A Christmas Visitor

Last summer we had this crazed cardinal. He appeared one day on the back deck, chipping like a wild man. Incessantly. For weeks. Every day he would return, and every day he would march up and down the railing boards, from one end of the deck to the other, pacing, chip, chip, chipping at us like we had done him some great wrong. He would look right at the screen door, right at us—individually; there was eye contact—and holler. It was disconcerting. Every now and again you feel like an animal is truly trying to communicate with you, possibly sentient and looking to impart urgent wisdom, or anger.

After the first week, we suspected that maybe our cats had taken this proud boy’s wife in an aerial attack. He truly seemed to have a bone to pick. We apologized. He chipped. We made faces universally interpreted as repentance and sorrow. He chipped.

Another week down the line our boy recruited a friend, and we now had Papa and Mama Cardinal promenading down the deck, chipping in turn. The annoyance level ratcheted up, for the chipping doubled, and the girl we suspected cut off in the prime of her youth lived.

All day. Every day. Chip. Chip chip. Chip.

Eventually our aviary friends disappeared, without so much as a goodbye. To our clearly untrained linguistic abilities, they seemed as angry on the last day of their protests as on the first day Mr. C showed up. Weeks. Probably a full month. It was a crazy-maker.

And today I have reason to believe that our little buddy is still hanging around the homestead.

Chipping, as you might imagine, is not as effective of an attention grabber in the winter, when houses are sealed up tight against winter’s winds. I don’t know if Papa C. had been trying, and our refusal to acknowledge pushed him into desperation, or if he knew, and skipped the formalities straight away in favor of more vexatious and winter-friendly methods of grabbing the spotlight.

Whatever his impetus, for over a week, a cardinal looking suspiciously like our summer friend has been throwing himself against our windows, regular as rain, persistent as my premature ventricular beats—though he thankfully takes to the trees when the sun goes down, saving us from investigating the laws and ordinances revolving around the hunting of songbirds in Wisconsin Decembers.


What we hear is this: There is a light slamming—a familiar noise that sends the girls of the house outdoors in their socks to see if a feathered friend lays stunned in the snow in need of rescue (cats, cats, cats…)—followed immediately by a confusing screen scrabbling. By the time we dash in to see, he is plastered against the screen.

I sat on the bed for half an hour the other day just watching. What is happening, over and over again, is this: Mr. Cardinal bounces off the upper window, then hovers down to gain an awkward footing against the screened lower pane. Then he looks at us. Through this eye. Then that one. Then this one again. He is staring into our souls.


And then he runs off to the nearest tree, gathers his gumption, and tries again. This bird wants in.

It happens constantly, for most, if not all of our short daylight hours. Mostly in our bedroom window. Sometimes in our bathroom. There is no privacy.

Were I not hardened against the idea that we had wronged him somehow, widowed him too young, and were his wife not happily scavenging the fallen birdseed in the front yard during most of his knocking, I admit I might consider apologizing blindly again. I will not be so easily played.



This is not about avenging the death of his family. I have no idea what this is about, but if anyone has been experimenting in their basements with bird-brain-scanning technology, have I got a guinea pig for you!


He is adorable, really, and it is not often that you get to count the notched tail-feathers on the neighborhood birds. But would that I could get into his head, and find for him the Christmas present he is clearly, and unintelligibly, angling for…


Merry Christmas to all the little birdies, patient and persistent,

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