We have always had birds nesting in the nest boxes. However, this spring, the bird population has exploded exponentially and there are nests everywhere: two house finch nests in the Confederate jasmine, a cardinal nest in the Carolina Jessamine on the trellis, a Robin’s nest in the crook between three large silver maple tree limbs, and one in the deciduous holly; a towhee nesting in an azalea, and a mysterious bird that I can never recognize, in the laurels. Carolina wrens and wrens in their regular birdhouses, with bluebirds swooping down on starlings who have the temerity to approach blue bird territory. Catbirds and mockingbirds are shrieking at each other and I saw a woodpecker strutting across the deck.
I was talking to my sister in England, while sitting on the deck drinking my morning coffee and enjoying the hectic wildlife activity all around me. Two chipmunks were getting chased off a concrete planter by an agitated wren, robins were playing tag through the trees and a baby rabbit popped out of nowhere, then disappeared instantly.
“I have never seen so many birds and wildlife,” I was saying to my sister when she said something that pulled me up short.
“Has your cat died?” she asked.
No, our outdoor cat of 16 years was not dead, but last September she decided that she was in the market for luxurious retirement living, and began to scope out the neighborhood for a suitable residence. Two doors down the street, she struck gold. Barry has an outdoor workshop/garage and a soft heart for all cats. Without a backward glance, or as much as an “adios amigos”, she dusted off her paws, moved in, became an indoor cat in Barry’s garage and has been reigning supreme there ever since. A few days after her disappearance, Barry came to tell us the news.
To be honest, I was glad that she had somewhere to hang her hat over the winter. She was getting older and had broken a leg in one of her numerous turf wars and not as nimble as she used to be. Her eyes were getting weaker and all the cats, possums and birds in the neighborhood were chowing down on her food even when she was looking.
What I did not realize was the huge impact she made on the birds and wildlife in our own backyard. This spring, without our cat in residence, the wildlife population has increased dramatically and it’s impossible to ignore.
After talking to my sister, I decided to do some research on outdoor cats and how they impact local wildlife.
“Spring is an incredibly dangerous time for wildlife because newborn prey don’t have the same physical defenses as their parents and have not fully developed the danger awareness regarding predators that comes with time,” says Invasive Species Program Director Grant Sizemore, of the American Birds Conservancy (ABC)
“Spring is perhaps the single most important time of the year for cat owners to protect wildlife by keeping their cats indoors or under direct control.” (March 2015)
The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the US Fish and Wildlife Service found that bird and mammal mortality caused year-round by outdoor cats is much higher than has been widely reported, with annual bird mortality now estimated to be 1.4 million to 3.7 billion and mammal mortality likely 6.9 to 20.7 billion individuals.
Our cat did return, for a brief visit, a couple of weeks ago. She looked healthier than she had looked in a long time, even at 16 years old. No chunks of fur missing from neck, and she had put on weight. We sat a while together and chewed the fat, and then I carried her back to Barry’s.
Indoor living obviously suited her and she was exactly where she needed to be, for herself and the local wildlife.