Cats and birds

Alas, our sweet little kits have turned into ruthless killers …When Eggy and Ilsa arrived here some two years ago, they were completely unused to country ways – and pretty useless at birding. They didn’t quite get the concept of self-concealment …But, with practice, they got better at it …Our old cat, Poe, had never been very interesting in birding – she was a serious mouser, and would go out in all weathers …Bringing back special mouse gifts …When Eggy and Ilsa arrived, she even gave a masterclass in the catching of small furry animals.  I think this was the first time Ilsa (on the right) had ever seen a shrew, and she was absolutely fascinated …And Eggy and Ilsa learned to become dedicated mousers, proudly …leaving appreciative gifts …And tackling their mousing with enthusiasm, even in tight corners …Because Poe had shown such lack of interest in the birds, we’d always felt free to put food on the path as well as the hanging feeders on the house wall.  This meant we got a range of birds into the garden who could only feed at ground level. Through winter …spring …and summer …we continued to feed the birds on the ground.  Eggy and Ilsa watched from various vantage points. Upstairs windows …And the conservatory offered particularly good view points …But alas, last year they shocked us out of our naïveté, making us realise how stupid we were to think they were too slow and silly to catch birds.  They brought in a beautiful song thrush. We managed to get it away from them, and set it loose in a safe place, only to come upon it dead later on.We were deeply upset – particularly (and irrationally I admit) because it was such a beautiful bird.  We’d seen it feeding on the path, and had taken great pleasure in its presence in our garden.

So Eggy and Ilsa got collars with bells on them – and not just standard bell-collars. I added extra bells. They were very good about them, submitting to having them put on every morning before they went out.  And – by and large – the bells worked.Eggy and Ilsa seemed content to get their kicks from bird tv …So this spring we expected to do the same.  But, of course, it’s been horrible weather, what with the Beast from the East and its vicious relatives.  The cottage has been truly snowed under …And some days it was nigh impossible to even see out …The cats really didn’t want to go out at all …And we were able to feed the birds lavishly – after all never had they needed food the more than in these horrible recent snows …We could tell from the footprints that we were hosting a great company – and some rather large birds …During all this cold and wintry period, we were delighted to have a family of four yellowhammers visiting us regularly – we’d never had yellowhammers here before, but how pleasing that we were to be able to sustain them through this harsh spring … (this photo below actually taken in the sun on Easter Day) …But one day, we came back from a long day out in Edinburgh to find this horribly unwanted gift.  Aaaagh – such a little beauty, such a loss, especially as we know that yellowhammers are on the RSPB Red list of dangerously declining populationsTime to face the facts: our little cats are actually very clever killers – that is what they are programmed to be, and we were being very stupid in ignoring it.  Just look at Eggy hiding in wait for birds to feed on the path …Can’t see her?  Well, come along the path with me, and you can see how perfectly she is placed to pounce on any unwitting bird …So we’ve put planks in place to make it harder for the cats to spring onto the path …And we’ve moved the bird food, no longer spreading it on the path, but rather along the edge of the flower bed, which with a small shrubbery nearby is much more in the birds’ natural comfort zone anyhow …These are very poor pictures, taken on a miserably cold Easter Monday through upstairs windows, when snow and sleet were tipping down, but there are our little yellowhammers feasting away in their new feeding ground. If you enlarge the pics you will be able to see how many of these little birds there are. The young are far less yellow than the parent birds …The amazing thing is that in the few nice days midweek, the yellowhammers started to appear in abundance in our garden …At one time we counted 17 yellowhammers feeding there!Could it be, could it just be, that during that first vicious attack from the Beast from the East, when we’d just noticed the yellowhammer presence in our garden, they were nesting in the locality, and it is those young we are seeing in the garden now? I haven’t yet been able to find out dates for yellowhammer first spring nests, so I just don’t know.

So, wish us luck – it isn’t easy accommodating cats and birds, and nurturing both.  We now shut the cats in when we go off on long days out – they don’t like it at all, but if it will help keep a few more of our little yellowhammers alive, it’s definitely worth it!


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Lost - and found.

14 thoughts on “Cats and birds”

  1. Such a dilemma for you…ground feeding birds are very hard to feed safely and it looks as though you have quite an open garden. Although I would have thought that would give the feline eyes less space to hide but obviously not..they are far too clever. Cats are cats and I think you were lucky with old cat Poe and her preference for shrews and mice. Perhaps a creative cat run from your back door, skirting the path, swirling around the water butt, spiralling the tree and then down for the dash home? Added viewing spots for lazing and resting an optional extra?

    I had two city cats when I moved to the bush. I was completely unaware back then how much damage they did. They both had different tastes. One preferred baby rabbit heads, which was fine as rabbits are not supposed to be here at all. She would return home with thousands of stick fleas plastering her ears…vaseline suffocated them. The other delighted in rare marsupials from the forest. Little banksia possums were offered as gifts and mardos, the sweet little marsupial mouse. Both cats are now departed. I will never have another cat much as I like them. A feral tom cat is now stalking the bush. I can hear him calling day and night and have found some dead birds lately. We will have to trap him if we can. The man next door tries to shoot them.

    Now I am back in the city as well as the country. I see cats chasing the few birds that live around here. They are welcome to the many rats and mice the numbers of which Fremantle could win prizes being a port city but I hold out no hope they will ignore the little birds.


    1. Thank you very much, Lydia, for your long, detailed – and very helpful – comment.

      We did look into your suggestion of a cat run and decided it wasn’t practical for us to implement here – partly the layout of the garden, partly the very odd shape of this barn-conversion house (no back door), and partly the fact that the kits are used to their world as it is.

      Very interesting – and sadly disturbing – to read about your experiences with bringing city cats to the wild – so similar to what’s happened to these little kits. How your heart must have broken with those gifts of rare marsupials 😦 When I found that yellowhammer dead on the bathroom floor after our trip out, I wailed as I have never done before – all other expressions seemed inadequate.

      I think we will have to recognise sadly that we will have to give up feeding birds on the ground – we’re not there just yet because with the current foul weather the birds desperately need feeding – and our kits won’t go outside 🙂 Their inner city upbringing will out!

      At the end of the day, we have to do all we can to make sure our local bird population is thriving.


  2. Our furry predatory friends cause us such pain when they kill the wildlife, yet at other times they give us such pleasure. It makes it more difficult when you get emotionally involved – it breaks your heart briefly. Comfort yourselves by thinking of the numbers you are keeping alive through the harsh winter. Despite the sad subject matter, you photos did make laugh. I love the one of the eyes through the foliage. And they even have their own trampoline now! PS Did you know there’s an advertisement for a snoring cure on this blog or can only I see it?!!!


    1. Yes, you’re absolutely right about the pleasure and the emotional involvement, Mandy. And I too have comforted myself with the thought of how many birds we’ve sustained in the snow. As to the pics – I always laugh at the one I used as a header: Ilsa’s big bum spread over the grass as she watches the far more canny pigeon on the fence! 🙂 Sorry about the advertisements …. I think I could avoid them if I paid more 😦


  3. My cat Tiggs once caught a rabbit. I chased the cat with rabbit in mouth around the garden until she dropped it, scooped Tiggy up and took her inside. She was rather unimpressed and was straight off to the window looking for her catch. The rabbit got away. Our cat was a great hunter surrounded by woods, fields and a little burn so was forever bringing us presents (sometimes just leaving a few innards and a tail … what a rotter!). It’s a shame Tiggs never took any interest in spiders, that would have been far more useful.


    1. So glad to hear that you got that rabbit away from Tiggs! We’ve not yet been brought rabbits (and I hope we never will) but I hope we could set them free like you did. I completely agree about the spiders – though it’s slugs I’d really like my cats to deal with 🙂


  4. Pets, all pets i think, have environmental consequences and still we keep them, drawn innately to a desire to live closely with animals…we are curious creatures.


    1. Yes, I agree. What fascinates me is that we – in this extremely scientific age – should know this, but we can’t help anthropomorphising our pets, and reading all sorts of traits into them that of course don’t exist!


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