Cardinals in the Grape Vine


A few weeks ago, as I neared my Concord grape vines to check their health and the development of grapes for the summer harvest, I flushed a female cardinal just a few feet in front of me. As I looked closer, I realized why she stayed so long. She was sitting on a nest, protected within the large leaves of the grape vine. An ingenious location, perched on top of my chain link fence and under grape vine leaves. There, inside a brown nest of dried grasses and vines, were two small eggs. Cream-colored with small patches of chocolate brown. The large leaves added protection from the rain and burning sun. They reminded me of the large beach umbrellas you'd see along most any beach in the country, popped open to protect fair skin from burning rays.

Even though my curiosity was pushing me to check the nest regularly, I also felt I should stay away. Because each trip over to the vine, each time the female cardinal flew away, meant other eyes may take notice. Unwanted eyes from the neighbor's cat or a snake working the nearby woods. To draw less attention is the best scenario.

I checked them again early the following week. Instead of two eggs, there were now two, very fragile hatchlings. Big eyes closed and covering half of their tiny heads, and bodies shaking clumsily as they opened their beaks wide for food. Patches of thin down covered their pink skin and it reminded me of the hair you would see on top of an old man's balding head. It doesn't comb very well and these two chicks look almost as awkward.

Time passed. The green grapes along the vine grew larger and small feathers could now be seen along the wings of these tiny birds. Although they were sleeping, they looked exhausted. Their bodies were moving with the rapid movement of inhaling and exhaling from their lungs. I'm sure nature's goal is to get them airborne. To get them safe and away from the nest as soon as possible and I am sure those two, tiny bodies were exhausted from all the changes happening within.

Yesterday, as I snuck up towards the nest, no female cardinal flew away. It was quiet. I moved in closer and the nest was bare. Part of me was concerned that maybe something caught the two young birds before they could fly, but I also had high hopes they made it to a nearby tree and their future. My concerns were put to rest that evening as I watered and inspected my tomato plants in the side yard of my lot. Just above my head, coming within a few feet, I heard a fluttering of wings. Startled, I doused the brick sidewalk with hose-water as I looked above my head. There, flying within our carport was an immature female cardinal using new wings for an early flight. It had to be one of the two I had been watching. Standing very still, I waited and watched. Soon, it flew out of the brick confines and landed on the telephone line overhead. Nervous and not quite sure about where the owners manual was hidden, this young bird was still learning. But it was safe.

The young eyes looked down upon the old, gray-haired man, with an unkept cut and a lockdown-grown beard. I said, "hello" and she flew off to a nearby pine. I hope that the next time I see her and her sibling, they are enjoying the birdbath or singing perched from atop a porch chair. Watching two eggs turn to two chicks and eventually into two young birds was something positive in a time of so many negatives.

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