The Barnacle team will be away at sea for the month of July, check back in August for our next print issue!

WHAT THE PECK: Cardinal Chronicles

The radiant red cardinal with its distinctive crest is a picture of the holiday season, spotted on tree ornaments, grandma’s holiday cards, and wrapping paper. When there’s nothing but brown sparrows, grey juncos, and winter robins around, the cardinal stands out as the bright bird of winter, especially against white snow. Male cardinals don the famous crimson coat, but female cardinals are also stunning  in softer brown plumage with streaks of warm red. 

Cardinals are common year-round now, but they were a rare sight in Nova Scotia until the 1970s. Males are also known for their soulful songs, which are especially prominent in spring. They are very territorial, sometimes seen picking fights with themselves in car mirrors or glass reflections. 

Northern Cardinals are suckers for seeds, so you’ll be more likely to spot one if you have a backyard bird feeder.

If you’re planning to feed birds this winter, make sure to feed them consistently through the severe part of the winter — even a month-long vacation could lead them to starvation. 

In other news, the annual Christmas Bird Count is coming up! Started in 1900, the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running citizen science project in North America. These observations contribute valuable data on bird populations, their favorite hangout spots, and environmental health.

To join a local bird count, visit


2 responses to “WHAT THE PECK: Cardinal Chronicles”

  1. Janet Corkum

    I am wondering why the author thinks, “even a month-long vacation could lead them to starvation.” That is the first time I have heard that theory. There are many sources that say that is not true. Here is one quotation from The Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. “Keep in mind that bird feeders supplement the natural food provided by plants, and don’t worry that birds will have trouble surviving if you stop feeding for some reason. No research has shown that birds will starve if feeding is stopped during normal weather.”

    1. Emily Sollows

      Hi Janet, thanks for your comment. I think the key here lies in the severity of the winter conditions. During winter, food becomes notably scarcer for birds, with the added challenge of it being trapped beneath layers of snow or ice. A local birder recently shared with me that the increased winds this fall have led to an early dropping of most berries, so birds reliant on berries for winter sustenance might face a shortage this season.

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