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Luna Moth and Cardinal Encounter

When I first came upon the bird in the dappled light of the tree covered path on the Dinosaur Trail, it had already removed the first luna moth’s wings and was working on consuming the body of the unfortunate insect.

Male cardinal preying on luna moth.

The cardinal had apparently spotted a pair of luna moths still engaged in the previous night’s mating and took advantage of their inability to escape and elude capture. Defensively speaking, there’s not much a moth can do against a thick-billed bird like a cardinal anyway. While most folks consider cardinals seed eaters (indeed, that conical bill is built to crack seed) they capture and eat many insects. Insects become more important during the nesting season when protein, both for the adults and nestlings, is essential.

After consuming the first luna moth’s body the cardinal moved on to the second moth. The red bird methodically removed each wing and again began to tear at the head and thorax of the insect saving the abdominal segment of the body.

Removing wings from moth.
The meaty part of the moth is next.

As I watched the bird, it seemed unconcerned with my presence, the immediate task of securing food taking precedence over everything else. A few quick minutes later and the bird flew off with the moth abdomen securely in its bill, perhaps delivering the fat and juicy abdomen to a mate back at the nest, or to their nestlings.

The cardinal’s face is covered with the moth’s scales.

If you’ve ever found a pair or two of luna moth wings on the ground while on your favorite hiking trail and wondered how they got there, consider this encounter.

All that’s left is eight wings.

There are many luna moth eggs which won’t be deposited on the surrounding trees’ leaves tonight (200 – 400).