Northern cardinal has black eyes

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Recently I was lucky enough to capture this image of the beautiful head of a male northern cardinal. This bird will tolerate other songbirds around a bird feeder. The innocence of this friendly bird is evident in this striking pose. His wide, strong, conical red beak is perfect for cracking grains of corn and hulling sunflower seeds.

At this close distance we can see the blackness of the cardinal's eye. Many species of birds have brilliantly colored eyes, but not the northern cardinal.

Here, we can also see the configuration of the black area surrounding the base of his beak. This black patch is made up of short, hairlike feathers. It is believed that this black patch so close to the eye serves to lessen the glare of sunlight and allow the bird better vision. Often in drawings and paintings this black area is drawn to completely surround the male cardinal's eye, but in reality this is seldom if ever the case.

This bird's crest is made of comparatively long slender feathers that can be raised or lowered at will, depending upon the cardinal's mood or alertness.

More than 100 years ago northern cardinals were sometimes captured and kept in cages as pets. A provision of the Migratory Bird Act of 1918 banned this practice.

Through the Woods is a weekly nature photo column by Aaron Horrell. Find this column at to order a reprint of the photo. Find more work by him at the Painted Wren Gallery.

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