Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Conflict of Interest

We have been feeding backyard birds for many years.
Cardinals and bluejays didn't appear at our feeders in Wyoming, those birds being unusual in the interior west, so it is with pleasure that we are seeing them again.
During most of the times that we have put out bird feeders we have also kept cats.
For the past dozen years our felines have been of the pampered indoor variety, for whom bird-watching was a contained past time--birds outside doing their things, cats inside observing with occasional twitching of tails or mewed blandishments.
Now we have three young outdoor cats.

Bird photography is a frustrating and time-comsuming venture. I station myself just inside the sliding glass door [which has been cleaned inside and out.] Using the zoom lens I was able to capture this shot of the cardinal framed in branches of the burning bush.
The birds seem to be aware of my every slight move even as they greedily peck at the hanging cylinders of seeds.  Birds don't "hold still." They bob and jounce and flit.
For many efforts over the past few days I have only a few maginally clear photos.

Bluejays under the maple before the last snowfall.
The male and females are colored alike.
They are cheeky, noisy, greedy birds, but forgiven all that because they are lovely to behold.

Juncos picking up niger seed which the wind has shaken from the feeder hanging in the burning bush.
Joining the juncos have been goldfinches in their muted winter garb, a mockingbird or two and a pair of house finches with rosey-red caps and stomachers.

And then we have Willis the Kitten who perhaps should be renamed 'Nimrod.' Willis has proved a terror to mice and moles, he has designs on the birds.
His tabby stripes are an effective camoflauge as he hikes his way up the slender branches of the burning bush.

Graceful is not the word for Willis as he manuevers about the bush.
Here the rear view presents seconds prior to an ignominious tumble to the ground amidst a shower of twigs.

Up in the bush for another try.
Don't look down!

Yet another crash landing and for a bit Willis is subdued. His airy demeanor suggests that he didn't fall out of the tree--he meant to come down that way.
The girl kittens, Sadie and Sally pause occasionally on their rounds to do a little bird-watching, then they go on about their catly business.
Willis is clearly obcessed.
It may be inevitable that eventually an unwitting bird will be his first victim.
Meanwhile, J. has moved the feeder of niger seed to an outer more delicate branch.


  1. And our birds' mortal enemy is the Cooper's Hawk. Poor Willis. Some cat are built on the chunky side (I don't mean fat!) and are not agile climbers. Our Bailey was like that. He barely ever climbed on furniture and never on the cat climbing tree.

  2. It's a familiar hazard for us cat - and bird - lovers, striking that balance between feeding the hungry and unwittingly bringing about the demise on an unwary visitor. I think that on balance it's better to feed than not. I suspect the cost/benefit ratio is still in favour of the birds no matter how effective a predator Willis turns out to be.

    Uncomfortable to watch though. He is a bonny lad even though Tarzan he is not.......


  3. Untilrecent years I've always fed the birds and had cats as well - one or two of them excellent hunters. I've always thought that it's better to help many birds and perhaps risk losing one or two to the cats occasionally than not to feed them at all. As for taking photos of birds I've pretty much given up as I can't get even halfway decent photos from inside and the birds have eyes in the backs of their heads! A pity as I have a lot of birds visiting the feeders and some of them are quite uncommon.

  4. We have cats. I feed the birds. Most of the time, the birds are safe as houses, but perhaps a more inexperienced bird occasionally pays the price of his folly. The boys have caught a blackbird, a starling and a (could strangle them for this) Treecreeper so far this winter.

    I hope that Willis (thank goodness it's only one determined, and not the girls too) decides it's too much hard work.

    I have always wanted to see a Cardinal in real life. I never will, so seeing your visitors is nearly as good.

  5. We have the same problem, One of the cats, Rowan, watches as my husband gets the feed out and races him to the feeders. It is a problem when you love both birds and cats but luckily, so far, they have never bought in a bird.
    Today, they are all grumpy as is pouring with rain, as it has been all week, so a few scuffles are occurring through boredom..

  6. I feed the birds around here also. And have outside feral cats, but I try to position the feeders so they can't get to them.
    My problem is the hawks and a horned owl, who flys a little bit before dusk nabbing birds as they leave the feeders. I also have three hawks, I have been trying to identify them, but they fly at mach speeds like small jets between the trailer homes and nab birds from the feeders or when the birds just leave the feeder. They are small, very stealthy raptors, and very handsome.
    Love your photos MM.

  7. We too love having the jays and cardinals come for feeding, they're worse enemy here are the squirrels who come in yell at everyone and eat all the food.
    Our cat watches from within the house.
    I haven't the talent or patience to photograph birds, Mac does a pretty good job so I leave it to him.

  8. I so adore willis.
    How lucky you are to have such colourful birds ... I think our best is the robin.

    Guess what ...we are back to 18 felines ...he is 5 ish with a touch of maine coon I think different to all out others ...we are getting him used to the others scents at the moment ...his name is Toto. Why another? ... well basically it came to our notice that there were drunk/depressed/druged threats of microwaving him Jay and Vicki sort of catnapped him. ...can you believe the mentality ...he said it was a joke but the girls and a tough looking guy friend said you dont jokes about that.

  9. Chris: I can identify only the common red-tailed hawk and a small one which I believe is a Sparrow Hawk. Hawks were omni-present in WY; I haven't seen as many here in KY.
    Al; I pondered whether I was luring colonies of birds to certain death. I agree that the balance should lean in favor of the birds.
    Rowan; I'm sure you noticed how much time can be spent trying to focus on a bird--they surely aren't cooperative subjects. The closest feeders are only a few feet beyond the sliding door--I can get lost in watching them.
    BB; Starlings are such universal nuisances that its difficult for me to feel grief at the demise of one--although I never like encountering a dead bird or animal.
    The cardinals are such a joy to watch--the females though less brilliantly colored are also lovely.
    Briony: I love that description of "grumpy" cats--aren't they just so responsive to weather changes! Ours alternated all week between bird watching and tucking up in warm places with that "don't bother me" look on their little faces.
    Denim; In spite of many hawks in WY I never witnessed them attacking the smaller birds at the feeder...although they must have done so out of my sight. I rather miss the pair of great-horned owls who lived near our house there--my grandson and I spent much time spotting them and following them around the hedgerows.Your words make a neat picture of the speeding hawks!
    Janet; We saw large squirrels in the summer, but they must have decided to spend the winter elsewhere. Maybe you could persuade Mac to share some bird photos on the blog?
    Angie; Mis-treatment or neglect of animals is such a heart-breaking thing. I sympathize with the addition to your feline numbers, but what is one to do?
    Maine coon cats are usually beauties.