Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

Cardinal Eats Cicada: Two Interests Collide September 3, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Bugs,Children's Interests,Seasons,Summer — saltthesandbox @ 7:28 am
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Usually it’s kind of nice when two of our family’s interests intersect. But I’m still trying to decide how I feel about what happened this morning when a Cardinal caught and ate an Annual Cicada in our neighbor’s elm tree:

The Cardinal ate the cicada bit by bit. In this photo it's holding the cicada's wing and part of its body.

The Cardinal ate the cicada bit by bit. In this photo it's holding the cicada's wing and part of its body.

One problem we have when birds and bugs interact: Who do we root for? We love cicadas, and we love birds, and one gets eaten by the other! Usually we’re OK with birds eating cicadas, since adult cicadas die off in the fall anyway. But this year there aren’t as many cicadas around, so today’s encounter left me a little sad.

The Cardinal looks a little ratty in this photo, and it’s not just because the photo’s fuzzy. The Cardinals in our neighborhood are molting — shedding their old summer feathers and growing a new set for the winter. That’s why most Cardinals we see right now look bald. They’ve molted their old crests and the new ones are just getting started. Adult female and young Cardinals have similar greenish brown feathers, but I think the Cardinal in this photo is a female, because it has a bright red-orange bill and reddish on the wings.

Two other things about our neighborhood’s Cardinals right now: The males stopped singing a few days ago — they must be done defending the breeding territories they used this summer. Also, there are lots of young-of-the-year Cardinals around right now — sometimes the young ones chase the adults around our yard begging for food. I guess her babies were somewhere else, though, because this mommy Cardinal got to eat her cicada in peace.


Note added Tuesday, September 8, at 8:30 a.m.: I just saw a House Sparrow carrying off a cicada! Counting its wings, the cicada was half the length of the sparrow’s body. The sparrow hid in some brush, perhaps hoping its flockmates would not notice its catch.


For more information about Northern Cardinals, visit All About Birds. For more information about Annual Cicadas, try our Kids’ Cicada Hunt website.


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