Desperately seeking cardinals
Illustration by Brad Fitzpatrick
Considering the number of photos of cardinals I have seen posted on social media lately, I’m beginning to think I’m the only person in New Hampshire who’s never seen one. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only time I’ll ever see anything red at my bird feeder is if something is bleeding.
A couple years ago, one of my friends told me she’d won $10,000 on a lottery scratch-ticket right after spotting a cardinal in her yard. She was convinced the bird had brought her good luck. That’s when I became obsessed with attracting an entire family of them — from great-grandpa cardinal right on down to the hatchlings. I figured if seeing only one cardinal was good for $10,000, then seeing four or five would all but guarantee a windfall.
So I went to a feed store and bought everything that had a picture of a cardinal on the bag. Then I not only filled my feeder with the stuff, I also spread it all over the ground underneath the feeder.
The next morning, my yard looked like a cafeteria for New Hampshire wildlife. There were mourning doves, blue jays, crows, chipmunks and squirrels gathered in groups all over the lawn. And when they weren’t stuffing their little feathered or furry faces, they were making enough noise to wake the dead (aka my dog, Rip Van Rottweiler). Still, I put up with the ruckus because I was determined to see a cardinal.
I eventually splurged on some gourmet treats like walnuts, pistachios and golden raisins, just in case the cardinals in my neighborhood had more refined palates. But after doing everything short of putting on a cardinal costume and performing a mating dance in the yard, I still saw noth- ing red at my feeder. My efforts, however, did attract a flock of pigeons that flew in for breakfast every morning.
“What’s a bunch of old city pigeons doing out here in the middle of the country any- way?” I muttered to one of my friends after yet another cardinal-less week had passed.
“They probably saw your name on the top 10 list in the AAA dining guide for birds,” she said, chuckling. “You’re feeding them better than you feed yourself!”
I frowned at her, but I realized she had a point. I had to start cutting back on fancy treats and seeds before I became so broke, I’d have to eat the bird food myself to fend off starvation. So as much as it pained me, I switched to stale bread and inexpensive, generic birdseed, which attracted colorless, generic birds, like a trio of crows I nick- named Edgar, Allan and Poe (even though I couldn’t tell one from the other).
A few days ago, I was getting my mail when one of the neighbors, out for her daily walk, stopped to tell me, “When I came by here yesterday, there were two bright red cardinals at your feeder! They were gorgeous!”
I couldn’t help myself, I glared at her. She had seen MY cardinals before I had! And I was convinced that she, just like my friend, now would be blessed with a streak of boundless good luck.
All I can say is if I hear that my neighbor won a bundle in the lottery, I’m going to demand a percentage.
Sally Breslin is an award-winning syndicated hu- mor columnist and the author of “There’s a Tick in my Underwear!” Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.