I stepped out of the car at Argonne Park early this damp, dark morning to a familiar sound, the scratching chips of a family of northern cardinals.
Nice, but no big deal AD 2014.
The same birds would have been a big deal indeed just 75 years ago, when the northern limit of this familiar species’ range was still in southern New Jersey. Indeed, the neighborhood’s most famous birder did not encounter cardinals until he visited Milledgeville, Georgia, in the spring of 1872, in
a spacious garden having flower beds bordered with hyacinths…. It was in this garden, after a shower, that I saw my first Cardinal…. Doubtless the sun was shining, for the brilliance of its colors made a profound impression.
A very profound impression, and if there is such a thing as a “spark bird,” this, the northern cardinal, lit a light that would shine on American ornithology and birding for the next more than 70 years.