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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Winter guests

Over the winter we take as much care as we can of the local wildlife.  We have discovered that that we can feed most birds that come to our table by scattering birdfood (grain and grated-up fatballs) along the path to our house, so we dispense with the bird feeders for this time of year as they aren’t really used, and the food there just goes mouldy.Birdfood on path in cold snowy conditionsThis brings a number of birds to our table.  Crows, pigeons, sparrows, blackbirds, robins and wrens all feed there – we do not discriminate.  All birds need food on cold hard days, and all birds are part of our local community.birds eating on pathWe even have a friendly – and very timid – seagull, and I am happy to feed this seagull (a young bird, I think) so long as he doesn’t bring all his friends along too.  Indeed, I rather admire his ingenuity in finding us, and keeping us to himself!Seagull on pathWhen we first arrived here, Poe was good enough to extend our winter hospitality to other small folk.  She would be out in all weather, looking for little lost souls.Poe venturing out in snowShe was sure they would prefer the nice warm inside to the snowy cold outside. Poe returning with mouseTrouble was, she would then expect them to play for a little while …Poe has a mouse… before she lost them, and they ran off to make new homes inside.  A year later, we discovered the small carcase of just such a forgotten mouse, trapped behind the grandfather clock.  Such a considerate mouse – never smelt in its decay.  Now it has a place of honour on our nature window display.desiccated mouse and other treasuresLuckily, Poe is now too old to go out a-mousing, but we have discovered with our shed spring cleaning that we are still caring for the local wild mouse population.  I keep my spinning fleece in the garden shed, as well as our supplies of bird feed.  The fleece is high up on shelves.fleece on high in shedOne year, I brought a particularly special bag of Crookabeck alpaca out of the shed into the kitchen for dyeing, and I discovered that somebody had not only been making a home in my beautiful fleece, but they’d been helping themselves to the food supplies available in the shed.  A cosy way to spend the winter, don’t you think, with food and comfy bedding both on hand?!Evidence of mice making themselves at homeWe always know what the mice are up to in the shed, because they leave little guilty teethmarks all over the bird food.mice eating bird fat ballsAnother year, I caught the little blighters in action.  Mice in grainTime for some shed spring cleaning soon – I wonder what we will find in there this year?