Saturday, April 28, 2007

Cats and Birds

I was sitting on my futon (I work on the floor), typing away, while my older cat, Kira, eight years old, lay comfortably purring across my lap, when suddenly she leapt up so fast I didn’t even see the move, body stretched out, hanging from her front claws imbedded in the screen, her tail four feet higher than where she had been resting a moment ago. A bird had alighted for a second outside the window.

We think of cats as chasing mice, but cats will sometimes calmly ignore mice—not so birds. Cats immediately go ballistic over birds. My one year old cat, Tawny, gets up in the morning to sit in the kitchen window to visually track the robins, sparrows, goldfinches and red-winded blackbirds from tree to post to grass to tree., ignoring his breakfast to do so—the same breakfast these cats usually start lobbying for by 6 a.m.

Dogs, at least the ones I’ve had, find birds fascinating, but not to such an insane degree. Sasha, a shepherd mix, liked to run toward groups of ducks or geese just to force them to fly—then she’d sit down to watch. Shanti, my husky mix, loves to chase birds (and she’s fast enough to do it), gets excited when she accidentally flushes a pheasant or a quail, and will successfully hunt fowl if allowed to do so (she isn’t), but none of that comes close to the insanity that prevails when a cat sees a bird.

Twice, a while back, a bird managed to fly inside my home. Both times, the cats immediately went nuts. Cats, thus motivated, can travel at the speed of light, jumping instantaneously the length and height of a room. As quickly as those sparrows flew from one room to another, the cats flew just as fast, oblivious to my protestations. In both cases, I was able to catch the birds with a blanket in an hour or so, releasing them safely, but both cases were also quite an ordeal.

One spring, a pair of sparrows nested on my porch, directly across my front door, settling on the broad side of a 2 x 4 just under the slanting roof. The parents flew in and out from time to time, reacting to my coming and going, and then made regular trips, perching on the ledge while four large beaks suddenly appeared, opened 180 degrees, ready for the treat, disappearing again just as quickly as the adults flew out for more food.

Eventually, four rolly-poly chicks ventured out of the nest, onto the ledge, spread over between twelve and eighteen inches. That is, until the May weather abruptly turned cold, when the four chicks were huddled together, in a straight line, as closely as possible, less than half a foot across, looking like comic actors in a silent movie. Then, abruptly, one day they had all flown the nest, leaving the porch in peace.

And my orange tiger, Neko, spent virtually every moment of that six week nesting experience perched perfectly still on the counter, staring intently at the nest through the front door’s narrow window.


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