A Conversation for Wild Birds and Domesticated Cats

Sterling advice

Post 1


Well said. There has certainly been a noticable decline in my neighbourhood of all but larger birds such as magpies and pigeons, and one plucky robin, and this is directly the result of an increase in the domestic cat population. I happen to have a soft spot for magpies (I thank my lucky stars I'm not superstitious) but they can be tiresome on their own. I can't remember when I last saw a tit.

I've a grudging respect for cats but not the hypocritical owners who claim to be animal lovers when their creature is out decimating the bird population (not to mention rodents and amphibians); the owners who admit to keeping a cat because they enjoy the cold blooded carnage I've no quarrel with.

May friends of the feline take heed so that many species can kill each other a little more harmoniously.

Sterling advice

Post 2

Shorn Canary ~^~^~ sign the petition to save the albatrosses

Hi spimcoot. There's always a plucky little robin, isn't there? My garden is usually full of birds. There are lots of blue tits and green finches. The local gang of starlings swoop in like a swarm of locust several times of day. It's great. But that's because I feed them all well above the ground and away from cat lurking places. The cat population in my neighbourhood is very high. The people who love cats usually seem to end up with 3 or 4 instead of 1 or 2. One was shot within the last couple of months and lost a leg. It causes a lot of bad feeling between neighbours. All the needle between my neighbours was actually what got me thinking about writing this article initially. Discussion over at peer review was refreshingly calm and friendly in the main (the thread's hanging off the original article).

I know people who shoot magpies too. They call themselves bird lovers. Seems some people think they should have the monopoly on carnage. Why can't they just share and share alike? smiley - winkeye

Sterling advice

Post 3


Discussing your article with my mum earlier she told me that the magpies were probably partly to blame for the lack of smaller birds too, which I hadn't realised. Still, I do like them - their apparent monochrome which reveals myriad glistening colours on closer inspection, their swagger which puts one in mind of some pompous Dickens character, their tit for tat wars with the wood pigeons, even that stupid superstition; I can never remember how it goes... one for sorrow, two for joy, three are all right but four is even better. No?

Must confess, despite my moaning about cats I've never actually bothered to make a concerted effort to feed the birds (there's a song in that I'd wager) and so I must take my share of the blame along with the cats and magpies. We do have regular toad visitations, though, so the water feature obviously does have a purpose other than driving one insane for a wee during summer. Anyway, I certainly *am* going to do something more than throw the odd crust onto the garage roof from now. Thank you Shorn Canary.

Meanwhile, here's to the plucky robin - they always manage to look rounder and sweeter than the ones on Christmas cards. Who'd have thought it was possible?

Sterling advice

Post 4

Shorn Canary ~^~^~ sign the petition to save the albatrosses

Your mum's partly right about the magpies being partly to blame. Magpies kill and eat small birds among other things. The grey squirrels are another problem for birds because they will throw chicks and eggs out of nests. I read an article in the RSPB's magazine recently that said studies indicate that neither the magpies' nor the squirrels' destructive behaviour has any discernable effect on bird populations.

Someone was telling me the other day that the magpies and squirrels in his garden don't actually fight but sort of square up to each other with that sort of "come on then if you think yer 'ard enough" attitude, when they're competing for the same morsel of food. Very funny. Magpies don't come into my garden so I've never watched that behaviour.

I know the superstition you're talking about but I can't remember the details of it. I know someone who blinks when she sees a magpie on its own so that she sees it twice - one being bad luck. I was in a car with a very sombre, sober businessman once and noticed that every time we saw a magpie, he reached up and tugged a lock of hair on his forehead and mumbled a little incantation. How peculiar.

Magpies are handsome birds, aren't they? I love crows in general. The way they walk reminds me of that actor ... Jimmy Cagney I think. And those clowns, the starlings who squabble and squawk and bustle about upsetting all the other peaceful diners like a bunch of rowdy hooligans. Can't think of any bird that I don't like really.

Yes, here's to the robin smiley - bubblysmiley - bubbly Long may he pluck smiley - smiley

Sterling advice

Post 5


We have plenty of squirrels round here but I've never seen a magpie/squirrel face off. As I said, they're too busy with the wood pigeons. The macho bluster applies here too, though as you'll ever see a two on one situation where one species will emerge triumphant and the other back off. Crows are great - love that raw noise they make over bare winter fields. I wonder how many cigarettes they have to smoke to get a voice like that. Oh, come to think, crows are more your cigar bird so that probably explains it.

There's a blackbird that visits us regularly; he's marvellous. He barrels along, head down, stops, quizzical look round, then back to the barrelling.

I'm not overly fond of street pigeons, mind. I suppose it's that artificial balance question again. If these things rely on tourists feeding them (as animal rights folk claimed in response to Ken Livingstone's plan) then there must be too many of them mustn't there? Plus, can you trust a creature which seems to have its leg tendons attached to those in its neck?

Sterling advice

Post 6

Shorn Canary ~^~^~ sign the petition to save the albatrosses

Two onto one? That's not fair. Just goes to show how much they have in common with our species smiley - winkeye My brother rescued a young rook a few years ago. His girlfriend's cat killed it before it was old enough to fend for itself, unfortunately. Anyhow, it would follow him around (probably thought my bro was his ma), making the 'raucous rook' noise (that was his name) and it sounded as though he was laughing. He'd hop about in the greenhouse, 'helping' my brother with his pricking out and potting up - mainly by knocking pots over and dropping um, well, droppings on all available surfaces. Very entertaining.

I'm happy to report that there are blackbirds and thrushes in my garden again. They seem to slope off somewhere after they've finished showing the season's off-spring the ropes. Gone for 2 - 3 months then back when the weather gets colder. I never know what to feed them on because they're 'soft-bills' and it doesn't matter what treats you put out for them, the starlings get there first and practically hoover the lot up. I haven't witnessed this, probably because I've hardly ever seen them in the garden at the same time, but apparently blackbirds and thrushes can be quite aggressive towards each other. It makes sense because they compete for the same sorts of food.

What you may have failed to realise about the feral pigeons is that this behaviour you describe is new. The impression that their leg tendons are attached to their necks only started with the advent of the 'Walkman'. Just because you can't hear the music from their tiny machines doesn't mean they're not dancing smiley - laugh

The balance of nature must be well and truly gutted in cities like London. People feeding the pigeons is likely to be the least of it. The pigeons do very well in that sort of environment because, among other things, like humans they don't have a short breeding season. They can breed continually and our buildings provide them with excellent nesting sites and, on top of all that, people feed them. The hawks do rather well in the city too I hear. Wonder what they find to eat ....

Sterling advice

Post 7

Sea Change

There are peregrine falcons living on the high buildings of Sunset Strip. They stoop on the pigeons here in West Hollywood that the Ukrainians feed their stale bread. The wild parrots, lorikeets and budgies seem to get eaten by falcons too, although the ravens (are these the same as rooks? they are huge black and croaky, although they seem to live only in twos and threes here) have better luck catching them, from what I've seen.

Hollywood is too urban, too full of people who find animals entertaining to shoot/poison/run over, and too full of dirt and disease for anyone humane to let their cats outside, ever, birds/rats/frogs or no. I have trained my cats to hunt and eat spiders, houseflies, and earwigs that are foolish enough to wander in from the garden.

Sterling advice

Post 8


While I was posting this a connection failure occurred so if this a repeat, forgive me.

Good gravy, you've trained cats! Astonishing.

I'm not the bird expert round here but I can tell you that rooks and ravens, though of the same species, are not the same bird. Ravens are far larger and don't have the pale throat of the rook nor (and this is my favourite thing about rooks) their baggy trousers. In Britain rooks are pretty common but ravens are less so: the best and most certain place for spotting them being the Tower of London where seven of them are looked after by the beefeaters. Traditionally there have always been six. If any of these leave then legend has it that the tower will fall: the beefeaters rather sensibly keep seven so that they have a reserve, though what the marital status of these birds is I don't know - what if two of them elope?

I love the fact that there are ravens in Hollywood - I suppose it suits my idea of a Tim Burton gothic underbelly in the town; Bela Lugosi lives on. I doubt this to be the case, though; I visited once and it seemed seedy in a merely mundane sort of way.

Is it only Ukrainians that feed the pigeons? In this country every blighter seems to. I was at a bus stop once when some wittering old biddy emptied the contents of a bag full of crumbs round my feet then ambled off while I was swamped by a virtually biblical plague of the things. Where's a raven when you need one?

Sterling advice

Post 9

Sea Change

Oghma and Ganesh are siamese, which I am told may have something to do with it.

For instance, with spiders, here is how it went: They do seem to respond well to praise and treats, so it was a matter of, say, praising them when they hopped on never-opened windowsills (and thusly dusting them for me by getting the dust on their fur, swallowing it during a clean, and then leaving it neatly with other things they have once upon a time eaten or swallowed in the catbox), then praising them when they noticed the spiders in the corner and throwing toys in that direction for them to fetch. (yep, they play fetch), and finally giving them treats and praising them when they did a full oriental-breed two-leg stretch and took swipes at the spiders. The actual eating of the spiders came more or less naturally.

We've got ravens all over Southern California, then, for they are all black and rather huge. Peacocks, which start near and then spread rapidly out from arboreta and ashrams/temples do beat them up and evict them from certain neighborhoods, but all in all, the ravens are pretty pervasive. My WeHo garden gets mourning doves, hummingbirds almost year 'round, and mockingbirds. Only the hummers get drooled-at-through-windows by my indoor cats, they obviously don't realize just how hard they are to catch.

Hollywood proper is rather disgusting, although the evil Scientologists have been buying it up cheaply and cleaning it up somewhat. Whether having Scientologists there is an improvement, I don't know. In West Hollywood, there is a strong Russian presence, of which most seem to be Ukrainian to some degree or other. The remainder of the neighborhood is gay, elderly, homeless, or jewish, and none of these feed the pigeons.

Sterling advice

Post 10


Hullo Sea Change, nice to see you after your brush with the moderators; what was that all about? Seems a perfectly harmless but interesting reply; I had feared that you were ranting at me for knocking your home town. But no. Hn, strange.

You confirm a theory of mine that dogs and cats are different only in their owners' species snobbery. Cats aren't dignified (licking one's parts in public and not even getting paid for it?) and dogs aren't loyal for any reason other than their own selfish ends. I wonder if the choice between cat and dog reveals slave/master tendencies in the owner. I own neither, and you've trained your cats in a dog style so perhaps it is a difficult question for either of us to answer.

I take it you don't like spiders? Shame, I've found them to be rewarding, if temporary, companions on nights spent hunched over my desk.

I really am jealous of the preponderance of ravens in Hollywood. And Russians if it comes to that. Plenty of elderly folk in my town, though: their scooters are lined up outside the day centre or hairdressers like Hells Angels' motorbikes. I wonder why it's only Ukrainians that feed the birds - hasn't anyone else in Hollywood seen Mary Poppins? So many mysteries and so much time to waste pondering them...

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