Cardinal in maple

This morning I rescued a fledgling cardinal that had fallen into the window well outside our basement laundry room. Scruffy, olive-colored with reddish tints, and no larger than a fat sparrow, he was peeping incessantly, calling to his parents as if they could extricate him from the deep, narrow space he’d fallen into. When I went outside to survey the situation, the fledgling was patiently sitting on the basement window-sill, looking in, as if he were both confident his parents would rescue him and curious about the kind of washer and dryer we have.

Singing cardinal

I lifted the fledgling from the window well with a small shovel that easily fit into its narrow confines. Scooping the bird onto the shovel blade, I tried to lift him onto a nearby shrub, but instead of hopping onto a readily available branch, the fledgling immediately fluttered back toward the known safety of the window well, catching himself then clinging to the brick wall above it. I scooped the fledgling back onto the shovel blade, this time walking him further away from the house before gently dumping him into a low, sheltering shrub where his mother zoomed in and shrieked, reclaiming him.


When you think of how clumsy and hapless fledgling birds are, it’s a wonder any of them survive to adulthood. Even in the lush and leafy suburbs, dangers abound: there are window wells to fall into, prowling cats and other predators, and omnipresent cars. A young bird that can barely fly can easily fall into harm’s way, there being no shortage of creatures who would enjoy a tasty bite of fresh fledgling.

As I gently dumped this morning’s young cardinal into the low, sheltering shrub where his frantic mother reclaimed him, I couldn’t help but think of the first-year students that harried parents are gently delivering to college campuses around the country this week. Like fresh fledglings, first-year students wear their plumage proudly, venturing into grown-up situations that they confidently believe they can manage for themselves. There are a lot of dangers, threats, and pitfalls a first-year student can tumble into, and part of my job as a first-year composition instructor is to stand near, eyes and ears open, alert for the first warning peeps of a new flyer tumbled into trouble.

I didn’t have time to photograph this morning’s cardinal fledgling, so today’s post is illustrated with images adult male cardinals from my photo archives.