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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Cardinal's Growing Range

Air Date: Week of

A male cardinal on the edge of the Neck River Marsh, Madison CT (photo: Mark Seth Lender)

The brilliant red plumage of the Cardinal is now a common sight throughout New England. But as writer Mark Seth Lender observes, this is a new development and due to the shift in climate that has warmed the region.


CURWOOD: Throughout Rome, Catholic cardinals in their scarlet vestments have been sighted as they gather to choose a new Pope. And throughout New England, the bird that shares their name has become a commonplace sight, as climate change has extended its range. But as writer Mark Seth Lender recalls, that wasn't always the case.

LENDER: The Cardinal points his voice toward North (Coloratura, then Recitativo) in the red bud maple rush of spring when all the small and not yet green shoots upward, from hard winter ground. He finds (by a navigation no one knows) a place to build a nest; he calls his own, his love to lay her perfect eggs and sit with him there. He sings the sun to its pivot point then quiets down, a pause to mark beginnings, and one to mark the end. In fall, towards dusk, when cold clothes the rising moon in an icy throw and every leaf has gone, he sings again, that the young he fathers come to understand the words a Cardinal knows.

When I was a child - never saw him. Not one. Not once. Except for the picture book where C was not Cat not Cup not Car - C was for Cardinal, Phoenix red somewhere beyond the confine of a child’s four walls. Not ‘til my teens did I catch that flash of voice, that blur among the branches of a tree-lined street (long before Cardinal’s rare flame became a year-round commonplace - never commonplace to me).

Cardinal, timid to the light, prefers the almost dark of dawn, the end of color at the dropping down of night. Behind the curtain of the shortest day familiar notes ring out when Cardinal dreams, perhaps like me, of journeys not yet made, and mountains not yet crossed, of molten desert sands, and the slinking edge of permafrost.


CURWOOD: Mark Seth Lender made this recording at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, Connecticut. There's a Robin, and a Cardinal, and then a Red-Winged Blackbird. Mark's book is Salt Marsh Diary.



Mark Seth Lender’s website

Mark’s book: Salt Marsh Diary: A Year on the Connecticut Coast


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