Birds and Cats in Harmony

Birds and Cats in Harmony
“I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.”
Harry Emerson Fosdick, clergyman
Leaping Lydia and Joseph
Jacqueline’s husband Joseph playing pounce games with the cat. Practice makes perfect.

Rain, rain, rain. I’ll take rain over snow any day. Our three cats, however, are not so fond of endless days of wet. They sleep 20 hours a day, finally go out and hunker under drippy bushes until they’re thoroughly sopping, then come in and walk all over the papers on my desk.

Our cats are farm cats and they take their job seriously. Despite the fact that we feed them a homemade organic raw chicken diet that’s admittedly over-the-top, they supplement it with a buffet of mice and moles that populate our fields.

Mice and moles are prey animals who replicate at astounding rates. We rotate the land, always keeping parts wild so there’s plenty of habitat for mice and mole nests and good food for the great horned owls, coyotes, redtail hawks, and garter snakes in our corner of the earth.

My cats are actually remarkably good about NOT catching birds and other animals. They’re not perfect but overall they do decently well with the concept. The rule in our house is that if you catch something, you have to eat it, and you do NOT bring it in the house, period.

The only time they stray from the guideline is when they catch something they’re sure we’ve never seen before. When this happens they don’t catch and eat like with mice. Instead they ever-so-delicately carry the uninjured animal into the house — unhurt — for us to marvel over.

We’re no doubt expected to make much of it, and true to form, we do with all the excitement that follows having a new snake, salamander, rabbit or squirrel suddenly released indoors unexpectedly.

Recently our orange tabby brought in a very live, very loud, red-headed flicker that was larger than him. The bird complained loudly as he was carried in the catdoor held in Remy’s mouth, holding its wings folded through the door, then opened WIDE when they got inside. Oh my, what is THIS?

Joseph flew into action. He leaped off the couch, reached and caught Remy just inside the door. I pried Remy’s mouth open and grabbed the bird as he tumbled out.

I know to do this immediately because if you don’t catch the animal right there, then we have me, Joseph and three cats all vying to catch a freed animal at once. Competitive hunting IS a sport in our house when Joseph and I race to catch flying, slithering, scrambling animals before a cat catches them again.

Joseph and I are well-versed in the team sport of this. In a smooth operation — as this was — here’s how it goes:

At the sound of an unidentified animal squawk or cat growl, we swing into motion.

0 – 4 seconds:
Joseph leaps up and swoops bystander cats into another room, shuts the door and catches hunter-cat.

4 – 8 seconds:
I open the jaws, grab the freed animal and head toward the door.

9 – 11 seconds:
Joseph scoops hunter-cat snugly up under one arm as he flings the front door open.

12 seconds:
I run toward the door, open my hands and the flicker flies straight and true through the doorway as Joseph yells, “I’m alive! I’m ALIVE!” and the screeching celebratory flicker is already three acres away in the sky.

We came back inside and opened the door behind which stood two suspicious bystander cats with flat “airplane ears,” who KNEW something just happened and they missed it. All three cats spent the next 30 minutes sniffing everything the bird touched or may have touched and searching everywhere he might still be.

The first time this happened was ten years ago, right after I’d given Daniel, who was a year or two old, a stern lecture about bringing home injured animals. I never know exactly what to do in that situation when an animal is obviously hurt and usually beyond help but still alive.

So I sat down in front of Daniel and told him in plain English and with great sincerity that, while I knew it was kitty nature to catch things, it caused me great pain and sadness to see an animal that was hurt.

I went back to work at my desk, the door behind me open to the outdoors.

Half an hour later I saw Danny out the corner of my eye coming toward my desk with something in his mouth.

He walked to the foot of my chair and sat down, looking up at me with a LARGE undamaged perfect pale green luna moth in his mouth.

He made a mmrowly sound through his open mouth which I’m sure was, “You mean like this?”

Then, still looking right at me, he opened his mouth. The luna flew out and flitted around the room. We both sat and watched it fly for a few moments, big looping swirls of cerise wings and shadows. A minute later I guided the moth to the open door and it disappeared into the evening air.

And that’s the way it’s been ever since.