Sunday, February 6, 2011

Stubby's Story

Statistics show that by the early '90's urban sprawl in California had reduced our coastal sage scrub ecosystem by more than 90 percent. As you may already know, coastal sage scrub is the habitat of the threatened California Gnatcatcher and Cactus Wren. Another lesser-known example of native bird that has been impacted by this statistic is the California Towhee. On top of habitat loss, Towhees and other ground-foraging birds are suffering heavily from suburban populations of feral cats.

I've become fond of these particular birds since becoming aware of their plight. Also contributing to this affection is the fact that a pair of Towhees have been frequenting my backyard now for quite some time. I would recognize them not only by their signature chirp as they flew into my yard, but because one of the birds had a short tail and I would find it humorous to watch as she hopped across the yard before stopping to scratch for seed. I  affectionately referred to this particular bird as 'Stubby' the Towhee.

Whenever I would see this pair, I'd have a sense of empathy and feel a bit of concern because in providing a backyard habitat for local, native critters, I'd noticed that feral cats also had been frequenting my garden more often.

On an afternoon in August, my wife commented that one such regular neighborhood cat was in the yard. When I glanced out the window I noticed that this particular cat was carrying something in its mouth and my first thought was that it had caught a bird. There is quite a bit of bird activity in our yard; mostly mourning doves, house sparrows and the like so I suppressed the urge to go out back and intervene, accepting the harsh reality that nature plays out its own drama in both natural ecosystems as well as ones designed.

I thought about it again and decided to go out and have a look anyway. I found the cat under a shrub and clapped loudly to scare it away-which worked, but upon closer inspection, I realized that I had become a witness to a statistic, and that the bird that had been caught by the cat was Stubby the Towhee. Stubby was still alive but died after an hour or so.

I don't usually become attached to the wild critters that frequent my yard, but I was really sad when I realized that of all of the birds that visit my little backyard habitat, it was not only a Towhee, but just happened to be that funny little, stubby-tailed Towhee that I found so entertaining as I would look out my studio window in the morning.

Domestic cats are pound for pound one of the most efficient hunters anywhere in the world and they prey on rodents and beneficial garden-friendly critters alike. One way you can help with this specific issue is to put a bell-collar on your cat if you let them outdoors. Or better yet, just keep them inside!

1 comment:

  1. Our yard is Towhee-ville. Thankfully the local coyote pair has stripped the neighborhood clean of house cats. Go coyote!

    Thanks for spreading the word about house cats. Cat owners are mostly in denial "My cat would never harm a bird!" I just read in the NYT that house and feral cats account for 500 million bird kills in the US every year. I like cats, but they need to be kept in the house.