Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Chickadee I Wish I Never Had

Just a day or two after we moved to this house, I was thrilled to find black-capped chickadees a plenty. They've staked out several of my trees as their own, given my husband a thorough bawling out for daring to come near them when mowing the lawn, and nicked countless seeds from my feeders. Today, however, I wished we'd never had a single one in the yard.

We also happen to have a Siamese cat that roams the neighborhood, based from our neighbors two doors down. The cat is well groomed and sweet-tempered, but I've been anxious about its presence outdoors without any collar or control. My suspicions began when I found a dead bird or two nearby, but no obvious markings that would denote them as cat prey. Today, however, I saw the cat lounging in my backyard, toying with one paw. There was no fluttering beneath that paw and no sign of feathers, so I went out to see what it might have - a mouse, perhaps, or nothing at all, given the predilection of some cats toward dramatic play.

It had a chickadee. My worst suspicions were confirmed; I chased the cat out of the yard with a none-too-gentle swat - to keep it frightened from returning, not to harm it - and gathered a bag and small hand rake to take care of the bird. When I returned, however, I was aghast to see it still breathing rapidly, trembling with fear and pain. I've never been so horrified and distraught in my life.

I feed the birds only the best seed, keep their feeders clean, disinfect their bird baths, and have a career where I teach others how to care for and appreciation our wild feathered friends. All of these things could be considered good, and in that, I'm the good guy. Today I had to be the bad guy when, with tears running down my cheeks and a sob in my throat, I had to get my husband's shovel to bludgeon the chickadee and end its suffering. I would have used the tip of the shovel's blade for a faster end, but the shovel is broken and I had to be more blunt to accomplish the task. As I raised the shovel above the bird to bring it down abruptly, the chickadee opened its eyes and looked into my tears. I can only hope it understood what it may have seen there - compassion, heartbreak, agony, and sorrow.

I plan to speak to the neighbors - their home is currently getting an addition, and it may be that the cat is only outdoors temporarily. Nevertheless, allowing a pet free roam is a violation of both our city's laws and the neighborhood homeowners' association. While there are things I can do to protect my birds from cats, it is this type of instance that makes me wish - for a moment - that I never had birds at all.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Here Kitty, Kitty

Just about one year ago, I added the gray catbird as a lifer and felt lucky to do so - I'd seen a bare glimpse of a trio of the birds foraging in Provo Canyon, and while the look was adequate for identification, it wasn't as memorable as I would have liked. Just a few weeks ago, then, we were walking again in the canyon, yet in a much more popular location, and I couldn't turn around without seeing the distinctive flash of gray with a black cap and rusty undertail coverts. Gray catbirds abound!

We never kno
w what birds we will and won't see, and the birds that are scarce in one location may be abundant just a short distance away. What we can do, however, is try our best to create a bird-friendly landscape, to preserve birds in the wild, to practice an environmentally-friendly lifestyle, and to support wildlife organizations that also follow those goals. I do it to the best of my ability, and while the heat of the summer is slowing down the conversion of the new yard into a bird's paradise (I do have two bird baths and multiple feeders out, however), it is a process that will continue as long as birds are in the skies above my yard. Maybe one day I'll even attract a gray catbird - after all, they're only a few miles away.