Why is the cardinal pecking on my window?

Help youth ask questions and discover answers to why cardinals peck at windows.

The northern cardinal looks so pretty during winter against the white snow, but when he starts pecking on the window at the crack of dawn, he’s not so pretty anymore. Why do cardinals peck on windows? How can I make it stop? These are a couple questions that may come to mind. Let’s be scientists and discover the answer.

First, plan your investigation and gather data. You will begin by carefully watching the cardinal and recording what it does. You will also need to record the conditions (sunny, cloudy, etc.).

Next, analyze your data. Did you notice the cardinal did not peck your window every day? Did you notice it pecked your window at certain times of the day? What were the conditions like when it pecked your window? Now think about the possible reasons why it might peck your window.

Once you have a possible answer for why the cardinal is pecking at your window, create an experiment to test your proposed explanation, or hypothesis. Change the surroundings (the window) and observe the cardinal. You could try soap on the window, covering the window with newspaper or hanging beads or a windsock in front of the window. Observe the cardinal’s behavior after each change. Did the cardinal’s behavior change? How did it change? If the behavior changed, it is possible your answer or hypothesis was supported. Next, do some research or talk to someone knowledgeable about birds.

I talked with staff at the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary and they explained that male cardinals are very territorial, and they think their reflection in the window is a rival male. Did your observations support this information from the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary staff? Is the cardinal attacking its reflection?

Using observation and data to solve problems and answer questions is what scientists do. Don’t let nature mystify you; discover your inner scientist to understand and enjoy the beauty of your world and of the northern cardinal outside your window.

Michigan 4-H has many 4-H science programming areas for youth to explore. Science is everywhere with many questions to ask and discoveries to be made. To learn more about the process of science, check out the “Helping youth succeed in science” series at Michigan State University Extension.

For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local MSU Extension office.

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