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Cats Kill Birds, No Two Ways About It

Dear Bird Folks,

There are two feral cats roving our neighborhood and today I’m sad to report that they’ve killed my nesting catbird. Is there anything I can do to protect my yard from these cats?

– Donna, Orleans, MA


Yes, there is, Donna,

There is something you can do about your feral cats, but first I need to give everyone else the background to this question. Back in June, Donna sent me the above note and I answered her, but it was off the record. As you might imagine, I was totally sympathetic about her problem, but when it comes to cats I have to be careful. I don’t want a giant ball of yarn thrown through my living room window. So, I answered Donna in private. But then something happened that changed my mind.

A few weeks ago I was at work unloading a truck, when a familiar sound caught my attention. I told the truck driver to hold up while I listened. I heard it again, and this time a ginormous smile came over my face. It was a sound I hadn’t heard in years. It was the call of a bobwhite. (Remember them?) I dropped the boxes, ran upstairs and waved for the rest of the staff, and any curious customers, to follow me. As we stood on the loading dock, the bird continued calling and now we all had ginormous smiles. It was a wonderful moment for everyone…well, everyone except the truck driver who just wanted his truck unloaded. Oh, right. We were supposed to be working.

For many of us the signature call of the bobwhite is the soundtrack to a Cape Cod summer. But in recent years, their voices have gone silent. That’s why hearing this one bird was so exciting. For the next four days we continued to hear the bobwhite, but on day five we heard nothing, and I knew the reason why. A cat was now sitting under the bobwhite tree. Damn it! The minute the cat saw me it bolted into the woods, which told me it was feral. My staff wanted me to do something, but I wasn’t sure what to do. It wouldn’t look good for me to be seen running across the parking lot with a broom, chasing a kitty cat. However, the events of the next day made me wish I had gone with the broom option. The same cat was back and this time it was carrying off our resident chipmunk. Son of a… I dug an old cage trap out of storage, but was afraid to set it. If I actually caught the killer cat, what would I do with it? My next step was to call every animal shelter I could find, but no one called me back. Later that day one of my workers came running in to tell me that we now had an entire family of cats in our back parking lot. Enough was enough. I set the trap.

The next day, while I was opening the shop, I was told that the trap had been sprung and there was a cat inside. Oh, swell. Now what do I do? I don’t know anything about cats. But it turned out that one of my newest employees knew a lot about them. She claimed to actually like cats. (What? I have to do a better job of screening my workers.) She went about gathering food and water to make the cat’s stay comfortable. She then asked for some old newspapers. I said, “What are you going to do, read it a story?” She told me she wanted make it a cozy nest. I just shook my head. This is when I decided to see the killer cat for myself. But I quickly discovered it wasn’t the killer cat in trap; it was one of her kittens. Admittedly, I’m not a cat fan, but even with my cold heart I found this kitten to be wicked cute. I felt it could have been on the cover of Adorable Magazine…until I got close to it. Then it snarled at me, spit acid and shot fire out of its eyes. As I jumped back I thought, what’s with all the ugliness? We have given it food and water, read it a story and even allowed it to make one phone call. Yet, it wanted nothing to do with us, which was fine with me. I called the shelters again.

This time the Animal Rescue League in Brewster called me back. The woman on the phone could not have been nicer. She was totally supportive of our concerns, while at the same time wanting the best for the kitten. She told me to drop it off and they would teach it to be friendly. (Good luck with that.) She also put me in touch with the New England Society for Abandoned Animals. The NESAA people were also very nice. They came out with more traps in hopes of catching the rest of the family. But with the exception of one annoyed raccoon, the traps remained empty. Unfortunately, the mother had led them away, which means the kittens will never be placed into “indoor” homes. Instead, they’ll be loose in our ecosystem, killing bobwhites, cardinals, bluebirds and everything else they find. Sigh.

Free roaming cats are a huge environmental problem, but I’m not going to get into that here. A few weeks ago, Phil Kyle wrote an excellent piece about this very topic in the Cape’s daily newspaper; therefore, I don’t need to go over it again. Besides, I’d rather Phil be the one who gets a giant ball of yarn thrown through his living room window.

I suggest that you contact the Animal Rescue League or NESAA about your feral cats, Donna. While their solutions aren’t perfect, they seem to truly care about both sides of this issue. One last note: When I was leaving work last night, I saw a mother catbird on our back deck and she was feeding her baby. I was really glad to see that, particularly in light of what happened to your catbirds. Perhaps next year that young bird will return and build its nest in your yard, and I’ll bet that would put a ginormous smile on your face.