Friday, January 2, 2009

First of the Year

Like other birders I take special note of the first bird of the new year. I'm sure you know the feeling: the last few days of the year you start eying the birds around your home, or wherever you're waking up January first. What are the likely candidates you'll see when you first glance out a window? Around here it's the usual suspects, though I suppose that means something different wherever you are right now. Our typical yardlist on a winter day is topped by Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Dark-eyed Junco, Mourning Dove, Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches, Blue Jay, American Crow . . . you know, the usual.

I almost always try to get a more unusual bird as my first-of-the-year. Before I head off to bed I head outside with Barron and try calling up an owl. First saw-whet (no luck), then Eastern Screech-owl (still nothing), then Barred (silence), and finally Great-horned (nada). I'm not surprised nobody answered as I didn't give them much time. It was windy and cold shortly after midnight, and not the usual in the 20*s (F) cold. It was one. One degree above zero Fahrenheit degrees! Bed seemed like a better prospect, and the "usual suspects" are just as nice as an owl. Sorry Owlman, it's true!

First bird of 2009: the Northern Cardinal.

Many birders probably then move on to their second, third, and other birds of the year, but I can't. I have a terrible tendency to look for the deeper meaning in things, which is helpful when scrutinizing data, educational when watching behaviors, futile when trying to connect two random events. But I can't help it, so my head is now churning through what seeing a cardinal as my first bird of the year has to do with what kind of year this will be.

Should I put money on the Arizona Cardinals to win the superbowl? Hard to believe since the Giants and Patriots are all I hear about. And what about all the folks whose first bird was a Falcon (Atlanta)? Or an Eagle (Philly)? Or a Raven (Baltimore)? Come to think of it, what about non-birders who saw Vikings, Dolphins, Colts, and so on?

The first thing I remembered about Northern Cardinals: they're my PowerBird, and have been since mid 2007. And (as I noted in that post), they are apparently my favorite species, at least according to my daughter. Since I've never found anything spelling out what a cardinal foretells for the future, here are some notable traits and notes about Cardinalis cardinals, the Northern Cardinal:

  • They are granivorous, primarily eating seeds, but sometimes prey on insects
  • They're socially monogamous
  • Their copulation is not commonly observed
  • They're named for the bright red robes worn by senior officials in the Catholic church; the name Cardinal comes from the Latin root cardo (hinge), and means chief, or principal.
  • In a Cherokee tale describing how the cardinal got its color the Cardinal is a helpful animal. An Ojibwa legend portrays the "red bird" as, shall we say, more retiring in the presence of danger (diving into cover when danger approaches), contrasting with the more confrontational black bird.

With that in mind, the cardinal seems like a good match for me. My diet is mostly vegetarian, though seafood is more likely to tempt me than insects. I tend towards monogamy and (as far as I know) I've never been watched copulating. I don't really wear red (I'm more of a "autumn"), but I like to think things hinge on me. I'll leave it to others to decide if I'm helpful and/or non-confrontational.

But what about the new year? Here's my first stab at producing a brand new, ancient fortune, dictating the year I want to have:

The sighting of a cardinal will bring a year of color, intensity, and joy. You will weather potential tough times without effect and your many friendships will strengthen. Lay low when danger is present and you will remain prosperous and well-liked. Be careful, as you are likely to attract Accipter hawks. And though you are non-migratory, you'll make an awesome trip to a far off place this year.

Yeah, that's not too shabby. I wonder what I would have written last year, when my first of the year was a crow?


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