Friday, July 10, 2009

Outdoor Cats: An Unnatural Tragedy for the Bluebirds

When I got home from work yesterday, I went to put out some mealworms for our busy Eastern Bluebird pair, who had recently hatched their second clutch of the year and were feeding five hungry babies. Oddly, I didn't see or hear either adult, who normally make an almost immediate appearance when the mealworms are out and rarely stray far from their nest box.

When Beth returned from a petsitting appointment, she said she'd fed them around 2:00pm, and had watched the parents feeding the babies at that point. Keeping careful watch on the feeder and nest box, I watched well into the evening for the mysteriously-absent parents, and also checked on the crying, hungry baby birds.

At ten days old, the babies would be able to go 24 hours without feeding, and as it grew dark, I didn't want to risk scaring off the mother's return, so I left them for the night.

Early this morning (around 6:00am), I went out to check on the nest and see if the parents had returned. Unfortunately, they had not, and tragically, several of the babies had died during the night. I quickly rescued the remaining two from their nest and got them inside, on a warm blanket, and did what I could to feed them. One was strong enough to take whole mealworms from my hand and ate a dozen or so in several feedings; the other appeared much weaker, and I had to feed it small pieces of watermelon and dry dogfood "mushed" with water to a soft consistency.

We got both the surviving babies to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, who said she thinks both will pull through, fortunately (even the weaker baby). She'll feed them for a week or so every hour, then eventually take them to a bluebird site in Winchester (about an hour to the west of us) to be released.

The real tragedy is that the parents were apparently killed by neighborhood cats. Cats kept outdoors kill literally hundreds of millions of birds in the United States each year, and in Hawaii have caused the extirpation and even extinction of species. Cats simply should not be kept outdoors; they are not natural predators in our environment, and those cats fed and kept up with veterinary care easily out-compete the natural predators.

We're utterly heartbroken for the two adults, as well as the three babies indirectly killed by these two cats--two cats we successfully rescued a baby robin from earlier this summer. Worse, they may have in effect extirpated the neighborhood bluebird population, as I've yet to hear or see them anywhere else in the neighborhood or surrounding woods. We'll really miss our cute little bluebirds.

Please, if you have cats, keep them indoors! Killing birds is not "natural" since domestic cats are not a natural part of the environment. No one likes to get a feathered "trophy" dropped on the doorstep, either, even the cats' owners. Beth and I are both cat lovers, and Neptune is one of the sweetest kitties we know--but we'd never let him outside!--and after this most recent cat-borne tragedy, we find ourselves really hating that pair of neighborhood cats.

The American Bird Conservancy has a Campaign for Safer Birds and Cats program if you want to read more about this problem.

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