Perhaps you recall this past summer when I wrote about our homing pigeons adopting an errant cardinal nest.

This one particular cardinal pair had decided that rather than head for the dense creek valley thickets to build their nest, they would settle down inside the pigeon gazebo, the home base of our pigeon flock. The pair had built their nest on an unoccupied ledge, up toward the gazebo’s vaulted ceiling. I imagine that the cardinals believed this to be a good nesting location, because our pigeons also nested there, and the pigeons’ gentle cooing kept them company.

Every evening, the pair would leave the gazebo and return to the edge of the woods to roost. Even when the female began to lay eggs, she would settle them into the nest’s grass lining and then return to the thicket to roost. Then, on the morning of fifth day, with four eggs in the nest, she returned to settle in to stay. It was not to be. She found the gazebo’s large entrance door closed.

Even when she returned later in the evening, the door was again closed, as it was the following morning, so she left, never looking back, and never to return to the gazebo.

For two days, the pigeons looked at the perfect little nest with the four little eggs nestled in its center, and then, one of the larger male pigeons settled his large feathered belly down on top of the eggs. For 13 days, the male pigeon sat there, leaving only briefly to eat and drink. On
those occasions when he did leave, his mate took his place, and finally, after 13 days, there was a stirring under his belly. Four little featherless cardinals hatched. When they began to chirp and beg for food, he and his mate fed them.

Within only 10 days, the baby cardinals were fully feathered and had begun to fly about inside the coop. They begged for food from any passing pigeon they could find, and curiously, many of the coop’s flock fed them.

For several days, the little cardinals stayed inside the coop, then one by one they made their way up to the coop door and left, flying about the field, but every evening, they would return, until one day when Greg and I no longer saw them inside the coop.

All throughout the fall, we would frequently see cardinals out by the gazebo, or up in the goat yard, or sitting on the low branch that overhangs the row of rabbit hutches, and I would wonder if these were the pigeons’ adopted birds. Then, when the weather turned colder, and the wind began to blow up the valley from the river, we noticed that there were now eight cardinals roosting every night, high up in the gazebo.

It seems that our pigeon’s cardinals had decided to return to their gazebo home, and they brought along their mates.

They must have realized that this really was a good place to roost in the winter, due to the fact that Greg and I wrap the upper tier of the gazebo in plastic, to keep the wind at bay.

I found it odd that the pigeons did not seem to mind the cardinals’ return, even though these two bird species are so very different. The pigeons are substantially larger than their adoptive redbirds, weighing well over four pounds more, but the most striking difference between the two does not relate to their size, but rather their demeanor. Our pigeons are calm creatures. They only leave the gazebo as a flock, three or four times a day, to fly in formation above the creek valley.

Every morning, when we first open the coop, they all gather on the ground to eat scattered scratch grain with the chickens. Some days the pigeons might linger outside after a flight, high up on the windmill tower, and enjoy the sunshine, but for the most part, they sit contentedly on their perches inside the coop, proclaiming their satisfaction with gentle coos.

The cardinals, however, are anything but calm. As soon as the sun rises over the hill on the far side of the creek, they flit about inside the coop, in a flurry of red and brown, until we open the door. The pigeons just sit and watch this constant whirlwind of flitting, and then, the second the coop door opens, the little cardinals dart out, not to return until the sun sets over the hill behind the cabin. The pigeons just watch again, as the small birds flit about some more and finally settle down, high up on the ledge where a pigeon could hardly fit.

As for me, I wonder what the future holds for our feathered gazebo menagerie. I have learned that cardinals are territorial, so perhaps when one of their offspring, or some other cardinal, decides to take up residence in the coop, they will shoo the upstart away, or perhaps Greg and I will need to build on a gazebo addition. Perhaps … but this story of the cardinals’ proliferation situation is certainly one that will need to be continued.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.