Male cardinals are devoted fathers

It was a tender moment that my wife and I saw taking place outside our living room window in our yard in Decatur this week.

A brilliant red male cardinal was gently feeding two of his wobbly fledglings as they perched on a dogwood tree limb. The dad would hop down to a suet feeder, peck off a piece of the food, and then fly back to his babies and feed it to them.

The feeding lasted for several minutes until the young cardinals apparently had their fill and disappeared with their dad into some nearby shrubs.

It was a touching scene, one that served as a reminder that Sunday is Father’s Day. So, on this eve of the day that we honor fatherhood, it seems appropriate to take a look at the roles of dads in the bird world.

Male birds usually play key roles in building nests and helping rear, feed and protect their young — instead of merely fertilizing the females and being on their way. In more than 90 percent of bird species, moms and dads together provide extensive care of their babies, the males often being just as adept at parental care as females.

There are many variations, however, in the type of care provided by feathered fathers.

As we observed this week, the male cardinal is one of the most devoted of avian dads. A pair of cardinals raises two or three broods per year. The female does most of the nest-building but the male delivers nesting material to her and feeds her while she is constructing. Likewise, the female does most of the incubating while the male faithfully brings her food.

Both male and female care for the nestlings, but the male contributes more food. When the babies fledge, the male will feed and care for them while the female goes off to start a new nest to raise another brood.

But if there ever was a do-nothing dad in the bird world, the male ruby-throated hummingbird is it. After impregnating the female, he takes off, leaving the female alone to build a nest, incubate her eggs and care for the nestlings until they fledge.

In the sky: The moon will appear full this weekend. By the end of next week, it will shrink into last-quarter phase, said David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer. Venus rises out of the east about two hours before sunrise. Mars is in the south at sunset. Jupiter is low in the west at dusk and sets about an hour later. Saturn is in the east just after dark. Summer officially begins at 6:51 a.m. June 21.