Dear Dr. Boli: In light of the pope’s recent creation of new cardinals, perhaps this would be an appropriate time to ask: how can I attract cardinals to my garden? —Regards, Miss Jane C., North Carolina.
Dear Madam: The Cardinal or Cardinal Grosbeak (Cardinalis cardinalis) is generally a solitary bird, and thus difficult to attract in great numbers. Occasionally, however, certain extraordinary circumstances can impel cardinals to gather in a large flock, known to ornithologists as a “conclave.” A conclave of cardinals is one of nature’s most colorful sights, and it would be well worth your trouble to reproduce in your own back yard the circumstances that bring cardinals together in conclaves.
The gathering is normally touched off by a prominent obituary, and you may be able to bribe the editor of your local broadsheet to insert such an item for the price of a reuben sandwich. The obituary is not enough, however: cardinals have certain expectations when they gather in conclaves, and if you do not meet those expectations the cardinals will simply pack up and go home.
Foremost among these expectations is good catering. The St. Louis subspecies may be content with hot dogs and nachos, but most other varieties require daintier fare. A professional caterer will be able to advise you on selections of foodstuffs, but a good basic list would include sunflower seeds, pine nuts, and torta alla Monferrina.
Cardinals also require adequate press coverage for their conclaves, or they will quickly show signs of boredom and soon after depart for some more public location.
Incidentally, the supposed power of the pope to “create” cardinals is the subject of one of the interesting differences between Catholic and Protestant theology. Catholics believe that the Holy Father is ornithologically infallible and can create cardinals at will, whereas Protestants hold that only God has such creative power. (Certain Anglican theologians hold that the pope does have the power to create cardinals, but that such power is territorially limited in extent.) Your backyard bird feeder is thus one of the chief battlegrounds in the great contest between the separated branches of the Christian faith.