Gardening Payoff

This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on December 14, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments and find working links to other stories.

This male cardinal was eating bayberries
This male cardinal was eating bayberries

Nothing says Christmas time to me like a guy in a bright red suit and the smell of bayberry. I saw a flash of red the other day. “Is it SANTA?”, I wondered aloud. Checking the calendar it seemed doubtful, we still have 11 days to go. Besides, Santa seems hell-bent on the cookie tray, and this guy was dancing through the small, tight limbs of one of my female bayberry shrubs, a.k.a. wax myrtle. Oh, silly me…’tis a male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).

The northern cardinal is one of the more vivid and recognizable birds. The males have that bright red thing going while the females are a little more sedate with a reddish brown glow. Rather like L’Oreal RC6-Cherry Auburn versus 6RB-Light Reddish Brown.

The female has more subtle colors but still a beauty all her own
The female has more subtle colors but still a beauty all her own

These birds are year round residents in their range that covers the eastern two-thirds of the United States. Nice that so many of us have the opportunity to be in their breeding area, although they tend to hide nests in dense tangles of shrubs. I know that they nest in my neighbor’s scrub area because I have seen the parents bringing food for little ones, but heck if I can find where the actual nest is. I can often hear the cardinals flitting from shrub to shrub with their “chip” of a call. They also have a very melodic song that they readily share.

They like laurel oaks too.
They like laurel oaks too.

“My” cardinal was happily snagging the waxy blue berries on the bayberry, which is native to Florida. Cardinals readily visit backyard feeders, although planting shrubbery native to your locale such as Bayberry or Red Cedar is a more nutritious way to bring them calling and will provide for a greater variety of wildlife than just commercial bird seed will.

While a lot of people aren’t fond of Wax Myrtles since their roots structures creep along creating baby wax mrytles where you might not want them, I appreciate their “creep”. They pretty much are filling in along the fence lines to create a natural barrier; AND they attract massive species of wildlife, such as the beautiful cardinal. As I watched while I drank my morning coffee I was happy with nature’s choice of this planting since it brought this red beauty to my beautiful wildlife garden.


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