With its prominent crest, crimson plumage, and cheery song, the northern cardinal is one of Iowa’s most beloved songbirds.
Considering the species current abundance, it seems hard to imagine that historically, cardinals were extremely rare in southern Iowa and totally nonexistent in the north. Today, the redbird has become a common year-round resident statewide. Quick to take advantage of backyard feeders, experts claim the cardinal’s fondness for energy-rich sunflower seed has allowed birds to survive farther north during winter and may be largely responsible for the species’ dramatic expansion in range.
But although cardinals provide easy viewing opportunities as they come and go from our feeders, approaching birds from the other side of the glass may prove more difficult – especially when dealing with birds living rural woodlands. It’s hard for a bird as showy as a male cardinal to remain unnoticed in winter woodlands.
People are also reading…
And as is the case with all songbirds, cardinals contend with a long list of predators including house cats, woodland hawks and owls. Consequently, the redbird is always on the lookout, suspicious of anything that may pose a potential danger. Getting an up close and personal look at birds in their natural habitats presents a challenge. Getting tight, full frame photos may seem impossible.
After conducting a couple of cardinal photo safaris producing only mediocre results, I was suddenly struck with an idea that might bring birds closer to me instead of me trying to get closer to them. That idea was to use a cardinal decoy. Why not? We use decoys to bring in ducks, geese, and turkeys. Why wouldn’t the arrival of a ‘stranger’ trigger the curiosity of a resident redbird?
Something of a specialty item, a cardinal decoy is not something you’re likely to pick up at the local sports shop. But after a bit of head scratching, I did come up with a possible solution in the form of a clip-on Christmas bird ornament. Although the decommissioned effigy lacked realism, it was red, and it did have real feathers. It seemed worth a try.
Wintering cardinals always become hyperactive whenever a snow squall pops up, and last Saturday proved no exception. In spite the extremely poor lighting, I couldn’t resist giving the decoy a whirl. Clipping the ornament to the branch of some low understory, I readied the camera and dug in. The results were pleasantly surprising.
When a male cardinal soon appeared, the decoy did indeed get the bird’s attention. And although the redbird was highly curious, I don’t think he was ever fooled into thinking that my cheesy ornament – I mean decoy -- was a long-lost cousin. But he did seem to wonder what in the world the creature was; and that was enough. Nervously flitting from branch to branch, the cardinal was soon within a few feet of the mysterious intruder and, best of all, within a few feet of me.
The cardinal’s nervous chatter quickly attracted another male and then another. Before the first hour was up, I had attracted and photographed seven different male and at least five female cardinals with each new bird coming to see what all the fuss was about. Although a couple of the males were clearly agitated by the decoy’s presence, they failed to exhibit any full-blown aggression.
Most of the males, and all of the females, appeared to be merely curious about the decoy. In addition to drawing more curious cardinals, the males’ agitated chatter also attracted a trio of jays and a beautiful Harris sparrow.
COLLECTION: The latest columns from Lowell Washburn
Mix the sugar water and fill the backyard feeders. The fall migration of ruby-throated hummingbirds is underway. For those wishing to obtain e…
Iowa’s small game hunting seasons are just around the corner.
Iowa’s special teal seasons are the best single change in waterfowl regulations in the past 50 years.
Iowa’s fall waterfowl seasons kick off Sept. 1 with a special 16-day, teal-only duck hunt. The bonus teal event is followed by a dizzying seri…
This is one bird that is definitely more often heard than seen.
“There was nothing to see but prairie, green stretches of grassland rolling quietly outward ‘till lost in the haze that trembled on the horizon.”
Following decades of silence, Iowa’s most secretive reptiles are currently emitting radio signals from the watery depths of Eagle Lake.
I was staking out – and hoping to photograph – an active nest of red-bellied woodpeckers.
With this year’s mulberry crop reaching full maturity, it’s time to grab your bucket and head for the woods.
As predictable as lengthening days and summer heat, phone calls regarding “orphaned” wildlife are streaming in.
I must admit that I was a bit apprehensive when I learned that Chuck had moved into the neighborhood.
It’s called the golden oyster and is a species that every mushroom hunting enthusiast should be aware of.
The hatch is on. Breaking free of their eggshell imprisonment, broods of newborn wood ducks are getting their first glimpse of the Iowa outdoo…
The spring songbird migration is winging northward. And while the larger and more colorful species – such as tanagers, orioles, and grosbeaks …
Turkey hunting spins on a dime.
Turkey hunting spins on a dime.
The much-anticipated, spring mushroom season is currently sweeping northward across Iowa. And although several mushroom species are edible, the famed morel reigns as undisputed king.
Once they’ve been at it for a few seasons, most mushroom hunters will have amassed a collection of stories recounting their grandest moments in the spring woodlands.
One robin may not make a spring, but when the turkey vultures return to Clear Lake’s Clausen’s Cove, you know the season has changed.
What a Globe Gazette News+ membership can do for you:
- A deeper examination of local issues than you'll find anywhere else.
- Two products in one – not everything that's in the print edition of the Globe Gazette is on our website, and not everything on our website is in the print edition.
- Access to newspapers.com archives dating back two years.
- The ability to carry your local news with you and receive alerts instantly as news unfolds.
- Advertising that frequently gets you deals you won't find anywhere else.
You can join here (https://bit.ly/2PtWJs1) for as little as $5 a month.
Enjoy more wildlife tales online at Washburn’s Outdoor Journal at iawildlife.org/blog.