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Name: Susan
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Question:
On the 18th of April, a pair of Northern Cardinals selected a nest site near the top of a dense, 8 foot holly tree, a foundation planting that obscures about 1/4 of our open front porch. They located the nest under the overhang of the roof, facing our front door. By the 21st, a clutch of three eggs had been laid and Mrs. C began to sit on the nest. We succeeded at keeping a low profile, despite the near proximity to our main entrance. She was relaxed and seemingly unworried by our quiet comings and goings. Yesterday morning, all was well, but sometime around midday, after almost a week of incubation, all three eggs and, it appears, Mrs. C, vanished without a trace!

There is no obvious disturbance or damage to the nest or the immediate area. The interior of the nest is pristine ~ no feathers, eggshell bits, membrane material. Cats are rarely a problem. In addition to the typical Blue Jays and Crows, we have a lot of squirrels, raccoons, opossums, skunks and even a pair of red-tail hawks on our wooded acre and the surrounds. Due to, I believe, some nearby housing construction, I have observed a opossum during the day several times this past week and have noticed a new arrival, a woodchuck. With temperatures in the 50's, I think it is too chilly for snakes to be active. What would be your best guess as to what happened? Any chance the pair will return to the same nest and try again?



Replies:
There are so many potential predators that it is hard to say. Probably raccoons or opossums. They often will carry off the eggs. Cardinals nest fairly close to the ground so even cats and dogs can be a menace. Woodchucks or squirrels? No! They will not be interested, wrong food. This probably happened at night.

Cardinals re-nest a number of times in a season. The pair in my backyard was still feeding their own successful brood in mid September. Three of them!

Steve Sample


There is no way to know for sure but the possum is an unlikey culprit, woodchuck certainly not. Cats would be suspect, even if you don't regularly see them, if the eggs had hatched, but I don't think a cat would take eggs. Even with the cool temperatures a snake is a possibility, and they leave no evidence. Crow is a good possibility, they often raid nests and might well carry off the eggs without leaving any evidence behind. Blue jays could do the same but are less likely to, being nearer the same size as the cardinals. If this is the scenario then the female cardinal is probably alive and well somewhere, and will most likely nest again, but not in the same nest.

J. Elliott



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