Free as a Bird

My article as published in “Snitch’s Scoops” distributed by the Fox Valley Wildlife Center.
feather 1 gray

Perhaps because it was the first bird to fascinate me as a child, I was instantly enchanted with a sparsely-feathered cardinal nestling that checked in to the center during my shift.

Male Cardinal Nestling Incubator

Baby bird in his incubator.

Not only was it late in the season to receive a baby bird, we could only wonder why the little fellow was found out of his nest and without his parent’s care.

I was honored to help the team provide for his needs and watch him grow over time in to a lively, healthy bird. As such, I got the privilege of assisting in the release of this cardinal to his “forever home” back out in nature.

Male Cardinal Soft Release

Cardinal in the soft release flight enclosure.

The day had come (late October 2012) for the cardinal to be released. Selfishly, it broke my heart to have to say goodbye but this is what we all worked so hard to do-give this little bird a second chance. The weather was mild and the wind had disappeared. It was a beautiful day for release. The container housing the bird was placed not far from sunflower seeds and a tray of water. Happy tears rained down as the lid was lifted. The cardinal quickly fluttered out of the box and on to the deck where he looked around a bit before taking off into an evergreen in our backyard. While we couldn’t see him, we heard the unmistakable cardinal call from that tree for a couple of hours. After that, he went silent. We were left to simply wonder if he was still there or if he had left.

Male Cardinal Release and Final Look Before Leaving

Exchanging goodbyes

Around noon the following day, I was ecstatic to spot him on the patio hopping around and pecking at seeds. Wow, was I ever treated to the most magnificent private cardinal show! I watched him chase after a leaf, shoo away a finch, and peck for seeds in the cracks of the walkway and in the mulch. He frequently zoomed around the yard and made little pit stops in the grass, but always came back to the seeds. The behavior seemed almost playful, and it went on for well over an hour. At one point, I noticed him fly towards the fence but stop just short of going past it. My impression was that perhaps he didn’t know he had his freedom to fly beyond the fence and as far as his wings could take him.

Male Cardinal Day After Release

About an hour later, I noticed him hopping around in the grass under the fence. I knew the time had arrived for him to continue to explore his new world. In a matter of seconds, he swooped through the fence, zipped across the neighbor’s yard, and flew around the corner until I couldn’t see him any longer.

Thanks to the center, this once helpless little bird would grow to discover that he could fly as far as his wings could take him.

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