Dusty look a form of camo for a fledgling cardinal

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A young songbird that has hatched and left its nest is called a fledgling. Here I show a fledgling northern cardinal that I photographed May 12.

Fledgling northern cardinals look like they are dusty from playing in the dirt. This dusty look is a form of camouflage. This is Mother Nature's way of helping protect the beautiful cardinals while they are young and less aware of danger. A fledgling cardinal sitting on a limb is harder to see than its brightly colored parents.

Even the beak of this fledgling is dull colored. In time the beak will turn to orange and the dusty feathers will molt and be replaced by the colors of adulthood. It is difficult to tell if this fledgling is male or female.

Both parents of northern cardinal fledglings will continue to feed their offspring for a week or two after they've left the nest, or up until such time as the juvenile understands how to find its own food.

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

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