FIELD NOTES: OUTDOOR CATS – March 2017

By Jack McShane

Outdoor cats are very bad for our birds, but being outdoors can be bad for cats also, both those that are feral and those owned that are allowed to wander outdoors. During a few months in late last summer and early fall we had a feral cat that roamed free and hunted a large swath of Bussey Hollow. What was unusual was its ability to survive the potential predation of the varied and numerous critters out there just waiting to feast on a fresh pussy cat. These include our local coywolves, foxes, raccoons, bears and even a fisher. If such an encounter were to take place, all of these I believe are capable of taking out a domestic cat, and would if given the opportunity. Somehow it survived exceeding by a couple of months the one month of free roaming of all the others that I have observed in the past, before they would disappear into the maw of the natural world. This feline, black with orange markings, which made for pretty good camouflage, being an ambush predator, seemed to know all the right places to hunt: the pond edges, brushy field edges and, of course, whatever cover there was close to the bird feeder. He or she would sit for long periods, motionless and quiet, waiting for the right time to pounce. All this, if I was not too close by, as it was very wary of me. Only when watching from the kitchen window could I observe its hunting prowess. It had disappeared as of the end of September only to reappear on January 21st, stalking along a field edge. I watched as it spotted a prey mouse or vole, did its pounce and made a meal of the critter, as I watched from the kitchen with binoculars. Two things enter my mind: Where the heck was it all this time and how did it avoid the predators? I don’t know and as far as I know no one on Bussey Hollow owns this cat.

Personally I don’t dislike cats. I even had one for a pet eons ago. But being an avid birder and amateur naturalist, I have developed a bias against free roaming cats. They can be classified as an invasive species as they were introduced by us, Homo sapiens, to North America from where they originated in Egypt. According to the authors of Cat Wars and The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer and the director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, there are 2.4 billion birds killed every year in the US by free roaming cats, more than by buildings, power lines and wind turbines combined. Very sad, so please keep Tabby indoors or in an enclosure when outdoors.

The following is an intriguing cat story from a very reliable friend of my son:

“Trickster, who was a big male cat we nicknamed Sumi Wrestler–he was so strong–well, one day I was out in the pool area and he came striding through with a duckling in his mouth. He went straight to the pool and dropped it in. Seemed rather proud of himself. I was not in the pool. He bypassed me on the way there. Joe and I carried the duckling over to Judy’s pond, hoping it might, well we didn’t know, it was so young, maybe it would connect with its mother? It was absolutely not injured by Trickster in the least and went swimming off vigorously in the pond. So why did Trickster do this? I don’t know. Do you? Was he just “practicing” catching food, even though not hungry at the time? How could he be since I gave him all the conventional cat