The one and the many

whitecrownbackThe birds of summer are arriving, some with dazzling singularity: a white-crowned sparrow perches on a fence picket; a shimmering broad-tailed hummingbird hovers at the sugar water. A suet cake proffered against the damp spring cold lures a black-headed grosbeak and — in a rare and fiery blaze of color — a western tanager.

Other birds appear in large groups. I glance out the window and see a dozen pine siskens splashing in the bird bath. The same gregarious gaggle swarms the feeders, devouring thistle and sunflower chips.

Nature is a numbers game that anticipates high mortality, and by summer’s end, many of these lovely little lives will be over.  Most wild birds don’t survive their precarious first year:  Two weeks ago, with the mating season barely underway,  I found a dead nestling in my back yard, apparently fallen from safety and transported by a wild predator.  spotbird

But natural deaths pale in comparison to those caused by humans.  Window strikes kill up to 988 million birds annually in the United States alone.  I use bird tape on my large windows, but occasionally a bird will strike a smaller, untaped pane and sit stunned for long minutes while my chittering cats watch intently from inside.

Outdoor cats, of course, are the biggest bird-killers, accounting for up to 3.7 billion deaths a year in the United States.  My cats wear bibs on their collars when they venture out; the bibs are effective, if not foolproof, at saving avian lives.

The magnitude of death is staggering, the loss immeasurable:  Every day, thousands of these elegant, acrobatic creatures gone forever.  And yet each species continues with a pure and  pulsing equanimity,  threading past to future with the songs of its kind, and a wild beauty that graces our lives each moment:


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  1. Kathryn · · Reply

    Hey Cate! Love all the spring birds! Just an FYI-no ruby throats here Broad tailed!!


    1. Thank you for writing and for the gentle correction. We had ruby-throated in the U.P, but not here. I can at least report with certainty, though, that my robins (“Constancy”) have four little ones now. 🙂


  2. I once held a woodcock in my hands immediately after it had broken it’s neck flying into a window of the biology building where I was attending college. It took its last breaths while I held it, crying. The irony that the place where we learned about the natural world, was inadvertently killing birds was terrible. 988 million such window deaths per year! Death by human illusion.

    Thank you for the reminder to step out of our own illusions, and to actively take precautions to do no harm. Window tape and indoor cats are small efforts, that ensure we will continue to be blessed with bird song. Yeah Song Birds!


    1. You’re welcome! I’m so glad you share my concern; I hope many others do, too, and will do their part to prevent these senseless deaths. Thank you for reading and commenting!


  3. cats can be so evil sometimes


    1. The cats are behaving from instinct; the fault lies with owners who let their cats out without noisy bells, bibs and/or some other effective deterrent to catching birds.


  4. We keep our cat indoors. The window is an elegant reality show of birds and squirrels, a chipmunk and a raccoon.


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