We had a fatal window strike last week, a male cardinal. I found him laying in the seat of the Adirondack chair that sits beneath our front windows.
I had been sitting in that chair about 12 hours earlier, so it had to have occurred either at nightfall or quite early in the morning. It was puzzling because we'd been in the house, and didn't hear that awful "thunk" against the window.
We buried him but he hasn't left my mind since.
Spring wildlife deaths bother me maybe the most. Whether it's roadkill or a bird in my own yard, spring deaths seem so unfair. Animals that survived a northeast winter's cold and ice and snow, lived to greet the spring only to meet their demise as breeding is just getting underway. It doesn't seem fair.
No bird loss is easy, but a cardinal loss is extra hard. We just don't have many cardinals in the yard. I knew we definitely had one pair, and the loss of one-half of that pair is devastating to me.
We didn't even have cardinals in our yard until 2005! Cardinals have been expanding their range northward and to higher elevations, and it wasn't until after 15 years of feeding birds in our yard that a male cardinal appeared on April 2, 2005. We've had them regularly since, though not in large numbers. They breed here now, but the death of even one cardinal is a terrible loss.
Then I worry about Mrs. Cardinal. Over the past couple weeks, I saw a cardinal pair staying quite close to each other, feeding together, and at least three instances of mate-feeding. Her on a perch or a feeder, he approaching with his sweet offer of food, she kindly accepting his gift. A cardinal pair engaged in mate-feeding is likely to nest nearby.
A cardinal pair had also been exchanging songs, another sign of pair formation. Morning and dusk, early to rise, late to sleep, I was assured a duet of "what cheer" from the two.
Was my dead male part of that pair? And if they were paired, just how far were they in the breeding process? Was the nest built and eggs laid? Without a dad to keep mom fed during incubation, the brood would probably not survive. Were the eggs hatched? Again, broods with two parents feeding them fair better than one parent broods, if a one parent brood survive at all.
I see the female now and then. And I have seen a male in the yard. But I think that's what he was: "a" male, not "the" male. I see no mate-feeding. I hear no cross-singing early in the morning and as night falls. I fear the worst has happened and "the" male cardinal that ruled our yard and pronounced it theirs is gone.
It's getting dark out there, five days after our loss. It's just before 8pm, and I see the female cardinal alone at the bath, no male in sight. No cardinal duet, so for me, even though there's plenty of other bird songs and calls, the silence is deafening. I'll miss him and think of him all summer long, and the redbird family that might have been.