to feed on my offerings should not be a major surprise, but their tendency is to remain closer to areas that are dominated by older-growth trees and woods. There are plenty of adequate habitats for the cardinals in our development, but I always felt like we were a little too far away from them to attract them. I suppose I'm benefiting in some way from other backyard bird feeders letting their trays go empty as this week's weather has been the season's coldest by far, but I'll take it. Hopefully the cardinals will treat me the way I always hoped my guests at the restaurant would, offering loyalty in return for attentive service. Now if I could just get some patrons at the peanut feeder and the suet block . .