Not Sugar and Spice…

…not everything nice.

On my walk to work Tuesday morning I witnessed a territorial battle between female northern cardinals that was fierce and possibly bloody.

My attention was drawn by three cardinals chasing, chipping and wing flashing in a thicket.  Two females were fighting and a male was keeping up with them.

One of the females was clearly stronger than the other but the weaker one would not give up.  I could see she was frightened but even as she avoided her attacker she sometimes sang the cardinal song. 

Unlike most female birds, female cardinals can counter-sing with their mates.  Was she singing for the territory?  Was she asking the male for help?  I could tell there was not much he could do.

The group chased through the thicket, then both females dropped out of sight into deep ivy.  I thought the fight was over.  Instead it was more intense.  When they emerged from the ivy the stronger female was biting the weaker one on the neck.  Ow!  Ow!

By now the weaker cardinal had had enough.  She broke away and flew low across Forbes Avenue in front of traffic.  I watched with horror as she nearly was hit by a Port Authority bus.

But she made it.  She was safe. 

I felt like a limp dishrag.  She nearly died!  I didn’t know how much I cared about the drama until my adrenaline was gone. 

Little girls may be “sugar and spice and everything nice” but that’s not what this bird is made of.

(photo by Cris Hamilton)

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