One-eyed cardinal

A one-eyed cardinal regularly visits our bird feeder. He often comes in late afternoon, when no other birds are around, and when I can I put out a little fresh seed. He makes himself right at home, filling up.

He’s slender and has lots of brown feathering on his back, so is a young bird. Often lately he has had a female friend. 

He bobs his head, using his good eye to watch the yard — so we can’t see quite what his eye situation is. But one eye appears swollen or grown over. Could be a scar from a wound, could be a remnant of a meeting with a predator, could be some disease.

Eye and other injuries aren’t rare in nature. Some animals overcome them, some don’t. And that’s the consensus on the handful of internet chatty places I’ve consulted. 

One website stressed how important depth perception is to birds. Misjudge where the branch is and you make a clumsy landing.

Unlike owls, whose eyes are in front, though, cardinal eyes are on the sides of their heads. Still, cardinals apparently have a wide field of vision. Without binocular vision, cardinals already have a challenge making a good landing on a tree branch. Or bird feeder.

This cardinal lands just fine. He tags along with a group of scouting chickadees, so appears to be finding plenty to eat.

The bird is cautious, not near as skittish as the pair of bluejays, nor as brash as the dees or titmice or nuthatches. 

From time to time feeder visitors have ruffled, broken feathers. And one year, there was a squirrel with a truncated tail. Winter does sort out the strongest.

We hope it was a good omen when on New Year’s day two eastern bluebirds visited the feeder, the first this season.


The writer is senior associate editor of this newspaper.