When I was a kid, I’d sometimes go with my father to visit his favorite aunt, Florence. Though lively of mind and loving of heart, her body had begun to fail her and she spent her days in a wheelchair. She was often seated in front of a large window from which she could see the birds who came to feeders in her yard. She’d tell me little stories about their antics and how much pleasure it gave her to watch them. I’d smile politely and murmur something about how that must be fun, but inside I was thinking If watching birds ever becomes my idea of fun, shoot me.
But now, many years later, though I’ve not yet achieved her advanced age—nor her kind heart—I have discovered my inner Aunt Florence. A wide variety of birds visit the feeders in our yard every day, and as I’m prone to staring out my office window when I should be writing, I see many of them. One in particular caught my eye this summer and I’ve been on a journey of sorts with him.
I first noticed an odd-looking bird in the yard about a month ago. With its small, dark head and reddish feathers, it looked a little like a tiny red-bodied vulture. I’d never seen anything like it before, so I googled to try and identify it. To my surprise, my exotic bird turned out to be a cardinal
I know what the judgmental among you are thinking: Really, Susan? You didn’t know what a cardinal was? Because that’s exactly what I’d be thinking, were I reading someone else’s story of a mystery bird that was actually one that most grade schoolers could readily identify.
Now, seriously, would you recognize him? I did some further research to learn what caused his “hair” loss, and what his future might hold. His bald head, I discovered, could be due to head mites, which cause incessant scratching and subsequent loss of feathers. Or he could be one of the relatively rare birds who experience complete loss of head feathers during molting season. If the cause was head mites, the prognosis wasn’t great for full recovery of his crowning glory. If his baldness was just his normal molting pattern, he should recover quite well.
I found myself looking out the window more often than usual to catch a glimpse of the bird, to see how he was faring. He seemed to come only in the early morning and evening when there were few others of his kin around—almost as though he were embarrassed by his looks. As one who has suffered more than her fair share of bad hair days, I empathized. As the days and weeks went on, his appearance didn’t change. I showed his photo to family or friends and if they laughed at his odd appearance, I felt quite protective of my feather-challenged friend.
When a pert female cardinal with a very perky crest of her own gave him short shrift one day at the feeder, I was downright indignant. Didn’t he deserve love, a family, respect from his fellow birds, no matter what he looked like? I did additional online research to see if there was something I could do, some kind of special feed, maybe, that might speed his feather regrowth.
It appeared there was nothing to be done but wait and see, which as a recovering rescuer, I find exceedingly hard to do. I want to fix every problem I find, whether mine or anyone else’s–regardless of whether they want them fixed or not. Then, about a week ago, I caught a glimpse of him that showed me he was clearly on the road to regrowth.
Finally, today, he posed quite jauntily at the feeder and it appears he’s well on his way to a full crest again. Reminding me that sometimes all you can do is wait, and sometimes, that’s all you need to do. A valuable lesson for cardinals, and for people, too.