I heard a Northern Cardinal singing this morning – a first for 2015. With another foot of snow and another week of subfreezing temperatures in the weather forecast, that was a most welcome sound! The early singing was a response to increasing daylight and perhaps our current heat wave – the temperature was all the way up to 24 degrees F at dawn. The songs, vivid colors, compatibility with humans and human habitats – there are many things to like about cardinals. The value added to a winter landscape is immeasurable.
This is not a scene that would have been familiar to Native Americans and early settlers. One hundred years ago cardinals were recorded in just 2 of the 62 counties in New York state. Now, they are widespread throughout the state and eastern U.S.; they even range into southern Canada. Deep snow is limiting for these ground foragers, as are long cold spells where the average minimum temperature is 5 to 10 degrees F. Countering these limiting factors are human-altered landscapes and the cardinal-friendly habitat associated with them. Abandoned farmland, forest openings and edges, residential plantings of small trees and shrubs, and supplemental feeding (especially sunflower seeds and similar foods) have all contributed to the widespread success of cardinals. Their range expansion has paralleled that of humans.
Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.