But I digress. Yesterday, we were discussing this article in the March 21 New York Times: "Tweety Was Right: Cats Are a Bird's No. 1 Enemy."
The article cites a recent study in The Journal of Ornithology that claims that cats, and not wind turbines (as previously hypothesized) were by far the No. 1 killer of baby gray catbirds in a suburb of Washington, D.C. Here is a portion of the story:
“Cats are way up there in terms of threats to birds — they are a formidable force in driving out native species,” said Peter Marra of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, one of the authors of the study.
The American Bird Conservancy estimates that up to 500 million birds are killed each year by cats — about half by pets and half by feral felines. “I hope we can now stop minimizing and trivializing the impacts that outdoor cats have on the environment and start addressing the serious problem of cat predation,” said Darin Schroeder, the group’s vice president for conservation advocacy.
When Possum heard this, he was smug. "That many killed? Excellent work. And who wants catbirds?" he said. "They're obnoxious, they make dreadful racket, and they aren't even that tasty. You never eat them, I've noticed. But the babies taste better than the adults." Cats are doing their job, according to him. "Cat predation? Excuse me? If we didn't keep the bird population down — which is hard work, you know — the world would be covered in guano and all you'd ever hear was their deafening chirping," he said. "They'd decimate the bug and worm populations, too, but no one ever thinks of them. It's racist."
I said, "But, Possum, killing birds, especially babies, isn't universally considered a good thing." And I read him more of the article:
Yet wind turbines often provoke greater outrage than cats do, said Gavin Shire, vice president of the Bird Conservancy. “The idea of a man-made machine chopping a bird in half creates a visceral reaction,” he said, “while the idea of a predator with its prey in its mouth — well we’ve seen that on the Nature Channel. People’s reaction is that it is normal for cats to kill birds.”
Household cats were introduced in North America by European colonists; they are regarded as an invasive species and have few natural enemies to check their numbers. “They are like gypsy moths and kudzu — they cause major ecological disruption,” Dr. Marra said.Possum is extra-sensitive to such remarks because he was born feral; he is a first-generation house cat. His fluffy tail began thrashing back and forth
"Gypsy moths? Kudzu? Check your lousy sources!" he meowed. "Look who's behind this so-called information. The American Bird Conservancy. The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. No secret agendas there, huh? And guess who publishes this one-sided 'research'? The Journal of Ornithology. It's all blatantly and outrageously pro-bird and anti-cat. Whatever happened to unbiased, objective research and reporting? And tell that Dr. Marra that Dr. Maquoddy wishes a plague of mice upon his house! He ought to remember that he's an invasive species, too!"
Possum pontificated on catbird research.
I told Possum he was clever to remember that. "The same issues could certainly apply to this catbird research." he said. "No mention was made of dogs in the study, for example. But while dogs may not be evolved enough to enjoy the taste of baby birds, they delight in fetching them and rolling around on top of them. And what about owls and hawks? No mention of them at all," said Possum.
And then he looked me in the eye. "And can we please keep in mind one central fact? They're called 'catbirds' for a reason. We're supposed to catch them. They're ours!" said Possum.