The Last Baby Cardinal Update


No, I didn’t grab this little guy right out of the nest, I swear! The babies fledged last weekend, and for several days, we’ve been watching the parents feeding them from various locations around the yard. The babies will sit on a bamboo stem and flap their wings and beg, and the parents race around finding things for them to eat. They can now fly longer distances, but don’t have a great deal of control. Yesterday, Mark came running in to announce one of the babies was in our garage and couldn’t find his way out, and the parents birds were outside, having conniption fits. I’m sure he would have eventually flown to them–the bird, not Mark–but we were ready to close up the garage, and he needed a bit of…steering. I tried to direct him to one of the doors, but he ended up dropping to the floor behind some brooms and mops. At that point, it was easier to pick him up and take him to the front yard, where his anxious parents were flying in circles, making pitiful noises.

I stopped long enough for Mark to take this picture. You can see that the baby is colored a similar plain brown to the mother, though without the wash of orange here and there she usually sports. All the better to remain inconspicuous, and harder for predators to spot. The difference, of course, is that he has a dark beak, in contrast to both parents, which have bright orange ones. When I let him go, he flew straight to the viburnum hedge with his parents hot on his little stubby tail. 🙂 And no, they will not reject any bird or egg handled by a person because they can “smell that a human has touched it.” This is an old wives tale. Very few birds have any sense of smell at all, and replacing fallen babies  into a nest will do nothing but make them happy. So that’s one bit of advice you can ignore.

Hopefully, this little guy will continue to thrive and add his voice to the many cardinal songs in our neighborhood.

Update on My Cardinal Babies

Posted a picture two weeks or so ago showing Mama Cardinal sitting on her nest in my jasmine vine. The vine is on a trellis at the end of my screen porch, so we have to take pictures through the screen. I apologize for the quality, but I’m not going to come at her the other way and scare her. Last weekend, Mark managed to get pics of two babies, reaching for food. Thought you might enjoy them. I sure do.


Needless to say, my poor cats have been banned from the back porch until the babies fledge. No glaring through the screen at them with their big, cat eyes! 🙂 They are not happy kitties, but they’ll survive. It won’t be a lot longer before the babies are leaving the nest. Sadly, baby birds fledge before they can fully fly, and spend a few days, running, hopping, and taking very short flights around the yard. They are super vulnerable during that time, but I’ll do my best to make sure the dogs don’t find them.

On the plus side, here in central Florida, cardinal pairs will raise several clutches of eggs and babies over the spring, summer, and fall. At least three, and sometimes four broods will be fed and nurtured, thus insuring that some of the babies do survive to be parents themselves one day.

Finally! I’m BACK!


Coral Honeysuckle in Full Bloom, and Carolina Wren in Residence in the Old Birdhouse

I know I’ve said it before, but honestly, you have no idea how much time writing and publishing a book can eat up. I’m spending at least 60 hours a DAY on it, so you know I’m in Time Deficit Mode, here! 😀 But. I’m trying to find ways to manage my crowded days better, so I can get back to my blogs again. I’ve already gotten Bookin’ It back to speed, and I can’t leave Who’s Your Granny just abandoned and lonely, now can I?


View from My Patio Table

So…here’s the scoop. My sad and neglected garden is undergoing a metamorphosis as I try to get it cleaned up, replanted, and looking good before the heat becomes unbearable.

don juansm

First Don Juan rose of the season. Reddest & most perfect rose, ever! (Ignore all the photos
on my inspiration board. This is my writing desk, and you never know who or what might
be displayed! 😀

I dug my pathetic looking roses, which do not like my soil, and potted them in huge containers last month, and they are already leafed out and starting to bloom. They LOVE the richer potting soil, and the extra TLC.


I’ve raised and released six monarchs already this season, which is pretty good, given that I don’t have as much milkweed available for them to lay their eggs on as I usually do. It’s on my shopping list.

Found a decent source of good terra cotta and glazed pots at my local Wal-Mart. Much better prices than Home Depot, and certainly better than most garden centers. So I’m collecting pots and moving a lot of things out of the ground and into containers. Easier to care for, and I have more control over the growing medium. I’m trying to do more xeriscaping for the inground stuff…native plants and low maintenance things. And annuals, which I’d have to replace every year, anyway. Thinking of broadcasting some wildflower seeds, if it isn’t already too late here.


Mama Cardinal on my Jasmine vine, just outside my screen porch. Can you see her? (Look for her orange beak.)

We’ve been having 90 degree days regularly for several weeks, so summer is upon us already. Stay tuned for more frequent updates! And please let me hear from you, those of you who are still with me. I’ve missed chatting with my fellow gardeners and friends.

Goldfinches Everywhere!


(Click to zoom)

Today, there are at least 15 goldfinches at my feeder, with at least one male in nearly perfect breeding plumage!  I’ve mentioned before that I try to look for miracles every day.  For me, this is one.  How much beauty is packed into such small packages!  They brighten my garden, my view from my library window, and my heart!  Wishing each of you a beautiful miracle today, too.  They are there, if you keep your eyes open!

They’re Baaaa-aaaaack!


American Goldfinches

(Click to Zoom)

The goldfinches and Threeps, of course!  Didn’t have a large showing of fall migrants this year, for some reason. (Maybe because we had almost no fall.) But now that we are in spring mode, things are picking up.  Sunday, I spotted the first American goldfinches at my feeders.  My two were still in winter plumage, looking pretty drab when you think of how they will look in another few weeks.  But I’m happy to see them.

And as for the Threeps…okay, really they are Great Crested Flycatchers…they made themselves known this past weekend, too, by announcing their presences from the treetops all day long.  “Threep.  Threep. Threeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!” It has become one of my favorite sounds in the garden, and if I watch closely, I will see them swoop out from a handy tree branch to snatch flying insects out of the air, then return to the tree to devour them.  Hence the name “flycatcher.”


Great Crested Flycatcher

(Click to Zoom)

Flycatchers in general, are fairly drab brownish gray birds, but the Great Crested flycatcher is actually quite handsome, with a wash of lemon yellow on the belly and rust colored patches on the wings and tail. He has just enough of a crest  to give his head a shaggy, slightly over-large look.  I love that this bird will be with me all summer long, and will probably nest in my oaks, though I’ll likely not see where. Maybe I’ll put up a box this year.   These guys will use them, if they are hung to their specifications, and at least I’d see where they were raising their young.

Are you seeing any spring migrants yet in your yard?

To hear the calls and songs of these two birds, click the links below:

(Scroll down to button that says “Typical Voice”)

American Goldfinch:

(Scroll down to the last recording to hear the “Threep!” call.)

Great Crested Flycatcher:

All photos found online.

Look What Mark Built!

Stacked brick bird bath

My New Brick Birdbath

(Click to Zoom)

After showing Mark the article on using bricks in the garden in that South African e-magazine which featured our pond, we decided we liked the stacked brick birdbath pictured.  We also decided we needed to add a few more birdbaths in our garden, too.  (I’m convinced one can never have too many!)  Since we have enough salvaged brick to build a second house piled here and there in the pot ghetto area of the back yard, we didn’t have to buy a thing!  We also have several stacks of salvaged slate from a demo job in downtown Orlando, too.  So Mark built one of brick and one of slate.  I love both of them, and best of all, since the bricks and slate are just stacked up, they would be easy to relocate or take down completely, if we wanted to make changes.  It only took him about an hour on each one, to be sure every layer was level and neat.  I’m all smiles!

Stacked slate birdbath

(Click to see Full Sized)

This makes at least five birdbaths in my backyard, alone.  How many do YOU have?  Even birds that don’t use feeders need water, and will usually make use of a birdbath, even if it’s just a shallow bowl on the ground.  And watching them bathe is so much fun!  

Cardinalis cardinalis

Male northern cardinal

Male Northern Cardinal

Aaah, don’t you love it when I’m bilingual?  I do!  As if you haven’t guessed, Cardinalis cardinalis is the Latin name for what is likely the most popular bird in American gardens, the northern cardinal.  This bird is so popular, it is the official bird of seven different states!  Almost everyone recognizes the bright red male with his black mask, orange bill,  and perky crest.  And most of us have probably observed that the female is a soft brown version of the male.  But did you know that all young cardinals, male or female, start out looking just like the female, except they have black beaks instead of the bright orange beaks of the adult birds?  Here are a few more interesting facts about cardinals:

1.  They do not migrate.  The cardinals in your yard will stay there all year long, whether you live in Florida like I do, or in Maine.

2.  The cardinal’s range extends westward over almost 2/3’s of the United States, but the far western states do not have them.  They have a bird that appears similar, but without the striking red coloration, called a pyrrhuloxia, or desert cardinal.  You can definitely see the resemblance, but I’m kind of partial to our nice “redbird,” as we southerners used to call them.


3.  The heavy, finch-like bill of the cardinal is designed for cracking seeds, and I can attest to the fact that you do NOT want to get any tender bits of skin caught in it.  I used to take care of injured and orphaned birds for Florida Audubon, and a cardinal bite HURTS.

4.  I don’t know about all of the cardinal’s range, but around here, cardinals are the first birds to sing in the morning, and the last ones singing at night.  And they have a lovely song, in addition to the heavy “chip” call they use when visiting the bird feeder, or “talking” to their babies.  Go here to listen to 4 examples cardinals chipping and singing.

Cardinal Songs

5.  The cardinal was named for his bright red color, which early settlers in the New World thought looked like the scarlet robes of the church’s cardinals.  But the cardinal is NOT the only bright red bird in the eastern United States.  Less common, especially at feeders, are the solid red summer tanagers, and their black-winged cousins, scarlet tanagers.  These birds are primarily insect eaters, but for some reason, a male summer tanager showed up at my feeder in the company of a painted bunting two summers in a row, and ate seeds for days before moving on.  Notice that the beaks of the tanagers are not designed for seed crushing like the cardinal’s, but rather for insect catching.  Summer tanagers have a real penchant for eating wasp larvae right out of the nest, and will work that beak into each little cavity to pull out the young.

Male Summer Tanager

Male Scarlet Tanager

Cardinals are constant visitors to any feeder with fresh seed, loving sunflower seeds most of all.  They will readily eat just about any other kind, too.  In addition to seeds, they also eat some fruit and insects.  And they will even strip the fleshy leaves off of certain succulents.  Guess they like some salad now and then.  They build their nests in shrubs and small bushy trees, often only 5 or 6 feet off the ground; and they will raise multiple clutches of young each year here in Florida, as long as the weather stays warm. 

female northern cardinal

Female Northern Cardinal

Immature northern cardinal    Immature Northern Cardinal molting into adult male plumage

Immature Northern Cardinal on left and Immature Male molting into adult plumage on right.

(Click to zoom on any image)

Cardinals may not be rare or exotic, but they are certainly one of the most beautiful of garden birds, and I hope you enjoyed learning a little more about them.  Next time you are in the garden as the day draws to a close, listen for their evening songs.  And if you have spotted any other birds in your garden or elsewhere that you’d like to know more about, please let me know.  I’ve been around ornithologists for many years, and have learned quite a bit from them.  I’d love to share, and know where to get answers if you ask about a bird I’m not familiar with.  I’m not bad at ID-ing birds from photos, too.  Just give a holler.  And look for more posts on birds and other garden critters in the weeks ahead.

Pictures found online.

Rat-a-Tat-Tat! Woodpeckers In The Garden

“Even the woodpecker owes his success to the fact that he uses his head and keeps pecking away until he finishes the job he starts.”

   –Coleman Cox

Red-bellied Woodpecker on Tree trunk

Red-bellied Woodpecker

After seeing some lovely photos of downy woodpeckers at one of my favorite blogs (link below), I decided it would be fun to post about the 8 woodpeckers resident to central Florida, several of which are common garden visitors.

 The most common woodpecker in Florida is probably the red-bellied woodpecker (pictured above).  The red-bellied part of its name refers to the wash of red over tan that the males acquire during breeding season.  Red-bellies belong to a group of woodpeckers called “ladder-backed woodpeckers.”  If you notice the black and white horizontal bars on this bird’s back, you can imagine why.  One of the things I like most about this woodpecker is that it visits feeders regularly, supplementing its insect diet with lots of seed, especially sunflower and safflower.  The bird shown is a male.  Females have red on the backs of their heads, too, but it does not go forward all the way to the beak, like this bird’s does.  Red-bellied woodpeckers are medium sized birds, about the size of a stout robin.

Downy woodpecker on suet feeder

Downy Woodpecker

The smallest woodpecker in Florida is also a very common bird, though often hard to spot.  The tiny downy woodpecker is not much larger than your average sparrow.  It can be told from its very similar cousin, the hairy woodpecker, by the much shorter bill, and slightly smaller size, overall.  As you can see, downies will come to suet feeders, but in my experience, they seldom come to a seed feeder.  I frequently see downies chasing each other round and round a tree trunk, and their high pitched calls are very recognizable.  They are really cute little birds, and fun to watch in the garden.

Pileated Woodpecker on tree trunk

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated woodpeckers are the largest woodpeckers in Florida (maybe in the United States), being about the size of a crow.  Pileated means “crested,” and you can see from this picture that they are well named.  The female has less red on her crest, and her “moustache” is black, so you can tell the bird pictured above is a male.  If you are old enough to remember Woody Woodpecker cartoons, you might be interested to know that Woody’s laugh was patterned after the call of the pileated woodpecker.  They are LOUD and really do cackle.  I see pileateds in my yard several times a week, and hear them even more often.  They are beautiful birds, especially in flight.

Northern Flicker Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

Another common woodpecker around these parts is the Northern Flicker.  The flicker is the only woodpecker in Florida that is primarily brown in color.  The spotted breast is very distinctive, as is the “V” shaped red mark on the nape of its neck.  This is a male flicker above.  The females have a red moustache, oddly enough.  It’s usually the other way around.  The flicker gets his name from his slow “wicka-wicka-wicka” call, and is the only woodpecker who is seen on the ground as often as on a tree.  They have an unusual habit of taking dust baths in anthills, and then picking up a large ant in the beak and rubbing it all over their feathers.  This is known as…ready?…anting!  The theory is they are spreading the formic acid the ant gives off, though I’m not quite sure to what purpose.  They are between the red-bellied and the pileated woodpeckers in size.

Red-headed woodpecker on branch

Red-headed Woodpecker

Surely the most beautiful of all the woodpeckers is the strikingly marked red-headed woodpecker.  I see fewer and fewer of them every year, and they are not common in most gardens.  They are the only woodpecker whose diet consists of large quantities of “mast” in addition to insects.  Mast is the term for acorns, so unless you have a lot of large oaks in your yard, you probably won’t have red-headed woodpeckers visiting you.  And these days, I see them only in more rural oak groves, for some reason.  They are roughly the size of  the red-bellied woodpecker, and it’s always a pleasure to catch sight of that beautiful black and white plumage darting through the trees.  Notice that the entire head and face of the bird is red, rather than just the crown of the head.  This is the only woodpecker in Florida patterned like that. 

Yellow-bellied sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

No, it’s not just a slangy insult tossed around in old western movies.  There really is a bird named that, and the name is quite appropriate.  This smallish woodpecker has a wash of yellow over his belly, especially in breeding season, and he does “suck sap!”  Okay, he doesn’t suck it.  But the holes he drills in trees produce running sap that he actually eats.  Plus the sap attracts insects for an added bonus.  In central Florida, sapsuckers are winter visitors, and I’m expecting mine to show up in the next few weeks.

Sapsuckers leave perfect “bracelets” of holes girding tree trunks in neat rings.  If you see these types of woodpecker holes on your trees, you know for sure you have had sapsuckers visiting your yard.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker rings around tree trunk

Sapsucker Damage

The general school of thought is that unless the sapsuckers are staying in your yard all year long, their damage to trunks is merely superficial.  Honestly, I think it’s kind of cool, and I smile when I see these “bracelets” on my trees.

Red Cockaded Woodpecker

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

And finally, the rarest woodpecker in Florida.  The red-cockaded woodpecker is on the Endangered Species list.  They are very habitat specific, and logging and other stresses on their preferred habitat has been a factor in their decline.  Unless you are willing to hike far into the woods to a known red-cockaded nest, and sit down and wait for what could be hours for an extremely brief sighting of one swooping in from nowhere and disappearing into the tree cavity, your chances of seeing one are kind of slim.  This is a very handsome bird, with wide white cheek patches and a small red patch on top of its head that is often hidden under a black cap.  Its relationship to the trees is prefers is quite unusual, and if you are interested in such things, you might google it for a bit more information.

Hope you have enjoyed seeing these Florida woodpeckers, and maybe you’ll notice a few of them in your own yard.  Don’t forget to click on the images to zoom in, and if you would like to hear their calls, I’ve listed them below.  Also, drop by Backyard Biology to see some fantastic photos of nature and wildlife, and to read some pretty interesting facts, too.  It’s a fun blog!

Backyard Biology

Woodpecker calls and drumming sounds.  (Note, some of these links have more than one clickable recording).

Red-bellied Woodpecker Call

Downy Woodpecker Call

Pileated Woodpecker Call

Northern Flicker

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

All images found online.

Critters In The Garden #2 – White-Winged Doves

“Just like the white winged dove…
Sings a song…
Sounds like she’s singing…
ooo baby… ooo… said ooo”

Stevie Nicks, “Edge of Seventeen”

White-winged Dove

White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)

While not everyone appreciates all the many critters that thrive surprisingly well in urban gardens, I enjoy most of them on a daily basis, from lizards and snakes, to possums, flying squirrels, butterflies and moths,  and of course, birds.  I’d venture a guess that most gardeners enjoy avian visitors, and many, like me, put out feeders and birdbaths to ensure their comfort.  Here in central Florida, we have a wide variety of  birds that will visit and nest in our backyards.  In addition to the usual songbirds, I have red-shouldered hawks that nest in my oaks, barred owls raising young across the street, and woodpeckers of several types.  I’ve had my share of white ibises foraging in the front yard, and even had vultures scrabbling over a piece of roadkill who fought their way up my drive way and onto the front stoop, once.  Occasionally, a bald eagle lands in one of our trees, and we often see and hear sandhill cranes flying over.  All of these visitors will be discussed in future posts, I’m sure.

For now, I’m thinking about the change in our local dove population.  Our most familiar dove has always been the mourning dove, which frequents backyard feeders in great numbers.  Most anyone who pays attention at all has heard their sad call, which is what they were named for:  “Oh, woe, woe, woe….”   But shortly after we moved into this house eight years ago, I noticed a much stouter and larger dove at my feeders, with a shorter, squared off tail, and bright white wing markings.  I was surprised to find out I had a pair of white-winged doves residing in my backyard.  These birds are primarily a western species, not originally native to Florida, but were  introduced here a few decades ago. They  are becoming more and more common throughout this area.  A year after we moved in,  I had 4 of them at my feeder, and the next year, 8.  Now there are more white-wings visiting than there are mourning doves.  I’m not sure that’s a good thing, ecologically, but I’m very fond of them, with their “oooh, baby, ooooh” calls.  Somehow I find them more handsome than the mourning doves, as well.  Perhaps that’s because I didn’t grow up seeing them everywhere, so they are still a novelty to me.  It remains to be seen whether their increasing numbers will affect the mourning dove population, which has always seemed more than just abundant to me.  For now, I will just enjoy the white-wings along with my other feeder visitors.

Here is a picture of a mourning dove  for comparison.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Check out these links to hear the typical call of these birds. (Just scroll down until you see the sound bar & click on the “Play” arrow.)

White-Winged Dove

Mourning Dove

Photos found online.