Northern Cardinals are a permanent, year round fixture of the bird-scape where I live. So ubiquitous that it is easy to take their striking appearance and song for granted. In winter, and especially this winter, their scarlet red plumage is a welcome shock of color. The bright red of the males is beautiful, of course, but I love the female plumage just as much: brown with the tail, crest, and wing tips dipped in crimson.
For the last several years I have been trying to mentally mark the first day in late winter that I hear a cardinal sing their melodic, dipping hymn. Weeks, and months of seeming silence as fall darkens towards winter solstice, and then the days begin their slow creep towards longer hours of light. Supposedly both male and female Northern Cardinals sing all year. Around here, however, in the darkest winter days I never hear their songs; often a sharp string of "chips", but not the swooping melodies of spring and summer.
Today, was the first day of 2014 I heard that song return. I was leaving my local cafe, coffee in hand, rushing across a dingy snowed covered street when I paused to listen. Springtime, in this part of the world at least, is still a ways off, but that cardinal let me know there is hope in the air.