Dog Days of Summer: with cats and birds

Since the advent of global warming, we decided to be good citizens and save water by letting our backyard go to rack and ruin…or rather to seed.  And the birds love it.  Sparrows, finches, grossbeaks, towhees, juncos and doves regularly  visit and feast in the weeds.

One day last month, I came downstairs  to a morning blast from a visiting mockingbird.  The glorious aria accompanied breakfast  until I was distracted by my kitty who wanted to step out onto the patio to surveil her territory.  As I do everyday, I let her out.

As a young cat, Cici would pirouette skyward after butterflies, catch  lizards and stalk the finches and sparrows and phoebes that visited the yard.  Now, twenty years later, she is no longer vigorous and actually a bit frail.  Versus an aggressive mockingbird singing like a rock star?  Not so good for the cat… 

I ran to the door and was stopped short by the sight of my cat peacefully sitting on the patio.  And the bird about yard away, happily picking at  the weed seeds.  They looked like they were old friends just hanging out.

The next day (the cat was inside), I glanced outside to see a neighborhood tabby crossing the backyard. It is a grey and white tabby, looks a lot like Cici.  A second later, the mockingbird came tearing from the sky, aiming for the neighbor’s cat.  The cat ran, chased from the yard by the mockingbird.

Animals charm us with their social behavior and they intrigue us with the question,  “Why were they doing that?”  We watch, guess and usually get it wrong!

This  story was too good (in my opinion) not to share with hiking friends who also love the outdoors.  Eva, who can be described as a professional Grandma, remarked with a startled, “That bird was chasing the cat out of your yard…it was helping your cat get rid of the other cat!”  I shouldn’t have been surprised that she saw the mocking bird’s attack as protective.  For Eva, the greatest joy comes when she can babysit her grandchildren, more than travelling the world, going on cruises, visiting old friends in Mexico.  

Tish had a totally different interpretation. Tish is my art loving friend,  actively involved in church supported reform activities and keenly aware of gender, racial and economic issues.  She is a busy lady.  “So the bird had had enough! It was probably thinking  ‘I’ve had enough of all these cats!  I’m not about to tolerate yet another cat in my territory!’”  Zoom!  Clear the decks!

Of course, my interpretation was that the mockingbird was defending a nest with baby birds nearby.  They come back year after year and by now all the birds must know that my older cat is harmless.  So they let her be.  But the neighbor’s cat was fair game!

The right interpretation?  Nope.  

My bird watching friend Faye listened to my tale, wrinkled her brow and said diplomatically, “It’s a little late for nesting…”  And it suddenly occurred to me that of course, mockingbirds nest in the early spring and by August, the chicks have fledged and are able to fly.  

The mockingbird has stopped its morning serenade.  It  or its children will be back next year to nest and raise a brood or two of baby birds.  Hopefully my cat will still be here to greet them.  And I’ll continue to watch and smile and wonder, “Why do they do that?”


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