Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Hunter and the Hunted


Although I watch almost no television (I'm not sure why, but I've lost my taste for it), Robb and I are big fans of lush, epic nature documentaries.


There's one convention in those shows that drive us completely insane: The Phony Hunt. Surely, you've seen this. The hushed voice of the Narrator sets the scene as the adorable and apparently unsuspecting bunny or gazelle or other doe-eyed creature goes about its business. Then, the the camera cuts away to the lurking predator. Then back to the oblivious cute critter. Then the camera laboriously tracks the predator, as it stealthily advances in the apparent direction of the fuzzy bunny. Then you see the bunny (or gazelle or whatever) munching grass, then the advancing killer. All the while, the narrator is building tension. Until, miraculously, at the last moment, the little bunny hops away, and the slavering predator is left to hunt elsewhere for supper.

Here's the thing: as far as we're concerned, these "hunts" exist only in the minds of the video editors.

Robb and I both get a perverse amount of amusement out of observing how the two protagonists in these life-and-death narratives never appear in the same shot. The camera shows the prey, then the predator, then the prey. But you never see them at the same time. The whole hunt is as fake as the covers of supermarket tabloids. The gazelle in the film isn't being stalked by the crocodile. And Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston aren't glaring at each other, as Brad Pitt wanders past, oblivious to the danger.

Fake, I tell you. Fake-Fake-Fake.

Of course, there's some truth to these stories. Predators do chase (and often catch) prey, even the camera doesn't always catch the critical moment.

This morning, I was drinking coffee, and trying to blink the sleep out of my eyes, when I heard a terrible sound of birds screeching. I jumped up, and ran into the back yard, and saw the feral cat that we call Cardigan, with a baby Scrub Jay in his jaws.

I thwacked him on the back of his neck, and he dropped the bird, and then before I could formulate a plan, he grabbed it again. Smack! And the baby bird was on the ground.

I needed to catch the bird, and quickly. And I knew that the safest method would be to cover the baby bird with some kind of cloth. Without hesitation, I ripped off my shirt, and caught the little fellow.

(Hi Neighbors! I'm a Crazy Nature Lover! How do you like my bra?)

I ran inside, set the bird down on the kitchen counter, dragged our kitty Linguine outside, and hooked her to her leash. I found a cardboard box, and some more shirts, and made a safe, dark enclosure for the little bird. I tried to wake Robb, snapped this photograph, called the nearest wildlife hospital, totally failed to get a shower, and still made it to work on time.

Robb drove the little bird to the Lindsay Wildlife Museum's hospital when he woke up.

I know some people are going to have things to say about having cats outside, and others will express their disdain for jays. Even that's complicated.

According to our neighbors, the cats were abandoned by their owner, when she moved out. They've been living as strays in our back yard for who-knows-how-long. Robb and I would dearly love for them to move inside with us, where they could snooze on sofas and leave the wildlife in peace. But the cats are way too terrified of us to make this anything more than an idle dream.

So, we're stuck with predators and prey, playing out their dramas in our back yard.

And when we can, we'll try to step in and save the baby birds.


Kurious Jo said...

That's all you can do. IMHO cat's deserve an "outside" life too. But it is so tough when birds and cats cross. I give the birds every advantage I can raising the bird bath, steel posts on the bird houses, careful placement, etc. But we can't control everything. * shrug * Just do the best we can.

ajt said...

I have to say, I can totally imagine you ripping off your shirt to save a baby bird.
It's a fantastic story, and very YOU.
Hope the baby jay does okay.

Town Mouse said...

Ha! At least you were wearing a bra. I usually don't that early in the morning, and might have not saved the bird. Or maybe I would have, most of your garden is fenced.

Yes, it's complicated. I hope the strays are at least not able to reproduce.

Kristen said...

I don't know if I can support campaigns to keep all cats indoors. While I recognize the dangers they pose to smaller critters, I've also never had a cat who didn't want to go outside, who wouldn't lunge for the door the moment it opened--or even hide out and launch a sneak attack on it--or wouldn't simply sit in front of it and howl. This was true even in the last week of Boots's life, when her three feeble legs could barely hold her, and was true when Teddy was a kitten and wasn't really sure what "indoors" was. I suppose if a kitten is born inside and never knows to seek out nature they've got a chance of being happy house cats, but I've always taken in shelter moggies who will even rush onto the front porch in the rain just to get out of the house.

I've looked at the statistics, I know bird populations are suffering thanks to fuzz-heads (though of course rat populations aren't) but is the right solution to imprison the creatures? If I had to keep my cat inside, I'd rather not have a cat. Indeed, I don't have a cat (in London) because I don't have time and there's already a critical mass of neighbourhood felines pooping in my yard. That and I've read that if you leave food out for your pet inside it attracts rodents, of which I already have plenty.

Christine said...

Wow! And you got to work on time?! You're not just a crazy nature-loving girl... you're a Superhero crazy nature-loving girl!
Great photo of Cardigan, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Hm, I bet your pervert neighbors are getting ready to toss more baby birds over the fence at your cats, so they can see you strip again! (everyone has a pervert neighbor- I learned that in Baltimore! Glad you saved the birdy- we give our cats very expensive food, and thet still kill everything in sight- its their nature...


Nichole Campbell said...

Great story. I'm an exclusively indoor cat believer, but you're doing the best you can to help out those in need. I laughed out loud when you admitted to tearing your shirt off! Quick thinking!

lkw said...

I'm not happy about the feral cats that our "kind-hearted" neighbors feed, both at home and here in the mountains. But I certainly have sympathy for their thoughts. But we still try to chase them away from our bird feeders!

We don't have a cat, but I do think it's a good idea to keep them inside, if you do.


Anonymous said...

The best solution I've seen was a screened porch just for the kitties. They could access from a pet door from the kitchen and it was deluxe in every way. Watching the cats lounge on a summer afternoon reminded me of my maiden aunt sitting in her screened porch...aloof, elegant and straight out of a Faulkner story. The only thing the kitties were missing was the bourbon laced sweet tea.


LunaSea said...

Good job! Years ago, I rescued a Stellar's Jay from the maw of my roomie's cat.

I think it's the time of year that the baby birds are starting to get too big for their nests. Just last week we had a baby Stellar's fall out of his nest at the corner of our porch. His nest mate looked on as, sadly, our outdoor kitty grabbed him. She's not a birder... it was just a 'crime of opportunity'. The thing that shocked me was that the two parents, along with four other Stellar's Jays in the area and a pair of birds that I can only guess were in the Robin family, all ganged up in the swoop-pecking of the cat. I had no idea that other birds would join in a defense movement... especially other birds outside their species.

Anonymous said...

We have indoor/outdoor kats and they don't hunt cuz they're hungry.... They hunt cuz it's fun and they like to play with their food. Fortunately ours seem to be much more adept at catching rats and mice than they are at catching birds. I know. I, being the fearless male in the household, get called upon to dispose of the remains. As my daughter said "I knew finding that kidney in the bathroom was a bad sign."

And if your neighbors can do dishes in her tiara, you can rescue baby birds in your lingerie...



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