For the Birds Radio Program: Cat Leash Law

Original Air Date: Feb. 9, 2001

An increasing number of cardinals may be due to Duluth’s new cat leash ordinance.

Audio missing


I’m very grateful to the Duluth City Council, which last year finally passed a cat leash law. This has had almost immediate good results in one way–suddenly baby cardinals are surviving in Duluth. The Duluth Christmas Bird Count tallied fully 16 cardinals this winter–the all-time high number by far, the previous high being six. A few pairs of cardinals have been breeding in Duluth for the past few years, but the survival rate of the babies was very poor, since they spend so much time on the ground and low in shrubbery, exactly where cats hunt. Now that most people are complying with the new cat leash rules, the baby cardinals are surviving, and within two or three years I predict cardinals will be established throughout the city, and soon appearing in the outlying areas of Duluth as well. I don’t know how long it will take them to reach Grand Marais as a regular bird, but it should be within this decade.

As Duluth ‘ s cardinal population has mushroomed, I don’t think the effect has been anywhere as dramatic as in my own backyard. I saw my first backyard cardinal ever in January, 2000, but it remained in the yard for only a few minutes. This fall, I started seeing a female, and then a male, a few times, and then the pair started coming in together. For a while there was a group of three, the male with two females, and then a third female started appearing, to be chased off by the other two. And once in December I actually had one male and four females at the same time!

I’ve loved cardinals since I was a little girl. They were a common backyard bird where I grew up in a suburb of Chicago, but I never took them for granted despite their commonness. Now whenever I see that male with his rich, glowing feathers, my heart skips a beat. Some everyday things in our lives are so beautiful that we can’t always appreciate their beauty—things like the eyes of a baby or toddler, a sunset or sunrise, or billowy flat-bottomed cumulus clouds. If our hearts skipped a beat every time we saw something beautiful, we’d probably all have to move to the coronary departments of our nearest hospitals. And so I suppose eventually I’ll have to get used to cardinals in my own backyard, but right now the thrill of seeing them is worth a skipped heartbeat or two. I can’t even imagine how thrilling it will be later this winter when my male starts singing, and suddenly my sight and hearing are both flooded with beauty at the same time. And I will owe it all to the Duluth City Council and the new cat leash law.