Image Source: https://www.wesh.com/
A flash of bright yellow in the trees — it was the recent reappearance of a one-in-a-million bird: the yellow cardinal.
And the beginning of a love affair between a then out-of-work restaurant cook and a brightly colored, cocky, rare and beautiful bird.
“One in a million — there’s believed to be only 10 to 15 alive in the Eastern range of the U.S.,” said Jeremiah Vreeland.
Vreeland first saw the yellow cardinal in his backyard in April of last year. He wasn’t a birder — he was a restaurant cook. He noticed but didn’t think anything of it.
Then his next-door neighbor mentioned how unbelievable a sighting it was and Vreeland began researching.
“This bird literally changed my life,” said Vreeland.
Vreeland learned a nearby woman in Port St. Lucie, Florida, had also documented a yellow cardinal in 2019. She named him Sunny. Given the odds of seeing the rare bird twice in one city, and comparing pictures, they agreed — this was Sunny —back again. And Vreeland had a new fascination.
“I was new to birding — everything he did was awesome to me,” Vreeland said.
It was right when COVID-19 hit and Vreeland’s restaurant, where he was a cook, shut down.
So he set up in a chair on his patio and wearing his dressing robe and a beanie, his hair long and untended, he began filming — looking for Sunny for six to 10 hours a day.
Sunny only flittered in every few days for a few moments at a time, at first.
So Vreeland, no longer in the stress of a heat-filled small kitchen, reeling from the recent death of his mother, began watching all the other birds flocking to his oak-shaded yard.
And he felt peace.
“That’s really when I started falling in love with birds,” he said.
And then Sunny started coming more often. He chased the other, red cardinals around the yard. His personality seemed engaging.
Sunny brought a mate they named Ada. The pair hatched two fledglings — both red, not yellow.
Vreeland and his fiancee called them Orange Baby and Sweetie.
Vreeland watched the pair teach the fledglings to fly, cheeping encouragement with their cardinal high-pitched beeps, flying from branch to branch and calling the fledglings to follow.
One time, when he had placed a peanut on the feeder, he could have sworn Sunny cocked his head, looked at him, and telegraphed “Thanks,”
He took one of his best pictures of the encounter.
“Later, I learned that was just flirtatious breeding behavior,” he said.
But was it really? Vreeland was never sure. And did he really want to know?
And then, after four months of devoted bird love, Sunny disappeared, for seven long months.
“It was weird. I had gotten so attached to him. I never expected to feel that way about a wild bird,” said Vreeland.
Vreeland had given up hope of ever seeing Sunny again when Sunny suddenly flew into the yard in April, this time staying for just a few happy weeks of more rare video and companionship.
“It was amazing. I wish I could relive it, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done,” Vreeland said.
Vreeland said the months of watching Sunny instead of TV or playing video games, gave him a quiet peace of mind he doesn’t think he would have found otherwise.
Now his yard is filled with bird feeders for various types of birds and a birdbath.
And he will be forever grateful to the yellow cardinal that taught him to sit quietly and listen to the wind and watch.
He hopes Sunny will return.