Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Calling all cardinals April 20, 2023

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Cardinal photographed at River Bend Nature Center, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

PERHAPS HE SHOULDN’T MESS with their bird brains. That’s not Randy’s intention when he whistles back at whistling cardinals. But my husband seems to enjoy the challenge, the sport, the act of communicating with the cardinals that frequent our neighborhood.

A bird nest and hatched egg (not a cardinal’s) found in my yard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2021)

This time of year especially—which in Minnesota means weather that is spring on the calendar but yet sometimes still very much winter in reality—erupts in birdsong. Trees show just the slightest hint of green. Birds sense the shifting season, soon time to craft a nest, settle in and raise a family.

Cardinal at River Bend. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Randy recognizes that this boisterous season of bird calls brings endless opportunities to practice his cardinal calls. He doesn’t really need practice, in my opinion. He’s nailed the cardinal’s whistle so well that, if I close my eyes and listen, I can’t distinguish the human from the bird, the bird from the human.

Whether the birds can tell the difference, I’m uncertain. But the cardinals always answer him, which tells me Randy’s mimic of their whistle is convincing.

Barn swallow nests cling to a building at the Rice County Fairgrounds, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2021)

I’ve never been much of a bird person, having grown up with rather common, plain birds like blackbirds, sparrows, robins and the detestable barn swallows. The bomb-diving swallows “attacking” me (so it seemed) as I pushed a wheelbarrow of ground feed down the barn aisle is the stuff of nightmares. Those unpleasant memories will never make me a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

Only one bird on my native prairie home place could be considered anything but ordinary. It was not the cardinal; there were none. Rather we had a pair of Baltimore Orioles, which my mom adored. They were “her” birds, a bit of exotic avian beauty in her ordinary farm life world.

Cardinal at River Bend. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

In my current-day ordinary town life world, the cardinal is my exotic bird. A flash of red. A sharp whistle that cuts through the street noise. And a time for me to bear witness to a conversation between man and bird.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite bird? Any bird stories to share. I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


24 Responses to “Calling all cardinals”

  1. Ida Fetterer Says:

    Audrey, I wonder how many of us do whistle back at the cardinals? I know I do, or I did. We had plenty of them in the twin cities, and then 3 years ago we moved to the Otter Tail County in the country and we have seen one. I sure do miss them, thanks for sweet reminder of that beautiful red bird.

    • Ida, that’s a good question. It’s interesting that you’ve only seen one cardinal in rural Minnesota vs many in the metro. I wonder why? As noted in this post, we didn’t have cardinals in Redwood County either when I was growing up there. I don’t know about now.

  2. Cardinals are high up on our favorite bird list. Not only are they beautiful, they are also easy to see and recognize. And not overly shy – they don’t hide when you look at them. We have a pair that come to our bird feeder and (we hope) will nest nearby this season – it would be fun to see juvenile cardinals flitting about. 😊

  3. I have been delightfully surprised at the number of beautiful birds I have since I moved here. I see cardinals daily. A House Finch here is also red. We have yellow finches too. There is one that might be an oriole, with bright orange/red on his chest & stomach. I’m not sure. There are some that I haven’t identified yet. One of my favorite pleasures is to watch the birds. I have a bird bath and feeder to entice them. They bring a lot of joy.

  4. BIG Bird Lover and we have so many different varieties from song birds to egrets/herons, cranes, et. al. I love nothing more than watching the bird channel at the birdie bath in our backyard. We have a Mocking Jay pair, a Cardinal pair, a Scrub Jay, and a Blue Jay. The papa Cardinal came at me the other night like a red bullet. It is like a runway across our patio since putting in the birdie bath. The butterflies and dragonflies love it too along with the bees (have a little insert for them to land on and not drown). The one Mocking Jay will sing back if I sing or whistle – love Randy does this too! Happy Bird Watching – Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

    • What a wonderful bird, bees, butterflies and fauna filled yard. Was the male cardinal being territorial or feeling threatened, thus the targeted aim at you? I’m not especially bird knowledgeable.

    • I have not figured that out with papa Cardinal – think part in his space and part okay your space too and say hi! We have about 7000 square feet of yard and we love it – work but so worth it. We ended up taking down one invasive tree (over 50 ft) and one diseased tree back in January and switched up the territory of trees for the birds and squirrels. We have planted close to a dozen new shrubs but not strong enough yet to hold a bird for long let alone a squirrel.

  5. Colleen Gengler Says:

    You are so fortunate to have cardinals! Too many barn cats here but others in the area have cardinals. My husband is the real bird watcher but I’m getting better. We have several kinds of wood peckers, goldfinches, house finches, humming birds, cowbirds, sometimes orioles, plus more as well as the regulars you mentioned. Also had bluebirds one year. One year we had a bird watcher stop in. He was interested in our general area in southwest MN as it is where two bio areas meet so there can be a lot of species. And yes, the songs are great!

    • Colleen, what a wonderful variety of birds you have to enjoy. I forgot about the hummingbird, which we do have here in Faribault and which absolutely fascinates me. Happy bird watching and listening on the prairie!

  6. Cool that Randy can do that! I had an “Uncle” who could whistle several bird calls and I think it was his hobby after WWII service and the era of no TV his entertainment or recovery.
    Cardinals, eagles, orioles are really my favorites but being a nature person I really love them all!

    • Oh, eagles, what a majestic bird to watch. When we started going to an extended family member’s lake cabin a few years ago in the Crosslake area, there were resident eagles. Talk about fun to see them. Unfortunately, a windstorm took down the nest and the family has relocated. We still see them flying across the lake. In general, I just see a lot more eagles everywhere, including in Faribault. One flew past our picture window about a year ago. That was quite the sight.

  7. Valerie Says:

    I love the cardinal and every time I see one I feel it is God reminding me He loves me.

  8. beth Says:

    that first photo of the cardinal is simply stunning. it’s lucky you have them around and I think that’s great that randay communicates with them. my daughter has begun teaching me about the birds in her yard, as she can work from home a few days a week and always sits outside to work when it’s nice. one of the prettiest birds I’ve seen here is the red-winged blackbird, but when I see a cardinal, for some reason I think it’s good luck.

  9. Norma Says:

    The only birds that I have ever made contact with are doves and hummingbirds. The doves were determined to rebuild their nest in my patio every spring. I was determined that they wouldn’t. They are very messy birds. The hummingbird was the one that I really wanted around. I found one tiny bird in my patio. It was too small to fly, so I picked it up, and put it on a trunk that was in my patio. Then, I waited. Very soon mama bird came, and after much manipulation on her part, managed to get that tiny creature up and away to her nest. That was one of the most loving things that I had ever witnessed. I love to watch those birds.

  10. I love birds! We rarely get cardinals here in Wgtn, sadly. But the loons are migrating through, so that’s fun! I wish they would stay…

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