I love spring. Plants are growing, grass is greening and flowers are blooming. There’s a flurry of animal activity in the yard. Birds herald the warmer weather and longer days. To my delight, a pair of cardinals has built a nest in a bush outside my kitchen window. As I've watched their progress on a daily basis, it amazes me how smart these cardinals are.
I first noticed the male cardinal sitting in the crotch of several branches before the nest was built. At first I thought he was injured or ill, because he sat motionless for quite a while. I later concluded it was his way of attending an open house to see if the residence was ideal for a growing family. Or, he was a squatter that lives by the maxim that the early bird gets the best nesting location.
Within a few days the female started building a nest. Nest-building is an intricate, time-consuming process. Hundreds of twigs are gathered and appropriately positioned so they don’t fall out of the bush and so the nest forms a sturdy and large enough resting area. What intellect and skill these birds have to construct a stable and properly-fitted dwelling.
After the nest was built the female cardinal began camping out in it, despite the fact that the bush still has very few leaves. Until the bush puts on its full spring apparel, the female is vulnerable to rain, wind and other feathery neighbors. The couple somehow knows that the growing bush will soon hide their future prized possession from nosy onlookers.
As a former project manager, I learned the necessity of planning ahead and knowing the steps in the project’s lifecycle. The expectant parents have demonstrated what good project managers they are. Long before the hatching of their little one, they anticipated their need to scope out potential nest locations, test the preferred option and build the nest according to their specifications, all in plenty of time before delivery. These are additional examples of their bright intellect.
The cardinals’ nest-building project would, of course, be immaterial without first going through their mating ritual, which must have been done when they knew I wasn’t looking. So I wondered – How does a cardinal know to mate with another cardinal and not with that robin with the red breast next door?
And then there’s the singing. Although they have a limited repertoire, cardinals have a beautiful song. This song, which all cardinals know by heart, is passed down from one generation to the next. Through their song, cardinals inform us of their presence. Could it be that they’re trying to tell us something in the only way they know how?
As I’ve watched this nesting process, I’ve wondered how our feathered friends became so smart. Where did this intellect come from? And how did their smarts get packed into such a tiny brain? It’s hard to fathom how the unguided, naturalistic process of evolution can result in the intangibles of knowledge and singing. I understand that their behavior is genetically based, but from where does this knowledge originate? To my knowledge, knowledge is passed on from a source that already has the knowledge and the means to convey it. It seems to me that there must be a Mind behind these marvels of nature - a Designer and Composer that uses cardinals as just one of many means to speak of His existence.
I’ll be regularly watching from my window as I anxiously await the arrival of the new baby girl or boy. Cardinals rule!