BIRD OF THE WEEK: May 27, 2016 SCIENTIFIC NAME: Cardinalis cardinalis
POPULATION: 120 million
HABITAT: Forest edges, parks, and yards across much of North America and parts of Central America
Few birds are so familiar and yet so well-loved as the Northern Cardinal. The males are unmistakable, with their striking red feathers and black mask. Even female cardinals stand out, with red accents on brown; unlike many female birds, they also sing. Cardinals don't migrate, so they brighten landscapes wherever they reside.
Unlike many other species, this bird's population is increasing. It's the state bird in seven states, the mascot of college and major-league sports teams, and now there's even a major motion picture that features a cardinal—Red of “Angry Birds” fame. Life for cardinals looks pretty good.
If you're familiar with the protagonist of “Angry Birds,” you know that Red is said to be upset because some nasty pigs stole his eggs. This could actually be the case in states like Texas, where feral pigs have become a major problem for all manner of native wildlife.
Sign up for ABC's eNews to learn how you can help protect birds
But we think Red probably has a few other things ruffling his feathers:
Red is Fed Up with Free-roaming Cats. And no wonder. Domestic cats now number well over 100 million in the United States alone, killing approximately 2.4 billion birds every year. Northern Cardinals make easy picking for cats, as they're frequently found in the same backyards and parks where cats roam.
But let's face it, the fact that cat predation is by far the largest human-caused mortality threat to birds is not the cats' fault. The responsibility lies with pet owners who fail to spay and neuter their pets, cast off unwanted animals, and let their cats stray unattended. It also rests with communities who allow feral cat colonies to expand in their neighborhoods, perhaps without knowing the damage these cats cause.
(You wouldn't do that to Red, would you? Please take a minute to learn more reasons to keep your cat indoors or contained. It's better for cats, as well as birds and people!)
Red is Rattled about Glass Windows. His kind sometimes seems overly fond of glass: Many people have seen cardinals attacking their reflections in a window or car mirror. This behavior is driven by the bird's instinct to guard its territory against a would-be rival. These attacks rarely result in injury. But unfortunately, the reflectivity of glass results in much more serious consequences than a distracted—and perhaps angry—cardinal.
Collisions with glass is second only to cats when it comes to bird mortality. Up to one billions birds die each year in the United States when they hit windows. Fortunately, there are easy, inexpensive ways to make your home safer for Red and his kin. Our new Bird-Smart Glass page tells you how, with tested, effective products for homeowners (as well as architects and builders).
Red is Peeved about Pesticides. You've heard about neonicotinoids (or neonics)? They have been implicated in the massive bee die-offs that have been making headlines. But we're guessing Red has caught wind of our research showing that neonics are also toxic to birds and other wildlife. They're the most widely used pesticides on Earth, and they're tainting the seeds, plants, bugs, and water supplies that Red and many other birds rely upon.
You may even, without knowing it, be using neonics in your home. They're found in home and garden products—like weed killers and insecticides for ornamental landscaping—and in the flea and tick ointment you may use on your pet. Plus, unless you buy organic, they're likely in the food you eat; another of our studies showed neonics in 90 percent of food tested.
(Getting mad like Red yet? Learn more about neonics.)
A lot of us see birds, including Northern Cardinals, in our everyday lives. It's easy to assume that birds are, well, happy as a lark. In reality, birds have it pretty rough. Up to one-third of all birds are in need of urgent conservation action, according to the recent State of the Birds report.
It could be that Red's anger issues are beyond fixing, but at ABC, we're known for our optimistic and fearless approach. We will continue to do our part for all the angry birds out there—and for the unruffled ones as well. Will you join us?
Donate to support ABC's conservation mission!