Cardinal Virtues

This spring a cardinal family visited our enclosed patio. The parents were fussing because their baby couldn’t fly above the fence to make an exit. The baby would flap its wings, rise a bit, then fall back to the ground. For a few minutes I debated whether or not to intervene. Should I pick the baby up and carry it somewhere?

I knew the nest wasn’t in our courtyard. I sought out my Facebook friends, who responded with a number of ideas. “Cover it with a towel and take it back to a grassy area.” Another person told me, “Don’t move the baby without a clothes basket on your head because the father cardinal will attack you.” My husband told me to wait and see what happens. (That’s usually his advice about most things.)

I watched the cardinal family for an hour through the back door window.  Finally the baby cardinal made it to the top of the table. Encouraged by his mother, he managed to fly from the table to the top of the fence.  My husband got a terrific photo of him preparing for final take off.

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This event sparked my curiosity. I wanted to know more about cardinals. I discovered they were named after the red robes of the cardinals of the Catholic Church. Immediately the term “cardinal virtues” came to mind.  I applied the seven virtues to a cardinal’s behavior.

Faith: Believing the promises of God. Cardinals stay in the same general vicinity twelve months out of the year.  God provides for them through the cold, grey winter months. The male cardinal’s red color reminds us to “keep the faith” during bleak times.

Prudence: The ability to use foresight, knowing when it’s the right time to take action. Since cardinals do not migrate, they grow extra feathers and eat more to prepare for winter.

 Hope: Cardinals sing cheery songs which lift our spirits and encourage us to persevere through trials.

Love: Male and female cardinals mate for life and share the duties of child raising. The female cardinal calls to the male who responds by bringing her food when she’s nesting.

Justice: Male and female cardinals sing together. Both compliment one other. Each gender has a “voice” in cardinal matters.

Temperance: Both male and female cardinal parents restrain themselves from exploring other interests when they are raising their young. Cardinal babies hop around on the ground for a few days until they learn to fly. The parents stay close by to feed and protect their young.

Courage: A male cardinal is a fierce defender of the nest. He will attack other birds, cats, dogs, and snakes who intrude upon his territory. Males are know to even attack their reflection in a window (side-note: Intelligence isn’t one of the seven virtues).

I’m impressed. After I shared the extensive list of cardinal virtues, my husband asked, “What about the seven cardinal sins?”

I guess that’s one cardinal matter I’ll never know.