August 08, 2004

Cat vs. Bird

Yesterday, I found our young cat tormenting a bird it had caught (or, more charitably, maybe found). The bird, though terrorized into speechlessness, still lived, and I was able to pick it up during an interlude in which the cat stood back admiring her work. I placed the bird out of harm's way, in a pot of petunias hanging from a metal post in the ground.

I could not immediately identify what sort of bird it was. It was grayish, about the size of a tufted titmouse, and with a bit of crest atop its head. Yet, unlike the titmouse, it had a black mask with a white eyebrow, and light brown streaking on its breast.

Enter the wizard of Bridge Street, Sanderson, who identified it as an immature cedar waxwing, a bird I am unfamiliar with and would not have thought of.

I recently acquired a new field guide, Birds of Connecticut by Stan Tekiela, that shows the cedar waxwing as a distinctly brown bird, while my older Roger Tory Peterson guide shows it as a grayish brown. My bird was more of a gray with brown parts. Funny how different books can be, and thus can lead one astray. Also, the Peterson book shows a mostly white mask with a thin black strip through the eye, while the Tekiela book shows a mostly black mask with a narrow white eyebrow. My bird looked as if it were wearing white-rimmed sunglasses. I wonder if these differences reflect perception, or actual bird-to-bird variations?

Field guides aside, I must report that this tale had a sad ending. Later, I was sitting inside working on the computer when our older gray cat came in with a bird in her mouth. It was the same bird! And it was much the worse for wear, with feathers missing from the top of its head and most of the tail feathers gone.

I gently retreived it from under a chair where the cat left it, and carried it outside, placing it once again amongst the petunias. I could see the telltale yellow patch on the tip of the remaining tailfeathers. The bird's right eye appeared damaged, as it sat on a petunia branch, shaking and shifting its weight uncomfortably, probably in shock. An hour or so later when I checked on it, it had keeled over dead. I felt so helpless and anguished at the death of this bird, it surprised me. Though I wish harm on no living thing, this young waxwing and its early demise touched me deeply.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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2:38 PM  
Blogger Kate A. Shorey said...

Hey Ladies,
I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but that photo is clearly a baby bluejay!!!

Cedar Waxwing would be the same shape, but brown not blue and grey and white.

6:58 PM  
Blogger linda jo said...


8:59 PM  
Blogger Palema said...

That's interesting, Linda - had they fallen from a nest? I want to hear more about it!

5:58 AM  
Blogger Kate A. Shorey said...

Hi Linda Jo!
That IS interesting as I had thought I had a baby blue jay under my front window a week ago...dead, apparent victim to one of the feral cats....

Now I will have to see if it is still there...and check out the presence of BROWN on it.

I did notice that all of our birds came later this year - the cardinals youth didn't appear til later (not THIS late mind you!)

-This Wizard did make a good case about the wide eye band.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Kate A. Shorey said...

WEll I did some of my own research and found an adult waxwing's photo that DOES have all that Blueish grey, plus commentary on their late breeding to get berries for the kids.

There are three posts on the Pond Ecology Diary. Look for the photo. Oh, and you can get the waxwing's SOUND too - maybe next time I hear it I will know it! --Kate

8:05 AM  
Blogger linda jo said...

Actually - I have always thought that the kids took the nest out of the tree - they had no feathers when they brought them home - I fed them hamburger dipped in milk - all four lived - we took them to uconn and had them banded - eventually after several months - one drown in our pool - one flew away - frequently landing on neighbors picnic tables as they were eating - one fell from the cage on the clothes line and had to be euthanized - and one never left home - just clung to the screens from the outside and screeched till we finally brought him back him - he lived about four years in a huge hardware cloth cage that I made for him - one winter morning I came out and he was dead - and that is the story of the Stevens' blue jays

10:13 PM  
Blogger Kate A. Shorey said...

Linda Jo,
that is a fasinating story It makes me wonder about the affect of captivity on animals. Or rather, the affect of animal socialization to be more to the point.
I recently adopted a second cat - the third feral cat I have cared for. He has no quams about living in the house and getting food and attention!
--Warm regards,

8:48 AM  
Blogger Kate A. Shorey said...

Hey all,
I don't know if you are still reading this blog but look back to where I said I had found one of these babies and assumed it was a jay? Well this year I discovered 2 adult cedar waxwings!

10:14 PM  

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