Wednesday, June 08, 2005

requiem for a swallow

I lost a pet this morning. Well, maybe not a pet exactly, but a member of our household. One of the swallows who nests under our eaves was murdered, almost in front of my eyes. I'm done crying now (or maybe not as my eyes moisten) and I just feel numb.

Let me tell you how it happened. It's recycling day, and I was out on the driveway with the paper recycling and my neighbor girl walked by on her way to school. Since she dogsits for us on a regular basis, and I need a sitter next week, we started talking. As our conversation finished, I noticed her family's cat stalking off my driveway back to it's yard...with my swallow in its teeth. The other neighborhood swallows were whirling around in the air, and as they settled back onto their respective rooftops, I saw that all of the roofs had a pair, and ours now only has one swallow. I approached the cat in its yard, thinking, hoping that the bird was only injured and I might be able to save it. But I saw that the bird was not moving, and that it's head was inside the cat's jaws.

I'm tearing up again as I write. This is not the first felony committed by this cat, but it certainly the most audacious. Only last weekend my husband had to remove a cat-mauled bluejay from our backyard, and our other neighbors have a small graveyard for the birds their grandson has found dead in their yard (and yet they've just bought chickens, how daring). And I knew that the swallow chicks, that are soon going to be hatching, will have a low survival rate as they take their first flight out of the nest, and into the jaws of the waiting felines. But to see this bird killed, unapologetically, in front of my's atrocious.

And now I am left with a dilemma. As many of you know, I'm not a friend of in-town outdoor cats. Indoor cats are fine, in fact, I've loved several of them. And I can see that barn cats have their place. But a cat that lives in town and is a "pet" merely by virtue that someone gave it a name and collar and it shows up every couple of days to be fed and maybe to lounge on a front step, this is not a pet by my definition. If that cat is a pet, then my swallow was a pet. We grew gardens to nurture insects for swallow food, and there are special horizontal boards nailed to our eaves to provide nesting perches (right in front of our picture window). So why is their cat allowed to murder our bird?

But how do I solve this? How do I approach the neighbors (who we like and who we depend on for dog-sitting) and say, "You have to do something about your cat. Keep it indoors, or ..."? And this cat is not the only one in the neighborhood (maybe just the most obnoxious). There are at least 3 cats on our block, and at least three houses that are opposed to them (us, the chicken owners, and one house down). Not only do the cats kill birds, but they defecate in our gardens, torment the dog, and, while lying in the street, refuse to move for oncoming vehicles. My husband has suggested live-trapping them and taking them to the humane society, but this seems like a sureway to create bad blood. So I think we will talk to the owners of the killer cat, but I'll bet that this ends our dog-sitting relationship and leads to some angry feelings. Does any one have any other suggestions?


ScienceWoman said...

Swallow watch day 1:
The remaining swallow is sitting for hours on the gutter and chirping out to its lost mate. There are hungry chicks in the nest waiting for food. Do swallows mate for life?

Amanda said...

i am sorry about your swallow. this sounds like a lose-lose situation since you need her services every once in awhile. was this person not empathetic when your swallow was murdered? if not, doesn't sounds like a friend. but this is an interesting question of where one person's rights end and where another's begins. it is a tough call. perhaps you should start looking for a replacement dog-sitter if it makes you too crazy.

but you do have logic and the law on your side. it IS trespassing, and therefore you should be able to take action against the cat when it is on your property. i think this is a resonible comment to make to your friend too. nothing against the cat, you just don't want it on your property. perhaps you can put up a "no hunting" sign on your property for the cat's benefit ;) you could be vigilant in shoo-ing it away, water hosing it, or pepper spray. pepper spray does not hurt birds according to the internet (consider the source's reliability), because they cannot taste the active "hot" ingredient in peppers, which is what pepper spray is made of. but that would definitely burn bridges. perhaps there is such thing as a motion detecting sprinkler system. ..

could you mark you territory with urine? does that even work?

i might be the wrong person to ask. when things like this get bad i fantasize about putting out antifreeze for them to drink. tastes great and then...

ScienceWoman said...

In response to a friend who suggested that best thing to do is to ask the neighbors to put bells on their cats. (note: the neighbors cats don't wear collars either).

From the american bird conservancy (
"Cats With Bells on Their Collars Do Kill Birds. Studies
have shown that bells on collars are not effective in preventing
cats from killing birds or other wildlife. Birds do not necessarily
associate the sound of a bell with danger, and cats with bells
can learn to silently stalk their prey. Even if the bell on the
collar rings, it may ring too late, and bells offer no protection
for helpless nestlings and fledglings."

Writer Chica said...

A robin in a nest outside my kitchen window seems to have abandoned it. I don't know why. I really miss it. I watched it all the time as it settled in its nest and hoped to see little bitty robin heads poking up soon. I came back this weekend from NY and it was gone. The nest looks a little ruffled and I have no idea if any eggs remain, but they are probably gonners by now. Very sad. Probably not a cat. Maybe a squirrel?? Too much rain??

Bird Advocate said...

I cry for your birds! We need stricter laws about feral and roaming cats and better enforcement of those laws we have now.

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Anonymous said...

All you cat hating people need to get real. Your soft, cushy, pastel lives have you naïve and removed from reality. Mother nature happens every day. Every day millions of animals attack and kill other animals. Blood spurts out, lungs are crushed, bones crack and consciousness fades to black. And unless you are a vegetarian, you might as well shut up right now. Personally, I hate birds. They are noisy, dirty little obnoxious worthless bastard creatures that crap on everything from above. I love cats - partly because they do eat birds. Quit being such crybabies and grow the hell up.

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