Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Cat that Brought the Birds

I worried when Cosmo, an elderly tabby cat, took up residence under our house. Our backyard has an abundance of birds, not just the six chickens. A cat would ruin the ambience, I thought, and result in some untimely ends.

Cosmo, named by our neighbour, had lived under her place for years, but she couldn’t take him with her when she moved to the retirement village. Her son kept calling in to feed him.

After the builders made their presence felt next door, Cosmo turned up here one morning, announcing his arrival and his breakfast order with a scratchy-sounding miaow. He’s never left, so now we have an amicable arrangement with our former neighbour: she covers the catfood; we dole it out.

The chooks out the back were briefly unimpressed and would cluck their alarm if a whiff of cat went their way, but he’s not interested in them. He seems to have retired from all sport, and from the business of predation (if he ever engaged in it).

Cosmo’s typically feline habit of leaving bits of his meal untouched has, however, enticed the backyard birds. It’s brought them closer to the house than ever before. 

One song thrush has become a regular. He flies up at mealtime and “pip, pips” (a greeting? I’m sorry, I don’t understand thrush), then waits while I feed the cat. As Cosmo wanders off, the thrush hops up to the bowl and helps himself.

This I find absurdly pleasing. I relish it more, I think, than Cosmo and the thrush do their shared meal.

On Blackbirds and Thrushes

A copy of Falla, Sibson, Turbott’s Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand (1970 edition, now jacketless) has been in my possession since childhood. Somehow, though, I forgot — until I consulted my bird books just now — that our introduced blackbirds and thrushes are closely related. They’re from the same genus.

It makes sense: they’re similarly shaped and sized, with similar habits and habitats. The international Thrush family to which both belong is “a big group [more than 300 species] of plump songbirds”, according to a more recent field guide, Heather and Robertson’s.

‘My’ song thrush fledged only this year, I thought — he has the unsleek, downy look of one fresh out of the nest, with the spots down his front relatively indistinct. The yellow in his beak made me certain. But I’ve a lot to learn. Perhaps he
’s moulting. And even adult song thrushes have a conspicuous yellow gape”, I read, so “...this cannot be used to age birds”. It’s also quite possible that he is a she.

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