Biting commentary

This morning as I was running, I was thinking a lot about cardinals.  They were quite active all morning, with the males singing their ‘what cheer!’ songs all over the place.  When I see one of those brightly colored males against the drag background of the not-quite-yet blooming trees, I do get impressed by their boldness.  They truly are striking birds.

On the other hand, it only takes me a minute of looking at them to remember what a pain in the butt they can be.  Years ago, I worked as a bird bander in central Missouri.  We had big nests (mist nets) set up to catch and band birds as a way to measure their populations.  Most birds are not that thrilled to be caught and handled, but normally they calm down fairly quickly and then can be measured, banded and released with only a little bit of ruffled feathers.  The Northern Cardinal was not quite so easy.   In every day life, these birds are efficient seed eaters with very strong jaw muscles and a nice, pointed beak.  A cardinal in the hand nearly always resulted in a puncture wound to the hand.  They’re like the pit bulls of the bird world, because they also don’t like to let go once they start biting.  They’ll just lie in your hand, look you right in the eye and keep pressing that beak right into your hand.  No other bird did as much damage to my fingers and palms as the cardinal (they quite enjoyed getting that fatty part between the thumb and index finger).  Well, no bird did as much damage to me…but my boss got quite a surprise the day we caught a Pileated Woodpecker!  Ouch!

For some background on just how the cardinals do it all, check out:

Bock, W.J.  1966.  An approach to the functional analysis of bill shape. Auk 83: 10-51


About thomasbiology

I'm an Associate Professor of Biology at Queens University of Charlotte with a background in animal behavior with an emphasis in bird song. I've got two secret goals with this blog (well, since I'm sharing them, they're not so secret): 1. To encourage people to look at the natural world around them- not just as a hiking destination, but to notice all the little things moving around them all the time; and 2. To show some of the science that relates to these little things moving around. There's some really fascinating research out there that so few people get to see.
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