The hermit thrush was near exhaustion when it landed in a Bishop pine on the Inverness Ridge. It was a young male and this was his first migration. Two days earlier he had left a protected area in Oregon when the night sky had finally cleared. A star map was genetically fixed in the birds brain and he instinctively knew which direction to fly. But the temperature had dropped during the early morning, only a few degrees above, there wasn’t much body fat left on this bird. Suffering from hypothermia he barely survived the night. But now he was safe, weakened but at least alive on the wintering grounds in mellow Marin.
The thrush was raised high in a Sitka spruce in south east Alaska. He was one of four chicks. The insect population was lower than usual this past summer and his parents could only manage to support him and one sibling, the other two hatchlings died of starvation. As the days decreased in length his internal alarm clock went off. It was time to fly south for the winter.
The little girl was so delighted to be in their new house in the country. After living in a city her entire eight year old life, she was finally surrounded by nature. Trees, birds, and squirrels were just outside her window. And one night as they were coming home late from a party, they had even glimpsed a fox in their headlights. Her father thought it would be neat to get a dog, a cat and maybe even some chickens. So they did.
When the first rays of the winter sun hit the thrush, he let out a soft whistle. That took so much energy he didn’t do it again. He flew down on the forest floor and started searching for food under the leaves and pine needles. After eating a half-frozen sow bug, a sluggish millipede, two rather puny earthworms, he was just about to swallow a spider when a dark shape leaped toward him. He immediately flew up but it was too late. He was caught in the jaws of a cat.
The thrush’s heart was racing, every muscle in his little body was straining against the predator. Death was near. He went limp and the powerful grip of the cat was relaxed. The thrush waited a moment and then sprung out of the mouth, free but only not for long. He was immediately batted down to the ground. The force of the blow broke his left wing, flight was now impossible. The teeth of the cat entered his body, he felt his ribs being crushed. That was the thrush’s last awareness.
Nobody ever wanted to be the first one downstairs in the morning. On the kitchen floor there was often a grisly scene. Regurgitated mouse intestines, feathers matted with blood and one time there was a frightened baby brush rabbit cowering behind the sink. The person had to deal with the mess.
The little girl was first in the kitchen this morning. Her cat proudly deposited the wet lump of the little bird at her feet. She picked it up, it was unconscious but its tiny heart was still beating. She cupped the bird in her hand and held it as it took its last breath and it died as she watched.
She was still crying when her father came down. He didn’t hold his daughter and share her pain; he didn’t acknowledge her empathy and sorrow for the dead bird. Instead he used words. “Don’t cry, it’s natural. Cats always kill birds. It’s survival of the fittest and the bird lost. Let’s have some breakfast, you’ll feel better.”
FORGET THE EMOTION – JUST THE FACTS PLEASE
Most wild bird populations are decreasing due to habitat destruction by humans. Birds and other wild animals are having a tough time making it these days. House cats are not native to North America. They were probably first domesticated in the Near East from a wild cat called Felis sylvestris. Bobcats, foxes and weasels are the dominant native predators in our area.
The five million house cats in England kill 20 million song birds every year. Let me repeat that, 20 million birds every single year are killed by cats in a nation of alleged bird lovers. In addition to killing birds, cats also terrorize and kill field mice, moles, shrews, wood rats, gophers, lizards, snakes, bats, and even butterflies. These animals are an integral part of the environment.
Well-fed house cats kill as many animals as other cats. Cats make great indoor pets and can bring comfort to the elderly and infirm. Cats are not evil or cruel, they are useful around farms and cities for killing Norway rats and house mice (introduced pests from Europe). All cats should be neutered. If you insist on letting your cat outdoors then it should always wear a bell, preferably a five pound one. If you profess to care for the wild things on our planet and you let your cat run free, you are a hypocrite.