Wednesday, November 12, 2008

First Juncos, Bad Cats, Dead Squirrels

I noticed the first few juncos in the yard today. (I can't remember, what are we calling them these days, dark-eyed or slate-colored?) When I see these handsome little birds, I know winter will soon be upon us, but they always help to lift the mood a bit.

In other news from the yard, I've been enjoying the antics of a few young red squirrels in the back yard. They've been scampering up and down the big Norway maples and eating maple seeds from the driveway. I have mixed feelings about these rodents. Just as I feel I'm turning the tide in my war with the many generations gray squirrels that have been chewing holes in my house, I'm pretty sure these reds are getting into the eaves as well. I haven't issued any war declarations yet because they're pretty discreet in their comings and goings and they're awfully cute. I also like they spunky way they chase the gray squirrels who must be twice their mass.

Just the other day, I was sitting at the kitchen table, looking out at the falling leaves and the gamboling squirrels when an orange cat who frequents the yard streaked a good 30 or 40 feet from under the deck across the yard to the base of the maple by the garage to nail one of my little reds. By the time I jumped up and ran outside the cat was already trotting away with the squirrel hanging limply from its jaws.

The very next day, as I walked by the back door, I heard some thumping out by the deck. I looked out to see the same cat struggling to subdue yet another red squirrel. I ran out, but was too late again.

I assume these were young squirrels that didn't get a second chance at their survival lessons, but this cat certainly does seem an efficient predator. I must confess to having some mixed feelings. As they say, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Although these little guys are fun to watch, I don't relish the prospect of spending more hours repairing the exterior trim on the house. On the other hand, red squirrels are not that common here and for every red, there must be 20 grays. I appreciate a little diversity in the yard.

I know that predation by house cats is a real problem that takes a heavy toll on native wildlife populations. If I saw this one cat kill two animals in two days, I shudder to imagine how many he and all the other cats I see around here kill in the course of a year. There are those who say cats will be cats and hunting is instinctive. But these cats are not native to this area, and they have the advantage of warm homes, regular meals and veterinary care, so they are healthy, strong and more numerous than they would be in a natural system. Their killing seems recreational rather than for food.

I saw the cat again today and noticed it had a collar. It turns out Hobbes is a friendly (to humans) cat and it was a simple matter to approach him and read his name tag. I discovered he lives with neighbors I know quite well, and, in fact, the man of the house is quite an environmentalist, so I figured he would receive my phone call in the spirit in which it was intended. I called tonight, told my story, and suggested that a larger bell might help to warn potential victims. I'm happy to report "Calvin" seemed quite understanding and I feel sure he'll get a new bell. I could tell he wouldn't have been as receptive to a suggestion to confine his pet to the house and I didn't push that point.


Wenda said...

Despite the carnage, I enjoyed this visit to your yard. I, too, have mixed feelings about rodents, but I am such a softie when it comes to cats. Bravo for keeping the peace with your neighbour and hopefully creating a bit more for your nature friends.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Mojoman,
Do you know if there's a cat ordinance in your town? When I worked at Wild Birds Unlimited we had a customer who had problems with free-roaming neighbor cats staking out the bird feeders in her backyard also. She found out there was a city ordinance against people letting their cats roam freely. She made copies of the ordinance and gave it to the neighbors and told them if the cats were in her yard again she would trap them and turn them over to Animal Control. That seemed to do the trick, but some cat owners are really clueless and just don't get the "responsible pet ownership" thing.

Penelope said...

The cats do seem to have an unnatural advantage in this situation. Kudos to both you and your neighbor for finding a workable solution (I hope the bell does its job). I know some people (my mom included) believe strongly that cats need to be able to roam and that it's just not right to keep them indoors all the time -- hence the traditional habit of putting the cat out at night. I'm not saying I agree; clearly that approach can cause a great deal of harm. Your comparison of free-roaming cats to invasive buckthorn on my blog was a perceptive one.