For the Birds Radio Program: Cats
Today Laura continues her ongoing diatribe against cats. (I’m assuming this transcript goes with this placeholder)
One of the saddest things about rehabilitating birds is that many of them just don’t make it. Few birds attacked by cats actually survive. I don’t know how many people have brought me birds that they supposedly rescued from cats over the years. On the phone they always say there was just a little blood and the bird is perky and seems to be just fine. They don’t realize that the reason there is so little blood is that cat teeth are so narrow and sharp that their bites are actually puncture wounds.
Bites into the back are the worst. Bird lungs are interwoven with the back ribs, very close to the surface, so cat bites to the back are usually fatal. The other damage cats do is to break bones. People sound so relieved when a bird’s wings survive a cat attack intact, but many of the cat-attacked birds I’ve cared for over the years had broken vertebrae or ribs. I once cared for an Evening Grosbeak that was pulled from the mouth of a cat. I could tell by the crunchy feeling that many ribs were broken, but the bird responded well to antibiotics and slowly healed. It lived over two weeks, and seemed to be doing great until it started feeling perky again. The first time it felt good enough to fly, it rebroke its own ribs just stretching out its wings and quickly died of internal bleeding.
I’ve had several calls in the past few weeks from people who picked up baby birds in their yards and were afraid to leave them there because they were afraid that cats would get them. One woman called me a month after she supposedly rescued a baby robin she found on her back porch. She had been feeding it good, nutritious food, but keeping it in a cage, which is the worst thing you can do to a wild bird. The metal bars fray the wing and tail feathers, making them too flimsy to support the bird’s weight for long distance flights. Anyway, now she wanted to let the little bird go, but was reluctant to free it in her yard because there were so many cats in her neighborhood. She hadn’t realized what a responsibility she was taking on when she kidnapped the bird from its natural parents, who were most assuredly around somewhere when she found the fledgling. The bird should have been kept outdoors throughout the day from the first. That is how robins become coordinated, effective fliers.
When I raise nestlings, I start keeping them outside as soon as they reach the age where they would make tentative hops from the nest in nature. They come to me for frequent feedings and I watch as they become more and more independent. They require less and less food from me as they learn how to find natural food on their own. Releasing a baby robin or wren takes as much work as hacking out a Peregrine Falcon—after all, it consumes every waking moment of a parent bird’s life for a few weeks, yet some people think it’s easy. Raising a baby bird is charming and fun for the first day or so, but then it becomes tedious hard work, if you do it right. That’s one of the reasons why it’s illegal for people without state and federal permits to take wild birds in the first place.
Anyway, this woman planned to take her baby robin out to the woods to release it, away from all her neighborhood cats. But it would have a better chance against the cats than on its own, without a parent or a human surrogate teaching it how to find food and shelter and supporting it as it learns to become independent.
In the eleven years I’ve lived in Duluth, the robin population has dropped by two thirds because of three things: dandelion sprays and other toxic lawn chemicals, the increasing crow population, and cats. If you have a cat that you cannot bear to keep indoors, at least let it out only at night, when birds are safely hidden from view. Otherwise, by the turn of the century, I may have little to talk about on this program besides crows and gulls.