Elusive Cardinal Nest

DAY ONE The first day I saw the cardinal nests. It took me 10 minutes to find the nest in a bush about the size of a small car.

DAY ONE The first day I saw the cardinal nests. It took me 10 minutes to find the nest in a bush about the size of a small car.

Cardinals are about the easiest birds to spot and identify, but their nests are about the hardest to find. And I’ve been trying hard for a couple years. I befriended two cardinal pairs in Prospect Park, wheedling my way into their trust by whistling for them and giving them sunflower seeds. I call them my friends, but they have never revealed their nest to me, about 50 pounds of sunflowers in. (Mainly because their nesting area is over a fence I’m not supposed to cross.)

I read in a field guide that to find a cardinal’s nest you should just track the parents. No, really? What kind of useless tip is that? If that option were readily available and I was looking for a cardinal nest, wouldn’t I have done that?

But then a couple weeks ago walking in a different part of the park I saw a female cardinal screeching and heading towards a bush. Somehow not fleeing something. I searched the bush–about the size of a Cooper Mini, for ten minutes before I found it–and then only because the father came home.

Can you see the cardinal nest? It’s one foot in front of you. That’s how good they are at hiding their nests.

I had read that cardinal nests were hard to find because they are in the middle of dense bushes. That doesn’t even begin to describe it. I kept losing the nest even though it was at eye level. The babies got fuzzier and a little bigger.

cardinal baby in nest asking for food

DAY FOUR: Cardinal babies getting fuzzy and asking for food.

Cardinal Nest 18may277

DAY FIVE: Cardinal babies getting pronounced crowns and feathers.

By the sixth day their eyes were starting to open. Now, I don’t know if this was the sixth day since hatching or just the sixth day since I found them. I would take fleeting pictures when the parents went away–often for stretches of 20 minutes.

DAY 6: Eyes just starting to open

DAY 6: Eyes just starting to open

I planned to go every single day until they fledged. But one day I couldn’t make it. The next day I came back and they were gone. It seemed to me that they were WAY too young to leave the nest. But the Princeton Field Guide says it can happen in just nine days. So maybe they made it. Meanwhile I’ve found another nest nearby with small, speckled eggs.

Cardinal Nest 415

DAY SEVEN: Empty nest. Babies, who were clearly not ready to fledge, are all gone. Who ate them? Poor things.




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