Sunday, July 22, 2007

Cardinal Vices

One of the early lessons I learned when I began volunteering at the Wekiva Banding Station was to keep one's fingers away from any Cardinal's beak. Of all of the birds we net and band the Cardinal has one of the hardest and persistent bites of any of the local land birds.

Chickadees and Titmice will try to go for your cuticles, Vireos and Warbles will nip at anything they can snag, and Thrushes and Wrens will just stare at you and wait for any sense that you are relaxing the least bit to try and fly out of your hand but a Cardinal...? They hope to take some of you with them by the time they are released.

I heard a few chips out of net 10 and headed over to see if there was a bird there and we did have our Cardinal of the morning. After deciding which way the bird flew in the next step is to make sure you can get their head secured so you don't end up bleeding before it is even out of the net.

It was close, but I managed to only get a slight snap. This feisty female was all set to continue heading in the direction she was originally heading in. I got her back to the table and processed her.

I usually don't mind a good bite and my boys delight in seeing or hearing of some bird biting the heck out of Dad. However, the last Cardinal I banded a few weeks ago really made me step up my attention to how hard they can bite. That one was a young bird and it about tore me up.

Once they grab hold, they can sometimes apply a bite so fierce that you start to rethink this whole banding thing.

Take a needle-nose pliers and attach it to a nice soft portion of the skin just outside the edges of your fingernail. Now press down. Hard. Keep going. Harder. Until the tears start to well up.

That is a Cardinal bite.

Think you can just pull away? Give the pliers to your friend and ask them to do it and not to stop until you punch them to make them stop. Make sure it is a real friend. One who might actually fear the strike.

The only other defense you have while banding these amazing birds is to offer them an alternative in place of your tender flesh. Luckily, out in the scrub environment, there are a lot of small twigs from the surrounding oaks. When used successfully it should look thus:

Northern Cardinal

Note the lack of blood. Plus the firm grip around the bird's neck to prevent movement to latch on to me.

This is one of my favorite shots of late. The same day, I got home to hear the calls of a new Cardinal chick at home calling for HIS mom to feed him.

Word to the wise. Towhees can bite almost as hard.


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