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BRUCE MACTAVISH: Are there cardinals in Newfoundland?

This cardinal was photographed in the eastern United States but can they show up in Newfoundland as well?
This cardinal was photographed in the eastern United States but can they show up in Newfoundland as well? - Bruce Mactavish

The cardinal is an iconic bird. Ask the next five people you meet if they know what a cardinal looks like and at least four out of five will say it is a bright red bird with a crest on its head. Are there cardinals in Newfoundland? In a word yes but it is worth an explanation.

The cardinal is an extremely rare visitor to the province. It has been photographed a few times at bird feeders on the island. The latest was on Nov. 9 at Tracey Wareham’s bird feeder in the Butts Pond cabin area near Gander. It was a bright red male.

Tracey was rightly over the top with excitement to see the cardinal. It fed on seeds on the ground beneath the bird feeder. The next morning it was still there but sadly it did not look at all well. It was oddly very tame as it hopped on the ground seemingly unable to fly. Then a squirrel noticing the weakness attacked the cardinal!

Tracey sprang into action scaring off the squirrel and captured the stunned cardinal and placed it in a box. Even with expert advice from Leanne Guzzwell, an experienced wildlife rehabber, the bird died overnight. A heart-breaking story if ever there was one. From rags to riches and back to rags at one bird feeder overnight. It is a mystery why the cardinal acted so unhealthy on the second day of its stay.

Meanwhile there were two other cardinals over the weekend period. Another male appeared in a photo on Facebook from Thomas Stringer’s bird feeder in Hodge’s Cove, Trinity Bay. And a female cardinal appeared briefly on the back deck of Renee Gagnon Samms in the Codroy Valley. Maybe it was the relentless wicked westerly winds over the weekend that gave these wayward cardinals an extra boost to reach Newfoundland.

The cardinal for the most part is non-migratory. Their short, rounded wings are not made for long distant migration. However, in late fall there is a limited northward displacement of cardinals. Most records of cardinals in Newfoundland are from November.

The northern cardinal is a common bird throughout the eastern United States. It reaches Canada in southern Ontario and Quebec where it is well established and quite common. In New Brunswick and Nova Scotia it is a locally common bird, mostly in the bigger urban centres. Cardinals for the most part are non-migratory. Their short, rounded wings are not made for long distant migration. However, in late fall there is a limited northward displacement of cardinals. Most records of cardinals in Newfoundland are from November.

Typically, it is a one -or two-day visit to a random bird feeder and then vamoose, it is gone. Who knows what the cardinals are thinking. Maybe they realized they overshot their mark and after a couple of free meals they turn around and head back to the mainland. In reality cardinals should be able to survive, if not thrive, in the urban parts of Newfoundland with the good bird feeders and thick backyard shrubbery for shelter.

Cardinals are strongly attracted to bird feeders. Birds so brightly coloured cannot risk being out in the open too long or they might be spotted by a predator. They are shy reacting to noises and movements behind the window by scurrying into the closest hedge or bush. Sunflower seed is their pizza. Getting a cardinal at your bird feeder is like winning the lottery. Buy your sunflower seeds and spread them in your backyard today and dream of the possibilities.

Bird feeders have been a little on the slow side this fall because there is still plenty of wild food in the forest. That will change as soon as there is snow on the ground. There are lots of juncos and American goldfinches living in the woods that will be happy to visit your bird feeder when the time is right. Evening grosbeaks have been putting in a fairly strong showing across the province with some even visiting bird feeders on the Avalon Peninsula. Mourning doves are also turning up in good numbers. Instead of one or two, if you were lucky to have any at all, it is four or five or more this fall. It is a good time to have a bird feeder going.

Updates on rare birds

The European grey heron is being seen daily in Renews since its discovery on 2 November. It is doing well catching small to medium sized fish in the shallow waters of the inner part of the harbour. It swallows down small sculpins whole. The two pink-footed geese featured three columns back are still around but are being extremely sneaky. They fly into Branscombe’s Pond in Mount Pearl just after sundown to sleep through the night and then they leave again before sunrise. Usually there is enough light in the sky to pick them out of the small flock of Canada geese they associate with before departing in the morning. We still do not know where they spend the day feeding.

Birds always keep us thinking.

Bruce Mactavish is an environmental consultant and avid birdwatcher. He can be reached at wingingitone@yahoo.ca

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