Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Backyard Cardinals

The bird guides don't say anything about cardinals liking cat food.
But they do.
At least the ones in our backyard are big fans.
Even though the cats lurk nearby, the cardinals find plenty of opportunities to swoop in for tasty treats.
According to Cornell's Bird Lab, Northern Cardinals eat mainly seeds and fruit, supplemented with insects. Common fruits and seeds include dogwood, wild grape, buckwheat, grasses, sedges, mulberry, hackberry, blackberry, sumac, tulip-tree, and corn.
See? No cat food listed.
We've had four or five pairs who have provided a splash of color to our backyard landscape during the drab and dreary winter days.
However, the bird references were accurate about the cardinals' behavior.
They like to hop through low branches and forage on or near the ground. Cardinals commonly sing and preen from a high branch of a shrub. 
The distinctive crest can be raised and pointed when agitated or lowered and barely visible while resting. You typically see cardinals moving around in pairs during the breeding season, but in fall and winter they can form fairly large flocks of a dozen to several dozen birds. ...They fly somewhat reluctantly on their short, round wings, taking short trips between thickets while foraging. Pairs may stay together throughout winter, but up to 20 percent of pairs split up by the next season. 
From All About Birds, The Cornell Lab

They also like our backyard fence.

During one of my pandemic cleaning binges, I unearthed an old book that belonged to Randy. "Birds: A Child's First Book about Our Most Familiar Birds" was a Christmas gift back in 1959 from his Grandma Ritts. The book was published by Golden Press in 1958. It was written by Jane Werner Watson and beautifully illustrated by Eloise Wilkin.

Even though it claims to have our most familiar birds, it almost disappointed me. But I finally found a small illustration of a cardinal on the title page, along with a robin - another frequent flyer to our yard. 

The copyright page says:
In this first book, a sense of the joy and wonder of birds is created for every child through Eloise Wilkin's sensitive illustrations and Jane Werner Watson's informative text. The songbirds in the trees, the waders of the seashore and river, plovers and pigeons - over 25 birds have been simply described and vividly pictured in a way that every child will enjoy.
I'm sure children did enjoy it, though Randy doesn't have a lot of childhood memories of the book. But the vintage illustrations definitely captured my attention. 
 The book has joined some of my bird photography and knicknacks in my spring decor.
Jane Werner was one of the original editors of the Little Golden Books series, which were published by Western Publishing in conjunction with Simon and Schuster. She wrote some 150 books in the Little Golden Books series. According to Penguin Books, many of Werner's titles were illustrated by the great children’s illustrators of the mid-20th century. Some of her bestselling titles include The Fuzzy Duckling (illustrated by Martin and Alice Provensen), Animal Friends (illustrated by Garth Williams), and My Little Golden Book About God, The Christmas Story, and Wonders of Nature (all illustrated by Eloise Wilkin)
Eloise Wilkin also was the illustrator of the bird book. Wikipedia says that many of the books she illustrated became classics of American children's literature. I certainly can agree with that. Jane Werner Watson called her friend Eloise Wilkin "the soul of Little Golden Books." 

Her watercolor and colored pencil illustrations are known for their glowing depiction of babies, toddlers, and their parents in idyllic rural and domestic settings.
Wilkin won a drawing contest for New York schoolchildren at age 11 and graduated from the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute. Soon after college graduation, Eloise and friend Joan Esley opened an art studio in Rochester, NY, but struggling to find work, the pair moved to New York City, where Century Company gave Eloise her first book to illustrate, The Shining Hours. Many of her early illustrations were for school books.

In 1944, Wilkin signed an exclusive contract with original Little Golden Books publisher Simon & Schuster, requiring her to illustrate three books each year. She often used her children and grandchildren and their friends as models for her illustrations. A devout Christian, Wilkin frequently illustrated religious picture books including several compilations of prayers for children. I realized that one of our other vintage Little Golden Books, Prayers for Children, was also illustrated by Wilkin.

Want more? Here's a blog post that had some illustration from Prayers for Children.


  1. How wonderful to have the cardinals in your garden even if they do eat the cat food. As I read about the 'The Little Golden' books, I felt sure they were on my limited childhood bookself. Your last image confirmed my thoughts.

    1. The illustrator is wonderful! We certainly don't mind our avian visitors eating the cat food. It's interesting how they seem to co-exist with our feline friends. You wouldn't think they would do that.