Strange times indeed. They’re marked by uncertainty, most of all, followed by a stouter appreciation of how uncertain life has been all along. What next? we ask ourselves, as we might well have asked before, if we hadn’t had so much busyness to distract us. We want a dog’s life. Specifically, we want to wag and bark and roll in shit without any sense of our mortality. Meanwhile, life keeps sending us bolts of grace and grief, all in the same fabric.
At the same time I’ve been holding my breath waiting for a friend to recover from COVID-19, I’ve felt nothing but honored that, purely by chance, I have a front row seat to the creation of a new batch of bushtits. Front row, hell–I’m sitting on the stage! Right in front of us we’ve watched over the past month as Chip and Mitzi Vinebustle have painstakingly fashioned their nest-sock out of spiderweb and moss and hustle. It was finally finished about a week ago. The flurry of activity had stopped. I thought the Vinebustles were out grocery-shopping and I got curious about their sock, so I leaned over the railing–it’s only a foot away–and brought my eye next to the entry hole at the top, and Mitzi up and blasted out of there right now. Sorry! I won’t do it again! Oh dear. Poor little button. I backed way off, of course. I’m thinking eggs have happened.
We know what comes next, and look forward to the day, coming up soon, when the nestlings hatch and the rest of the family is invited back and the whole sock fills up with bushtits. A jollier thing cannot be imagined.
But I’ll have to keep imagining it. Because sometime in the afternoon of April 29th, something really bad happened. There is a paw-sized gash in the side of the nest sock and the bottom is ripped out. Two light brown feathers are stuck to the moss and tremble in the breeze.
It had occurred to me that the nest might be in range of a cat on our railing, and I’d had the notion to jumble chicken wire on the railing if I saw a cat stalking the Vinebustles, but I hadn’t done it. The neighbor’s cat noticed the peeping from the song sparrow nest under a shrub last year and dispatched them before I’d found something to fence it out. I don’t know why I wasn’t proactive this time around.
I have two neighbors with outdoor cats that like my garden a whole lot. It’s no wonder. Everything I do there is with my birds in mind. I plant what they like, I don’t clean up the things gone to seed until spring, I don’t rake leaves, I maintain feeders and a nest box. My neighbors would like their cats to not kill my birds. They think–well, most that can be said is they think it’s a “shame.” They also think that’s just a cat’s nature, which is true, and they also think it’s very important for their cats to be able to entertain themselves by expressing that nature. Maybe they also think it’s handier for them to poop in my tomato bed rather than a litter box. I can’t say.
In any case they do not want to upset me, but after all, there are lots of birds, aren’t there? Cats have been around forever, and there’s no shortage of birds. Right? In fact domestic cats have not been around forever, not on this continent, and birds have not evolved with them, and there is most definitely a shortage of birds. Particularly in this yard. But my neighbors have heard all that, and shrugged.
And so I want to leave any of you who still allow your cats to roam to consider at least one thing about your neighbors. Just because birds are of minor importance to you, you have no right to assume the same of me. You have no right to assume my feelings are silly or overblown. Your nonchalance about your cat has devastated me. Has stolen my sleep. And there’s still a chickadee in this yard that has single-footedly kept both Dave and me emotionally afloat in the darkest of days. Don’t tell me it’s just a bird. You’re not the authority on whom I love. It’s not your territory: you have no right. You have no idea.
I would kill those mother-fucking cats, and wouldn't care if I alienated the neighbors for the rest of our lives. Yeah… that's MY nature; deal with it.
My dog Annie has no compunction about dispatching cats that come into our fenced in garden. One met its demise just a week or so ago. A huge beautiful cat. I wish I knew who it belonged to I would have taken the carcass to them and shamed them for letting the poor beast out without a collar or supervision.
Oh no! nonononono! I do hope there are still eggs in the nest and the bushtits repair it, but I may just be whistling into the wind here. I'm so sorry. I live so far away, but still keep my cat indoors, not because I'm concerned about our local birds, they are all bigger than her and would probably smack her with a wing, but because it is safer for her. Unlike my neighbour-across-the-driveway who lets his two cats run free and now he has only one, the girl kitty was killed by a car two weeks ago. Please let us know if there is still life in the nest.
I love birds, and cats, and dogs, and horses, and goats, and other species, too, but they don't all get along so I try to manage them as best I can. I hope the bushtits are not completely dead and that the cat has an unfortunate accident, but it is all out of my control. Still time to run some razor wire around the place.
I am so sorry. Is there any chance that the parents might start over? I don't know anything about bushtits.
Sadly (and wisely) birds don't try to rebuild a nest in an area that has proven to be unsafe. Depending on how much time is left in their nesting schedule, they may or may not try to make a new nest somewhere else. Laying eggs is a big investment and it may be that the female in this case just can't pull that off again this season.
Damn it. Give me contact info and I’ll get this to them.
I'm so sorry, Murr. We have had only indoor cats for three decades now. I love cats AND birds and don't like either one to die at the hands or paws of those who don't like them, including enraged humans. But it's safer all around for both if cats are contained. If it's done from the time they are little, they won't miss the outdoors as much. Get that wire out there, and count it as a lesson well learned.
I'm also sorry about your human friend. Sending fervent wishes that all goes well.
Condolences. I understand.
That is heartbreaking. I am so sorry. Letting a domestic cat run free is criminal. Even the best-fed will hunt, just for sport. Our youngest cat leapt into the air and grabbed a sparrow out of the air as it flew over our second-story balcony a couple of years back. Luckily he ran into the living room with the bird and I was able to wrest it from him, unharmed except for the loss of a single feather. Pure instinct, as we've had him since he was eight weeks old and he's never been outside, other than to lie on the balcony. I do hope Mr and Mrs Vinebustle escaped with their lives. Oh dear, what an awful tale.
I hope your friend recovers, this is such a hard time for so many families and circles of friends. Too many people are still taking this pandemic lightly.
Boy, that pisses me off! I know that feeling too well. I'm so sorry! Was looking forward to the stories about them as well.
You need a Curtis in your yard. There's been one cat hunting my yard in the year he's lived with me. It didn't hunt long. I am devastated for you. That was going to be the coolest thing ever, with the most appreciative and loving audience and press agent a pair of birds could have. @#$#@$# cats. !@#@#$ em all, unless they're indoor-only or weigh 28 lb and can't jump. And @##@$# the owners who don't care, and let them roam. I'm sick for you and Dave. Just sick.
We can't bear senseless attacks, however innate, and loss like this. I'm sure you're crying still. Many of us with you.
After having outdoor cats for many years in Seattle area, I am chastened by your tale, esp. now that birds here in the desert are our solace. Hopefully we all learn to think of others (species) before glorying in the "freedom" of any, including our own selves. Esp. pertinent now.
I would hope that you can express this devastation to your neighbors so that they understand. But knowing that I have friends in my neighborhood who feel the same about their cats, I doubt that it's possible. I am a cat owner like you who always keeps mine inside. Because I know that it's the safest place for them. They are accustomed to being inside, and on the rare occasions they've ventured forth because one of our doors came ajar,they gingerly tiptoe out in high alert because they're freaked out by all the stimulation. Just as I like it for them.
I am so sorry about your titmice. We lost 2 baby cardinals this past week, one probably to a cat and the other to the cold.
MURR IS UNABLE TO REPLY TO COMMENTS ON THIS POST BECAUSE HER COMPUTER FRITZED BIGLY, SINCE THERE WASN’T ALREADY ENOUGH STRESS.
I am replying to your comment, Nance, to see if the 'reply' part works on comments for people other than Murr.
…and, yes it does work for me.
Oh no! Not a good time to have a computer die. Thanks for passing that on to us, Nance.
I just wanted to say thanks for opening my eyes all those years ago. You were so patient when we moved in with our fur beast–and I still remember you guffawing when I claimed he wouldn't catch any of your feathered friends. Ugh. Sorry it took months for me to catch what you were throwing out there for me, but the lesson stuck. I mean, seeing the birds through your eyes…you turned me vegetarian (I'm kidding, but then again…maybe it was part of it?).
Adding to that, I've learned so much from you–specifically, how to talk in person about what matters. Even when it's uncomfortable–or especially when it is. And when you write about the things that matter to you, it's like you're holding up a mirror so people can see their own ethics, shining back.
I'm so sorry this happened and that it keeps on happening. But thank you for making sure the Vinebustles didn't pass without having their story told. I'm grateful this little family inspired you to connect the dots, once again, for those of us who are slower on the uptake. Keep writing. We'll get it soon.
Thanks, Molly, for your post. I am heartened, tearfully, for your honest expression of your own emotions. We need this kind of honesty.
HEY GUYS! I'M BACK!!! I don't know if I consider this a permanent solution, but I downloaded Firefox and everything seems to work on that. So maybe I'll use Firefox at least for this blog. For the record, I don't understand any of this.
For the record, most of us don't understand it either. 🙂
Firefox is a browser, just like Chrome or Explorer or Safari. I use it exclusively because it seems to allow the most access to blogs. What browser do you usually use? It's possible that you got an automatic update and it made your current browser too advanced and stuck up to connect to your blog 🙂
Yay, you! We've used Firefox and Thunderbird (for email, both from Mozilla) for years. Glad to have you back!
And I didn't say, That is a gorgeous picture of Dave and Studley. Dave has beautiful, kind face and it is full of love as he looks at that sweet little bird. Why can't we all be like that?
Wow! this is Amazing! Which animal are you when angry? Scratch here to find out which animal are you when angry? ████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████