The Optimistic Bird Feeder

My husband looked out onto our deck with a set jaw. “I want to see cardinals out there.”

We live three minutes down the hill from the police and fire department. Fire engines and sirens daily roar past us. Which you think would be a nuisance, but as a mom of six I deeply appreciate that a battalion of emergency professionals are just minutes away. I’m actually a little surprised when they pass our house and keep going. If they stopped, they’d certainly find an immediate way to put their services to use here.

Sirens. Children yelling. Neighbors talking. It didn’t seem very promising that we’d become a favorite bird hangout, but I held my tongue because I love my husband and because I knew I was right. There was no need to rub it in.

He left for the store and returned forty-five minutes later with an enormous sack of bird seed with a robust cardinal on the side, presumably Miracle-Gro for birds, and a lovely wall-less hanging bird house. You simply filled the bottom with the seeds. Cardinals, I learned, are ground feeders—like me when there’s candy on the floor.

My husband hung up the bird house. We looked at it swaying in the breeze, unoccupied. It was pretty even without birds in it. I wondered if it would become a squirrel feeder.

The next morning, my husband rushed down the stairs in a hurry to leave for work. “If you see any cardinals, take a picture and text it to me.”

I assured him I would and wondered how we’d aged twenty-five years overnight.

I sat at the table looking at the empty bird feeder. How much had the seeds cost? If the cardinals didn’t come, what else could we use the bird seed for? I smiled remembering my teenager’s joke—she’d wanted to buy bird seed at a pet shop and ask an employee how long it would take to grow a bird.

The bird house swung in the breeze. I marveled at the ever-present determination of my husband. He wanted cardinals and he was taking steps to make it happen. It wasn’t going to happen, but I admired his positivity and go-get-em attitude.

And then there they were. Three small birds with red bellies. I was shocked. And delighted! There they were! I snapped a few pictures and texted them to my husband. He responded with glee. The kids ran to the patio door and also squealed with excitement. Seven pairs of eyes looked out on the birds who ignored us.

For a while, we only saw the ladies. And then he came. The unmistakeable Mr. Cardinal in his blazing ruby glory. I took more photos and sent them to my husband. He declared victory.

Two small red-bellied lady birds and the larger gentleman cardinal shared the seeds. I couldn’t believe my eyes and quickly learned what messy eaters they all were. Seed shells littered the snow below.

And then another bird showed up. It was the same shape and size as the male cardinal, but it was almost a yellow color with red highlights on the wings and crest. What was that? A cousin?

This orinthologist finally realized that was actually Mrs. Cardinal. She was a far more suitable partner than those smaller birds I’d seen, which turned out to be red-bellied house finches.

When my husband came home, he was met by a gaggle of children clamoring to tell him all about the many birds we’d seen that day. He looked mighty proud, and he should have been.

My New Year’s resolution is to be a little more like my beloved bird feeder who feels that simply because a thing hasn’t happened before doesn’t mean that it’s not possible.

Here’s hoping that your cardinals come in this New Year and that you recognize them when they do.

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