Winter visitors

The Cove Journal by JoDee Samuelson

It’s still light out at suppertime! It’s almost the Vernal Equinox! Time to get out the potting soil, cut down some mandarin orange boxes, and start the peppers. 

Our usual winter birds are at the feeder every day, the juncos, chickadees, blue jays, mourning doves, gold finches (males already turning yellow), a nuthatch hanging upside down, a huge flicker who barely fits on the seed tray, sparrows of uncertain provenance, one grackle, a downy woodpecker … and a female cardinal! 

Ms. Cardinal settles herself into the hollowed top of a post, watches until she feels the coast is clear, flits briefly over to the feeder to help herself, then hurriedly retreats to the hollow post. 

She is beautiful. Not clothed all in scarlet like the cardinals of Rome, but brightly colored only on crest and beak. “That’s plenty!” she says. “I like myself just the way I am.” We see no sign of Mr. Cardinal dressed in formal red with black tie, but he must be waiting in the wings somewhere. We hope that the two of them will connect, perhaps on Tinder or some other dating App, (where do cardinals meet these days?) and find that they have enough in common to start a relationship. 

Our PEI Bird Identification Guide (1988) lists Northern Cardinals as being “accidental” visitors. No matter what accident brought Ms. Cardinal to the Cove, we’re happy to have her and hope she sticks around. These special visitors come and go, and we must simply enjoy them while they’re here. 

A few years ago we had a towhee the whole winter, which was amazing. Birders came to see it, or tried to see it, but our towhee was reluctant to appear when people with binoculars were glued to the windows. We’ve also had a cuckoo in the yard—and it really did say “cuckoo!” One winter we had three pheasants—two males with long tails and gorgeous plumage, the female more understated—who stood under the burning bush and hopped up and down to nip off the tiny berries. Another year a covey (group) of round grey Hungarian partridges appeared, easily identifiable by orange face and throat, and distinctive dark spot on chest. Lovely.

Down by the Cove the other day we were startled when a huge hawk leapt out of a tree and flew overhead with a loud squawking “aaaaark”! White underbody… not an osprey, definitely not an eagle. Then another hawk on the other side of the path did the same. “Try to remember that sound.” At home we listened to birdcalls on the Cornell website and it was definitely a red-tailed hawk. Apparently red-tailed hawks are common on PEI, but we have never seen one—make that two—before, and definitely not in that location. 

Soon spring will be here and we’ll stop feeding the birds. Then farewell to these charming winter visitors, common and uncommon, who entertain us with their antics, chirping, tweeting and chickadee-ing. 

I don’t know about you but I’m ready for spring. And I’ll bet the birds are too.