Cardinal Love Is A Battlefield

This is how we woke up this morning.  Through closed windows and with light rain falling, we woke up to the sound of super loud bird noises.  First, it was loud beautiful singing.  Next, shrill one-note warbles.  Then back to loud beautiful singing.  Where we live, you never know what you are going to find when you pull back the curtains to take a peek.  Today it was the sight of two male Cardinals fighting for the love of one female.  I thought the fight looked pretty intense so I crept outside to take some pictures.  I’m sure the Cardinals were also quite amazed at the sight of me running around in the rain in a t-shirt, pajama bottoms and no shoes trying to capture some pictures of their Spring love ritual.  This ritual consisted of the female enjoying front row seats and sitting there watching the mayhem.  All morning, one male would fly at the second male.  There would be an in-air or on-branch fight consisting of a flurry of wings and loud warbles.  Then one or the other male would fly off a few hundred feet away and rest and plot the next attack.  First, meet the female.  The object of their affection:

Here is the first male.  Notice how he is a little larger than the other male.  This helped him because, if I was the fight judge, this guy would have won.

Here’s the second male.  Slightly smaller, but he sure is scrappy.

As we left for work this morning, the fight was still raging.  I started to wonder what would happen to the loser.  Does he finish the summer a bachelor or does he go and find another female to marry?  While I think the larger male will win the love of the female, there was also a little piece of me that was rooting for the smaller guy.  I’ve always had a soft spot for an underdog.  While we don’t know the ultimate winner yet, I did find some interesting reading on Cardinal mating on the internet. 

Here is a piece from

The early spring is the mating season for Cardinals.  These songbirds are known as “socially monogamous” but there are times when they copulate with the others.  There was even one study which found that nine to 35 percent of Cardinal nestlings came from extra-pair copulations.

The mating season begins with pair formation that includes different physical displays of cardinals.  The males show off to attract a female.  They also do the courtship and mate feeding.  Females choose their mates based on the male’s ornamentation such as the size of his black face mask as well as the color of his plumage and bill.  Studies have found that the ornaments of male and female Cardinals provide information on the bird’s condition.  For instance, females with a big face mask shows that they are good defenders of nests but for males, this means that they are not highly successful in reproduction.

Mate feeding occurs when the male Cardinal picks up a seed, hops near the female and the two touch beaks so the female can take the food.  Mate feeding will go on until the female lays eggs and incubates them.  Normally, pairs of Cardinals stay together throughout the year and may breed for several seasons.  This bird lives an average of one year although there have been records of longer life spans.

Did you know that Cardinals sing their best during the love season?  They sing with great emphasis as evident in the swelling of their throat, spreading of their tail, drooping of wings and leaning from side to side as if performing on stage with much gusto.  They repeat these melodies over and over again resting only for a short time to breathe.

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Who knew we would use words like ‘copulate’ and ‘extra-pair copulation’ here on Acorns On Glen?  All in all, the Cardinal love story was and probably will keep being a great show here on Glen Road.  Nature always proves to be a great theatre if you pay attention to it.  I’m glad we have Cardinals in our backyard and that we took the time to notice them.  What other strange Spring mating rituals are going on in your neck of the woods? 

2 thoughts on “Cardinal Love Is A Battlefield

  1. Don’t think this has anything to do with mating but we saw a hummingbird fly over to a small tree in our yard and land on the branches.

    It stayed there only a minute or so but it was the first time I have ever seen a hummingbird grounded. Always before they were in constant motion. Tiny little things but cute.

    • Hi Carolkin. Welcome back. I wish a hummingbird would come to live on Glen Road. I put out feeders, but I have never seen one. Maybe the cardinals scare them away? Come back and visit us soon.

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