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Counting cardinals at the backyard feeder isn’t easy

By Jack Spaulding

 We have kept a continually, well-stocked bird feeder in our backyard for more than 20 years. Seeing the wide variety of songbirds and woodpeckers has given us untold hours of entertainment, and occasionally some real excitement.

A few years back, in late winter, my wife walked past the bathroom door and she heard me softly talking aloud, “Fifteen, 16, 17…No… 11, 12, 13, 14…”

Naturally curious, she said, “Jack… what are you doing?”

I replied, “Counting cards… counting, counting cards… counting Cardinals.”

Sounding somewhat “unglued” and reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie Rainman, Chris thought she should check on my wellbeing.

Peeking in the open bathroom door, she saw me with my face plastered to the window furiously trying to count the number of male Cardinals at our bird feeder and adorning our backyard.

Never have we witnessed such a proliferation of Cardinals. The crimson horde of red birds in our backyard was awesome. They were everywhere… on the feeder, on the ground under the feeder, in the shrubs, in the small trees lining the millrace, in the dark green evergreen tree by the feeder… everywhere.

The fresh snowfall highlighted their gorgeous vibrant red feathers. Our evergreen tree adorned with the festive splotches of red birds looked like a Christmas tree.

We had enjoyed large groups of male Cardinals around the feeder in late winter in past years, but nothing like this. My record to date was 14 males, and what I assumed were an equal number of females… but there were far more this time.

Late in winter, it’s not unusual to see Cardinals group up in flocks to take advantage of food sources. However, in the few short weeks following late winter, the males will become fierce rivals. They will battle almost constantly to establish mates and nesting territories. Males have even been known to take on and battle their own reflections in windows and mirrors. Not so on this day.

Chris and I mentally divided the backyard and began to count and tally the birds. Our last somewhat confirmed number was 26 male Cardinals and what appeared to be an equal number of females. There was no way we could get anywhere close to an accurate count of the subtle and less gaudy colored females.

For us trying to count the birds was a daunting task. Every time we would tally a cluster or the number in a certain area, one or two would fly to another spot or maybe a couple more would join in from a different place in the yard. Subtract… add… start all over again. We must have counted and recounted for 15 or 20 minutes.

Who said bird watching was easy?

Salamonie Lake Cowboy Gathering

Salamonie Lake will host its annual Cowboy Gathering on Feb. 26 from 12:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m. at the Salamonie Lake Interpretive Center.

Ed Cullison will describe the Red Rock Ride, which is an outfitted and guided horse/mule ride featuring Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Lasagna, table service, lemonade and coffee will be provided. Participants should bring a dish to share and a donation for the Power the Camp fundraiser. Advance registration is required by calling 260-468-2127.

For more information on other UWIS programs, visit or

Readers can contact the author by writing to this publication, or e-mail at Spaulding’s books, “The Best Of Spaulding Outdoors” and “The Coon Hunter And The Kid,” are available from as a paperback or Kindle download.