Tell Me Something NewBy
It’s not much more than a month and this globe will start its slow tilt north. With the gradually lengthening days, the birds will start to feel their oats, and by New Year’s, Northern Cardinals like this one will be in fine fettle, singing and dancing — and banging into windows and car mirrors across eastern North America.
You can set your calendar by it: come early January, my e-box will start to sprout exasperated notes from birders and others who want to know why their local cardinals are so intent on knocking themselves out. The answer’s the same every year, of course. It’s about sex.
As it turns out, cardinals have been at it (pecking on windows, I mean) for a very long time.
In fact, the first European illustration of the species, in good old Aldrovandi’s Ornithologiae, is accompanied by the account of a cardinal kept by his learned colleague in Pisa, Francesco Malocchio:
if the bird sees its image in a mirror, it behaves piteously. Making little noises, depressing its crest, raising its tail like a peacock, and fluttering its wings, it pecks at the surface of the mirror with its bill. [my translation]
So far as I know, this is the first report in history of a bird defending its territory against its own studly reflection. Aldrovandi doesn’t tell us, unfortunately, whether Malocchio rewarded the valiant warrior with a mate.