Thursday, May 05, 2005

Revenge of the Wildlife

Anyone who has ever seen the hokey 1970s eco-thriller "Frogs" knows that ticking off the local wildlife can be a bad idea. In this 1972 schlock-fest starring Sam Elliot, Joan Van Ark, and Ray Milland, the local frogs (and spiders and assorted reptiles) get ticked off when a cantankerous old millionaire pollutes their environment on his private Florida swampland island. They take their revenge via some of the campiest deaths posible (for example, killing a woman by locking her in a greenhouse and knocking down a bottle that emits poisonous fumes...pretty smart critters!). I was eight years old when I saw this movie and suitably creeped out, especially since I am frightened by big, hairy spiders. Now that I am older and wiser, I enjoy it when it comes on cable in an Ed Wood-Grade Z-So Bad That It's Good kind of way.

I live at peace with the various frogs and lizards that abound in the environs of Duloc Manor. I even go so far as to rescue any reptiles or amphibians that manage to make it inside the house, releasing them outside before the felines can turn them into fresh kill. Thus, unlike the movie cast, I've had no fatal critter encounters.

The scaled creatures in our neighborhood might be peaceful, but the avians are another story. We have a lovely red cardinal that pays us a visit every day. But he's a smart little birdie, and his absolute favorite sport is torturing Stitch and Farquuad. At first, I thought it was coincidence, but now it happens so regularly that I know the bird is doing it on purpose. He perches on my porch swing, which is strategically placed in front of the formal room window, where we have a cat perch. As soon as the felines notice him, they crowd onto the perch and make all sorts of threatening machine-gun noises. Mr. Cardinal then proceeds to hop back and forth from the swing cushion to the chain, just a few tantilizing inches from their reach, making his distinctive chirp all the while. Translated, I'm sure it means, "Nyah Nyah Na Nyha Nyah! You can't get me!" He knows full well that he's protected by a solid glass pane.

He paid a visit the other morning, so I dragged my husband downstairs with his digital camera. Up until now, he probably thought I was crazy when I tried to convince him the cats were being heckled by a bird on a daily basis. Sure enough, he had to admit that it's true. The cardinal was doing his cushion to chain dance, chattering and cussing at the cats continuously. Their noses were pressed against the glass, and their eyes had a murderous gleam, but of course they were helpless.

We managed to get several shots of our little birdy visitor, which you can see below. I'm not quite sure why he chose our porch or how he knows that he's safe. All I know is that it's very amusing to watch him in action.

Even with free-roaming cats, the birds can be quite aggressive. Our next-door neighbors let their cat out, and there is a small, dark brown bird that must have a nest in the vicinity of the alley. Whenever she sees the cat, she chatters up a storm while she perches on a garage rooftop. One day my neighbor was sitting in her backyard, and her cat was lying in the driveway. The bird actually flew down and divebombed the cat, trying to peck it!

I suppose that the aggressiveness and ingenuity of birds shouldn't surprise me. I have a cocketiel, Bradley, that has lived in a household of felines for 10 years; we're on our second set of cats since he joined us. When the first two cats were young enough to be mobile, Bradley kept a cautious distance. He is loose whenever we are home, but he would normally stay in the "safe zone" on the top of his cage or perch near me on the couch for protection.

But the cats were getting older, and eventually they turned sickly and weak while he was still young and agile. He would wait until they went to their water bowl, then fly down and start goosing them and pecking their butts. He would drive them away, and then proceed to take a bath in their water! My hsband was the first one to witness this, and I thought he was crazy until it finally happened in front of me.

Those two kitties eventually went to Feline Heaven, and now we have our younger and stronger duo (plus Tooncinator, who doesn't really count since he spends all his time under the bad upstairs, listening to the voices in his head and trying to savage anyone who comes near him). Now, Bradley exercises extreme caution. He will dive bomb them and walk up to peck them, but only when I am nearby to referee.

I do have a theory as to why Mr. Cardinal likes to hang around our front porch. In a bush just around the corner, I discovered a nest being tended by what I suspect might be Mrs. Cardinal. Since females do not have the same brightly colored plummage as their male counterparts, and since I've only seen her little head poking up from the nest, I'm not sure of her species. I don't want to get too close and disturb her by trying to take a better look. But she obviously has a clutch of eggs, so maybe her "husband" is distracting the cats so they don't realize that the rest of the family is close by.

I enjoy having avian families in my yard. Even when I lived in a condo three stories up, I would get an occasional mourning dove nest in my flower pots. Sometimes the eggs were duds, but twice we had little birdie families that were raised right outside the patio windows.

I'm glad to see all the birds; during the first year after our house was completed, when there was still a lot of construction in the area, it was rare to see any avians. There were plenty in the preserve areas, but not around the residences. My neighbor put out a feeder, and it was untouched for months. But now the homes and condos in our immediate vicinity are done, so the birds have apparently deemed that it's safe to return. I'm glad; I missed my Chicago mourning doves, but now it looks like the cardinal clan will keep the cats amused and give me my fill of fine feathered friends.

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