Northern Cardinals are known to mate for life, and to stay together throughout the year. During the non-breeding months, though they remain together, they are more like siblings and less like spouses.
In late winter and early spring, the pairs engage in ritual feeding to refresh and strengthen their pair bond prior to their mating, egg-laying, and caring for their young.
Usually these feeding rituals last for just a few seconds; I’ve felt lucky to have been able to capture a few of these fleeting moments, such as this photo:
At present, we have two pairs of Cardinals coming to the feeders, and they are clearly two mated pairs.
A few days ago, one of the mated pairs (I think it’s an older pair) stayed on one of the feeders for several minutes, long enough for me to capture their tender-seeming behavior on video:
If you watch closely, you’ll see the female’s wings quivering; this is the same behavior displayed by the young birds (nestlings and fledglings) when their parents feed them.
You can read more about courtship feeding, particularly among cardinals, here:
Research shows that the behavior serves mostly to ensure good nutrition for the female, who bears most of the biological and caloric burden of reproduction. When the male feeds her, the survival rate of the young is increased. Makes sense.
Still, we humans will tend to anthropomorphize animal behavior…and every time I see this behavior I will probably experience a little surge of tender emotion. Well, that’s OK, too.