Death in the Garden

This is the face of a killer:

Killer cat

Killer cat

I nearly trod on the fledgling wren. A tiny bundle of feathers with a beak, it was right in the middle of the path. I urged it to take cover. Gratifyingly it moved onto the grass and that was when I realised there were other similar bundles moving about. The parent wrens seemed very relaxed about their babies being so exposed. Much more relaxed than I was. I tried to herd the babies towards denser cover. Misunderstanding my motives, one of the adults then made that tommy gun sound that seems much too loud for a small bird. Good, I thought, now they’ll realise the babies are in danger and get them off the ground to somewhere safer.

Only they didn’t. Back indoors, MasterB signalled his desire to go out. I hunched over the work I was doing and ignored him. He became more vocal. I let him out onto the landing. The hallway amplified his cries. I went out, shutting the door in his face, to see if the coast was clear. No babies. Hurrah.

My boy came out. I followed him into the garden just in case. Horrors. A little feathery creature hopped insouciantly across the path. MasterB froze, then sprang, but my “NO!” made him hesitate just long enough for the chick to disappear between the shed and the wall. I grabbed MasterB, called him A Good Boy, and bundled him back indoors, offering extra biscuits as an incentive. He acquiesced, but it was only temporary.

Once he was inside the flat, I went out and had another look. Six little wren chicks balanced on an old palette turned on its side that MasterB could reach in an instant. The parents flying down to feed them insects every few minutes. A jay had spotted them too, so one of the adult wrens and I chased it off.

Come on wrens, I thought, get these babies to safety. I can’t stay out here all afternoon, and MasterB isn’t the only cat in the wood. If there had been an ornithological branch of social services I’d have been on the ‘phone in an instant.

MasterB accepted being gated with good grace. But he knew the birds were out there. He’s a cat. A natural born killer who I have always been grateful to witness is crap at catching birds. Grasshoppers, yes; even mice, and once a frog (rescued by me alive and returned to the wild); a vole I suspect was dead before he found it; bluebottles. He chases squirrels and butterflies, always without success. watching him hunt is usually enjoyable because he doesn’t catch anything. But these babies. Well, I don’t know how many of you know that seminal work by Anne Fine, Diary of a Killer Cat. I don’t seem to have a copy any more. But the Killer Cat in question, Tuffy, is less than amused when his humans cry over his latest victim, a bird that he claims almost fell into his mouth, in fact could have hurt him. These babies would have needed to be carrying boulders to hurt anyone, but catching would be the wrong verb to describe how easily another animal could have taken them.

I went out again and the coast was clear. I let Himself out and stayed in the garden for a while for good measure. MasterB checked out where he had seen the chicks and then hid in a shrub. Good, I thought. But my attention was caught by a lot of loud chirping. I followed the sound to find the six (shortly to become five) chirping around a flowerbed as though it was Glastonbury. Their parents appeared with insects and flew away again. I glanced back at MasterB, now in a different spot under another shrub. Hide babies, I urged them. Get in among the flowers where you can’t be seen. And shut up. You are just drawing attention to yourselves. Their lack of self-preservation instinct was alarming to put it mildly.

Suddenly there was a rush of ginger as MasterB realised his moment to be a mighty hunter had arrived. I fended him off and hoped the babies would scram before I caught him, but he made a rush past me and caught one. I got it away from him, but it was already dead. I carried him indoors. Freddy would have had my arm off, but MasterB was uncomplaining, if obviously a bit surprised. We played faether games, and he fell asleep. He wasn’t allowed out for a long time. But whether any of the fledglings have survived I very much doubt. The last time I looked, it was twilight and they were still on the ground in the open. I might be able to save them from MasterB, but not from the foxes, the various members of the crow family, and the other cats of the neighbourhood. I saw no sign of them today when I came home.

If anyone knows of parenting classes for wrens, please let me know.


18 thoughts on “Death in the Garden

  1. How sad, I can’t bear it, you tried very hard with your rescue operation. It isn’t just cats, Dido and Daisy killed a baby crow when they were younger 😦

    • When I told Octavia, she commented “inexperienced parents”. We have wrens in our garden for years, but I have never seen a clutch of fledglings on the ground like this. If it is possible to be cross with a wren, I am. Both parents were so careless with their babies’ safety. I can’t blame MasterB. He’s a cat. To have such an opportunity in front of him and turn it down would have been against nature. I just hope some have survived and the parents are now being more cautious.

  2. Oh my! I so know what you went through! My Artie is always after flies, bees, butterflies and any birds that happen to be in the garden. I try and stop him, but cats are so fast!!! Poor wren babies. I think some birds don’t know the dangers that are around them! Such a good post! Thanks for sharing! x

    • Fortunately MasterB has until now, been entirely unsuccessful in his pursuit of birds. He relies on speed rather than stalking, and they scatter as he lunges towards them. I felt I wanted to gather these birds up and put them in an aviary for their own safety.

  3. Thank you for a beautifully written post, as ever, Isobel. I love the idea that there might be an ornithological branch of social services!

    • Don’t forget the plants this afternoon! No sign of the wrens this morning, so His Furriness has been allowed out before I go to work. But I fear the worst.

  4. We have experienced bird parents on the Tiny Ten but it is the jays that rob the nests here before the babies ever hit the ground. Makes me furious and sad. I know that the feral cats that roam the acres around us get birds too but such is life even though that makes me sad, too. In the past I watched all the birds and checked on them and squealed with happiness when I discovered babies but now I do my best to ignore baby season because I just can’t handle the mortality rate. I enjoyed this post Isobel. Love your words when they tell a story like this. It is like a little gem of a book. I received a lovely card… 🙂 Sent you an email.

    • When my mother moved to live beside the river she and Aunt loved to see the ducklings, and they would count them. But ducks can be very careless parents, and there are all sorts of predators on, beside and in a river, so the number of ducklings would diminish daily, and soon Mother and Aunt could not bear to count them.

      • I know. When we lived in St. Louis, Missouri and watched the ducks at our favorite park my heart was broken more times than I could stand. That is why I don’t get attached to anything now.

  5. Oh dear what silly careless parent wrens! Nature red in tooth and claw they say and Master B was only being a cat…sad though it is! Hope he’s not in the doghouse today? Our cats were supreme killing machines, originally they were farm cats and they had many trophies to return home with, mice, shrews, stoats, also rabbits and partridge…what a horrid mess…but that I am afraid was the down side of cat ownership…there were many up sides too!!!

    • No he’s not in disgrace. I much prefer him not to kill anything, but he is a cat; a natural born predator. I am grateful that on the whole he is not very good at it. He cahses the squirrels and that gives him good exercise. I don’t know what would happen of he caught one. My friend Julia’s cats are very effective hunters. They catch and eat all sorts of things, including squirrels, leaving just the tails for Julia to find and clear away. Ugh.

  6. Ah, I love this post. I went through a similar experience with our (not so) sweet, (not so) gentle Wyatt last year. Like you, I understand the inherent predatory nature of our companion animals; like you, I am grateful they are not so good at the execution.

  7. I suppose that they have several chicks because it is a given that most will die before they are fullgrown. Doesn’t make it any pleasanter. We don’t seem to have any jays round here but we have magpies which also are predators of chicks. haven’t seen baby robins this year as I did last year.

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