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The County Beautiful ~ Cardinal A Local Favorite

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The News Garden Page

The County Beautiful By Anne Hinshaw Wing

Cardinal A Local Favorite

Since the turn of the century, cardinals have increased in Washtenaw county, although before that they were rarely seen this far north. In the Nichols Arboretum, in yards and gardens, along brushy roadsides and fence-rows, the cardinal’s vigorous and happy-sounding whistles can be heard, beginning in earliest spring. Each morning, as the sun rises earlier, the cardinal also starts singing earlier.

“Birdy, birdy, birdy, birdy, birdy” or “What cheer, what cheer, what cheer,” he sings with brilliant and sweeping glissandos or slurs, as well as single notes. The male bird, colored like a firebrand, does most of the singing, although once in a while the female has been heard to sing, too. More muted and dull in color, for safety on the nest, the female is often, seen with her dashing mate.

Nest Early And Late Norman A. Wood, ornithologist at the University Museum of Zoology for many years, said that cardinal nests with eggs were found as early as the second week in April, and as late as the latter part of August. Cardinals make their homes, as a general rule, in a thicket of dense bushes, thickly-branched hawthorns, tangled vines and the like. The nests are bulky, loosely built structures of leaves, bark strips, twigs, rootlets, weed-stems and grasses, lined with finer grasses and hair. The birds like to return to the same place to nest, and often use the same shrub or tree or even the same nest more than one year.

Along brushy roadsides, not only cardinals but also goldfinches, song sparrows, vesper sparrows, chipping sparrows, field sparrows, brown thrashers, catbirds, yellow warblers, bobwhites, towhees and others like to nest here in Washtenaw county. The taller trees may contain nests of cuckoos, downy and hairy woodpeckers, robins, red-eyed vireos, mourning doves, wood pewees, indigo buntings, redstarts and scarlet tanagers. In a mile of roadside that has not been disturbed by cutting, burning or spraying operations, there are likely to be countless pairs of these little birds, singing cheerily and feeding their rapidly growing babies millions of grubs, worms, insects and moths, besides other tidbits favored by them.

Brush Valuable

When our country was first settled, the effort to clear off the forest took a large share of the time and attention of the settlers. With only axes and saws, the giant task of preparing to raise food had to be faced. The impetus of this forceful period still carries us onward. However, farmers, who once found it so necessary to fight the forest and the brush, are now counselled by farm extension literature and by county agents to leave brush along fence-rows, and even to replant it. In the County Building one will find conservation advisers ready to give help in replanting some areas for wildlife. It would appear that brush has value for wild birds and other animals that people recognize nowadays, whereas in the past it was thought only a nuisance and unsightly.

A road need not be treated the same throughout its length. There are many land-owners still who want slick-and-clean roadsides. However, the number of those interested in preserving natural surroundings in country areas in Washtenaw county apparently is increasing. Audubon Society members grow in number. Conservation committees pop up in service organizations. Recent announcements of the State Highway Department include plantings for crash-barriers and sound, abatement purposes.