One of the pleasures of living in central North Carolina is that, for much of the year, one can sleep quite comfortably with the window open. If you have a tree near your window the month of May provides an opportunity to brush up on recognizing early morning birdcalls. Today's lesson: The Northern Cardinal.
The male Northern Cardinal is perhaps the easiest North American songbird to recognize because of his bright color and striking markings. With a little practice you can learn to recognize his distinctive song as well. The Cardinal is a strong singer with a loud, clear, repetitious whistle. The Cardinal sings throughout the day and into the evening but is especially easy to pick out in the morning -- about half an hour before your alarm clock goes off.
The song of the Cardinal consists of a number of phrases which range across the species but are selected, combined and repeated in varying ways to form local "dialects" that vary from region to region. In central North Carolina the typical call goes -- purTEE purTEE birDEE birDEE ... cheer ... cheer ... kill! kill! kill! kill! kill!. It's a very hearty, outdoorsy sort of song that tends to make half-asleep sportsmen think about their firearms.
A number of resources are available online that will help you familiarize yourself with the song of the Cardinal. This page on eNature.com has some sound files you can play to hear a Cardinal and this page at NASA has excerpts from an audio field guide that provides even more information. Be sure to consult these resources to be sure you can identify the bird whose singing wakes you up in the morning. It would be a pity to shoot the wrong bird.