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May 23, 2006

When Birds Attack Patio Doors


This cardinal has been attacking the back patio door all day long. I was wondering what the hell was up with that (and indeed, created a poll on the subject, which you may vote on here), when it was explained to me by the guy who delivers meat and dessert products to my door: Cardinals are territorial and this one has probably seen his reflection in the window and thought it was another cardinal. To which my response was: That's a pretty dumb bird. But, I don't know. Maybe it's getting some sort of birdie satisfaction out of it. I know the cats have been fascinated by the show.

Posted by john at May 23, 2006 03:12 PM

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Tracked on May 26, 2006 04:23 PM


Bearpaw | May 23, 2006 03:32 PM

You know, given what humans have been known to do to "defend" various sorts of territory, I'm not inclined to make fun of a bird. It's not like we never attack imaginary threats.

Dave Munger | May 23, 2006 03:35 PM

Not long ago, a fledgling robin perched on my windowsill. Its parent kept trying to feed it a worm, but as it approached my window, it saw its reflection and flew off.

Even after 20 or so approaches, the parent never succeeded. Finally the fledgling flew to a nearby tree and the parent was able to feed it.

Yeah, birds are pretty stupid.

Jim Winter | May 23, 2006 03:39 PM

Jehovah's Witness?

Paul | May 23, 2006 03:40 PM

So what you are saying is it hates itself. It is a Goth Cardinal.

Tripp | May 23, 2006 03:45 PM

There is the phrase 'bird brain.'

I vote for rabbits being the stupidest mammals I know. If it wasn't for their huge number of offsprings they'd have been gone a long time ago. They continue to try to dig burrows in the side of my suburban hilly yard inside the fence where my dogs are present. Sheesh.

Did you know you can 'call' cardinals this time of year? Mimic the male's mating calls and if you do it well enough he'll fly over to find his rival. Luckily I don't look much like a cardinal so they just fly away, confused, instead of pecking me to death.

Which is why chickens don't piss. Because they eat with their peckers.

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little | May 23, 2006 03:50 PM

There was this one sparrow who was doing the exact same thing as your cardinal, only the reflection it was after was in a car's passenger side-view window. Day in, day out, for weeks. That car had a veritable waterfall of guano cascading down its passenger door by the end of the summer.

Kevin Q | May 23, 2006 04:01 PM

Nicole, I've lived places where you had to keep your side mirrors covered for the same reason. Apparently that's just what cardinals do.


AliceB | May 23, 2006 04:02 PM

We had a cardinal do the same on various windows of our house for an entire summer, about three years back. Drove me crazy. But he didn't come back. I figured he had bashed himself once too often and didn't make it through the winter.

Then this robin started doing the same this spring.

I figure it's reincarnation.

John Scalzi | May 23, 2006 04:06 PM

AliceB: Yes, but is a robin above or below a cardinal in the great cycle of rebirth?

Brian Greenberg | May 23, 2006 04:12 PM

Folks - put something behind the window like a box or a piece of paper. It'll remove the reflection and he'll go away.

John Scalzi | May 23, 2006 04:14 PM

I put a cat behind the reflection. That also works.

Phillip J. Birmingham | May 23, 2006 04:25 PM

the guy who delivers meat and dessert products to my door

C'mon, John, a guy like that deserves a name, or at least a title. "Milord," or "My Hero," or something like that.

John Scalzi | May 23, 2006 04:30 PM

I usually refer to him as "The Schwan's Dude."

Bobarino | May 23, 2006 04:48 PM

Perhaps the cardinal doesn't want to be accused of cutting and running. That might seem like a good reason to something with a brain the size of a marble.

Lisa | May 23, 2006 04:54 PM

We had a *huge* male cardinal we nicknamed "His Eminence", who used to sit on our car mirrors and attack his reflection. The only downside, as others have mentioned, was the birdcrap on the mirror. After a few years he stopped showing up. I figure he met his demise somewhere out there. He was gorgeous. Easily the largest and most stunning cardinal I've ever seen.

Kafkaesquí | May 23, 2006 05:26 PM

A guy who delivers meat and desserts. I miss the Midwest...

AliceB | May 23, 2006 05:36 PM

Whether a robin is above or below a cardinal in the great cycle of rebirth might depend upon whether or not God is Catholic.

(Runs from the building and hides.)

Michael Brian Bentley | May 23, 2006 06:32 PM

We had this problem early 2005, but not this year. We bought the house in the summer of 2004, and it was obvious that the bird was around the year before.


Very low bandwidth machine, note.

sxKitten | May 23, 2006 06:34 PM

My aunt had a similar problem, but with a peacock. He spent hours going after his reflection in her patio doors. The thing is, a peacock weighs a lot more than a cardinal.

John Scalzi | May 23, 2006 06:38 PM

Did she live in India?

Dearth Verbose | May 23, 2006 07:15 PM

Could you please not use the phrase “what is up with that?” It belongs in the discard pile along with "I was like so ..." They each show a lack of reflection. Do you know where it originated? If you did you might not use it. It came from an episode of the TV show “Cheers”. The mailman, whose name I don’t recall, tried a career as a stand up comic. His schtick was to mention some quirk of daily life and then say “What’s up with that?”, expecting laughter to ensue. In other words he was making a fool of himself, as his character was want to do. You’re a writer. Please think of another phrase. Thanks.

John Scalzi | May 23, 2006 07:32 PM

Dearth Verbose:

"Could you please not use the phrase 'what is up with that?' It belongs in the discard pile along with 'I was like so ...' They each show a lack of reflection."

Sorry, Dearth, I don't take requests when it comes to word usage. You may also assume for future reference that when I use a trite, hackneyed or cliched phrase, I typically do it understanding the phrase is trite, hackneyed or cliched, but nevertheless what I want to use for my own inscrutable and possibly nefarious purposes.

Timothy McClanahan | May 23, 2006 08:07 PM

Which is why I support wind farms. Bird deaths will improve the species by weeding out the stupid birds.

Wait...I'm remembering that documentary by Hitchcock, The Birds. Maybe smarter birds isn't such a good idea. I prefer my enemies stupid.

Kafkaesquí | May 23, 2006 08:37 PM

John has nefarious purposes behind the use of a hackneyed phrase? What is up with that?

John Scalzi | May 23, 2006 08:48 PM

Hey! Didn't I say the reason was inscrutable? You can't scrut it! So don't try!

Laura | May 23, 2006 09:19 PM

I had a robin do what your cardinal is doing. I wrote a Funny Bit about it at the time: http://www.lauralemay.com/essays/robin.html

Grey | May 23, 2006 10:31 PM

"...as his character was want to do. You’re a writer..."

The word you were looking for is wont. "as his character was wont to do." Carry on.

Dearth Verbose | May 23, 2006 11:40 PM

John Scalzi:

"... I want to use for my own inscrutable and possibly nefarious purposes."

I'm like so what's up with that.

ronbailey | May 24, 2006 08:36 AM

Hummingbirds are even worse - if they were the size of cardinals and robins, it wouldn't even be safe for people to go outside this time of year...

Smurf | May 24, 2006 08:42 AM

If your butcher delivers, I may be envying the rural Ohio lifestyle more.

Smurf | May 24, 2006 08:49 AM

If you say it fast, "whassup up with dat?" sounds hip-hop.

Tripp | May 24, 2006 10:36 AM


Which is why I support wind farms. Bird deaths will improve the species by weeding out the stupid birds.

I'm curious about the idea that wind farms kill birds. Is there some truth to that, or is it simply a way to denigrate wind farms?

Around these parts I'm starting to see more windmills and I must say they are kinda cool. The blades turn slowly and elegantly. The farmers like them because they provide extra income while taking very little farmland. Near as I can tell they are way too high for songbirds and any duck or goose that would fly into a windmill would probably fly into a water tower.

Randy | May 24, 2006 11:10 AM

I think Cardinals are special. My parents house in north central Ohio used to have a cardinal that attacked its own reflection daily.

TChem | May 24, 2006 11:13 AM

"Folks - put something behind the window like a box or a piece of paper."

Or you can soap the problem window. I was at a zoo last week where they'd done that for this exact reason. Also, it's an excuse to play a prank on yourself.

AliceB | May 24, 2006 03:20 PM

Tangent warning. The soap on the windows idea reminded me of the battle we engaged in with squirrels who kept thwarting whatever configuration of baffles we used to keep them off the bird feeder. Before we finally found a system that worked (most of the time), my favorite involved a inverted-bowl baffle that we greased with Crisco. The squirrels would leap onto the baffle only to skid off, at high speed. It was quite entertaining... until the squirrels decided they liked the taste of Crisco and began chewing up the baffle.

Maybe we should have tried soap.

sxKitten | May 24, 2006 04:20 PM

It was a Californian peacock (years of surfing-related head injuries may have contributed to his behaviour), owned by a neighbour. His mate displayed a similar level of intelligence when she started laying her eggs on the roof. The steeply-pitched roof. Fortunately, the baked-on egg spatters discouraged further assaults on the patio doors.

AliceB | May 24, 2006 04:33 PM

The peacock surfed?! Wow!

Jan | June 6, 2006 01:08 PM

I have had the same problem for about a month. I can't get the Cardinal to stop! It starts at dawn and goes until dusk! Our cat is bored with the whole thing now!

pets | June 15, 2006 10:37 PM

Very good site. Thank you!