Elms Environmental Education Center

Welcome to Planet Earth

Critter of the Month

Every month we highlight a different local animal.

February 2014: Northern Cardinal

male northern cardinal

 Northern Cardinal

Cardinalis cardinalis

Who am I?

I am the state bird ... of Virginia, Illinois, Indiana,Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia. People love me that is why I am the official bird of more states than any other bird! I am bright red because I am a male and my main job is defending my nest and mate from other cardinals. I don't have to hide and I want those intruders to see me. My mate, on the other hand is brown and hides when she is sitting on the nest. She sings alot, which is strange for songbirds like us. Females are usually quiet, especially when on the nest but my mate is always singing. I think she might be hungry.

Where can you find me?

Science people call me an "edge species" because I like areas with lots of plants growing close together and more plants like to grow where there is sunlight. I can be found around people, especially bird feeders because there are usually lots of plants where I can hide. Except when I am singing when I will usually move to a higher branch where all can see me. I can be found throughout most of Mexico and the eastern part of the United States.

What do I eat?

I eat seeds, sometimes fruit and my babies eat insects that I have to catch. Mostly I eat seeds and fruits but will pretty much chomp on anything that will fit in my mouth.

What might eat me?

 I worry mostly about hawks and owls. Oh, and cats. Snakes, squirrels, cats and other birds will eat my eggs and chicks if my mate and I are not careful.

Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  • I am the most common state bird.
  • Females sing even when they are on our nest.
  • I am usually the first bird you hear singing in the morning.
  • I am a fierce defender of my territory, even defending it from myself. (At least when I can see myself reflected in a window.)

 Female northern cardinal

Female Northern Cardinal

July 2012: Seaside Dragonlet


Male Seaside Dragonlet
Erythrodiplax berenice

Who am I?

A dragonfly, silly. Specifically one of the “dragonlets” - a group of smaller more agile dragonflies within the larger group of “skimmers”. We dragonflies have some cool groups: darners, spiketails, clubtails, petaltails, emeralds, and skimmers. Within these groups we have cool names like meadowhawks, dragonlets, grapletails, snaketails, and spikeylegs -- to name a few. So I am a skimmer, a dragonlet, a fierce and agile predator. Males like me are dark blue/black when they grow up. Young males may have some yellow spots on their tails, but they grow out of them quickly. The females, on the other hand, can’t seem to make up their minds. They like to dress-up. Females may have a black chest with yellow spotted tails, a yellow striped chest and a black tail or they can be all yellow with a striped chest and yellow spotted tails. The all yellow ones are the prettiest. I like those the best. After we mate we fly around attached to one another and the females will lay their eggs.


Where can you find me?

Salt water. We like salt water, especially tidal marshes. That is why there are so many of us in St. Mary’s County! Occasionally we can be found around fresh water, but since we are the only dragonflies that breed in salt water we tend to be the only ones there. My extended family can be found all along the Atlantic Coast -- all the way south to Venezuela!


What do I eat?

I will eat just about any flying insect smaller than myself. Did I mention that I am a fierce and agile predator?


What might eat me?

Damn birds! … and bigger dragonflies. Oh, and frogs and snakes. I am pretty quick though.


Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  • I am the only dragonfly in the western Hemisphere that can lay eggs in sea water.
  • I rule the air during the month of July.
  • I am very common in St. Mary’s County!
  • Look for lots of tandem Seaside Dragonlets laying eggs around salt marshes.


Female Seaside Dragonlet Forms


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