One cardinal for every life lost to COVID-19 in New Jersey is wildlife photographer's quarantine project

CHERRY HILL, N.J. -- This morning, wildlife photographer Rick Fichter uploaded 308 photographs of Northern Cardinals to his Facebook page.

Otherwise an inordinate amount of photos to share with your Facebook friends, this small batch pales in comparison to his album of more than 8,000. That's one photo for every life lost to COVID-19 in the state of New Jersey.

As the artist behind 168 Tattoo shop in Pennsauken, Fichter had to temporarily close his doors in reaction to the pandemic.

"Outside of my kids and my family, that is my family," he said.

With the extra time, he found himself sitting in the understory of his verdant front lawn with a camera in hand.

His near-silent shutter snaps rapidly, capturing freeze-frames of Red-bellied Woodpeckers, American Robins, and White-breasted Nuthatches. These backyard birds are deviations from his typical models, Ospreys and Bald Eagles.

Above all, he was particularly touched by the frequent fluttering of Northern Cardinals. The males, colored a crisp crimson red, sing their song of courtship from high in the trees. Females follow close behind, making their own statements with brownish bodies and scarlet mohawks.

Their inquisitive behavior, coupled with urban legends surrounding rebirth, make Cardinals a subject of deep emotional connection. Fichter says they are even a highly-demanded model for tattoos.

Thinking everyone has a "cardinal story," he decided to rebrand his Facebook page as "Cardinals for Coronavirus." There, he posts a batch with hundreds of photographs each day to reflect New Jersey's updated Coronavirus death toll.

He hopes that more people will visit his page and take a break from negativity. Once they enjoy his detailed photographs, he wants them to leave with a new perspective on the value of each individual life. And of course, he urges everyone to stay home.

As the photo library inevitably expands, Fichter wishes his project becomes a more formal institution to memorialize each life lost to the virus. That could come in the form of mailing a photograph to each affected family, or creating a physical gallery that assigns each individual to a specific photograph.

For now, he will simply keep snapping away with a new outlook on each bird he immortalizes on camera.

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