Our house and cannibal songbirds

I would prefer to post this entry with actual PHOTOS of the house, alas, restricted internet access makes it difficult to get the photos and text to happen in the same place at the same time, so I’ll likely post photos in a separate entry later on.

Let me just tell you what I love:

I love that I wake up to birdsong. We installed a feeder in the backyard. It was a bit of a disaster at first – the feeder we bought is designed to discourage the larger, more aggressive and generally well-fed birds from eating *all* of the seed so that the small, charming, hungry migrating songbirds have a steady supply of food while they rest up for the next leg of their journey.

The first day, the stellar jays strategically body-chucked the feeder until they were able to pry the lid upright, knock the feeder sideways and dump all of the seed on the ground. FEAST! A whole week’s worth of seed was gone in an hour.

Crows and their relatives, jays, are pretty damn smart.

I have tied a knot in the wire that holds the lid on the feeder, so I hope that will keep the jays from dumping the seed a second time – yesterday it seemed to work. For now.

About a week after we installed the feeder and the smaller songbirds discovered it, I started hearing the mischievous, lilting notes of my favourite songbird: the northern shrike. The shrike is following the migrating songbirds up the coast, and he is eating them. The shrike kills and eats other songbirds by knocking them into trees, windows or barbed-wire fences. He then hangs the carcass in a thorny bush and eats it over a few days, or shows it off to a female. Female shrikes are attracted to bad-ass songbirds.

I wonder if our feeder will supply a steady source of food not just for the migrating songbirds, but also for the shrike. It’s like having an African dessert watering hole right outside my kitchen window. Limited resources attracts the prey, and also the predators.

I’m such a fan of predators. It’s difficult to justify, you either love them or you don’t. Why would my favourite songbird be the ONLY ONE who eats the other birds? I wonder how this little species evolved into an almost-cannibal. Did it find birds who accidentally knocked themselves out on trees and decide to take a nibble? At what point did this species start to actively cause fatal in-flight accidents? How does an insect-eating song bird evolve into a killer? Even crows and ravens who LOVE to eat dead animals haven’t actively started hunting to kill. They’ll hang out the juncture of wildlife corridors and highways waiting for some poor animal to bite asphalt, and I wouldn’t be surprised if an crow or raven baited a high-traffic trap with seeds and berries, to increase the possibility of a casualty. But I’ve never seen, nor heard of a crow or raven displaying full-on predatory behaviour. And THEY would be pretty unstoppable.

It’s all very interesting.

I love that the deer come into our yard.

There are no deer in Tofino for some reason. Maybe the wolves get them, maybe the town is too densely populated, too busy and too loud for a sensitive deer. There is certainly more than enough food for them. The golf course seems to be the bottle-neck in the deer migration, and deer are seldom seen north of Long Beach.

In Ucluelet, the deer are everywhere. There is a doe with two fauns who wander through our yard every day or two. One morning she hung out in our back yard for hours.

The trouble with the deer is they attract cougars. This is one of the many reasons my cat Sunshine will is becoming an indoor cat once again.

Sunshine is doing pretty well on her medication. She has regained some weight and muscle tone, and doesn’t howl at night anymore. She isn’t completely on board with becoming an indoor-only cat again, but it’s truly necessary in our new house. Not only is there the greater predator risk in Ucluelet, there are *two* badass male cats who consider our back yard their territory, and Sunshine sustained an injury in the past from a similar tom-next-door in our first place in Ucluelet. She wasn’t badly hurt, but the resulting abscess required a vet visit and thrice-daily washings of her hind-end, which was not fun for either of us.

On top of the cougars and the domestic cats, the house’s previous occupant had a cat that was savaged by an off-leash dog who jumped the fence to get at the cat in their back yard – right in front of the family! The poor girl almost died and required surgery to put her belly back together. So Sunshine will stay inside, even when we’re home, because these injuries can happen in an instant.

The final straw on the indoor-cat debate happened just a week before we moved. Some anonymous neighbour called the SPCA because she observed Sunshine sitting outside for several weeks. She left me a condescending note saying that I was obviously neglecting my cat, and if I didn’t want her I should give her a chance to be loved by someone else. This neighbour had taken it upon herself to FEED Sunshine and included in her note a lecture about feeding “high-quality, high-protein food”. It’s possible she noticed Sunshine is a bit skinny, due to her illness.

God bless the animal rescue folks, but sometimes they can be incredibly judgmental, even of each other. Sometimes people want to see a neglected animal instead of talking to the human. I was relieved I’d gone with the supplement plan of treating Sunshine’s hyperthyroidism because if I’d gone the iodine-deficient diet approach, this person would have undermined Sunshine’s whole treatment and made her sicker. Animal lovers, just talk to the people, or leave a respectful, curious note. I wouldn’t have been upset if there was a note asking if she was okay, or if we needed help caring for her.

I am just super-grateful that this person didn’t decide to “rescue” Sunshine by kidnapping her. The whole incident was really invasive and scary. Thus, Sunshine will remain inside where she is safe from predators and other people.

Sunshine doesn’t see it that way, though. As far as she was concerned, she *loved* getting fed outside! She adores attention and pets from strangers. Strangers with food? AWESOME!

We just have to keep explaining to her that our new yard is dangerous. A cat was nearly killed by a dog outside. The big male cats will fight with her. Sunshine has adjusted to being an indoor cat in the past, she’ll get used to it again.

Besides, there is so much space and sunlight in our new house!

I am slowly acquiring houseplants and unpacking boxes. Settling in, and listening to songbirds.

7 thoughts on “Our house and cannibal songbirds

  1. I’m glad things are going well and that you’re getting settled in. Change always takes some shifting and adjusting, like breaking in new shoes. I’ve been really aware of birds this spring for some reason, matching their song to what sort of bird they are and recognizing their calls, which is not anything I’ve ever done in the past! So I enjoyed the “bird talk.” 🙂
    How surprised you must have been when you received that note about Sunshine! I see so many scenarios as a petsitter where people are almost embarrassed about how their pet looks because of a condition or illness, or their feeding/care habits. I’ve learned to assume nothing and all pets, no matter how well fed, enjoy making rounds to get treats and food from neighbors.
    Congrats on your new digs!


    • Thanks, Sara. It is like wearing in new shoes. Car got a flat this weekend and garage isn’t open in weekends – so I was reminded I should have had an emergency tire inflater with me. Still learning / remembering


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