This past spring, my parents made the incredible trek from Mexico all the way to Maine, avoiding bad weather, predation, cars, pesticides, windows, disappearing habitat, and so many other obstacles. They were returning to the spot where they had my siblings last year, which had a perfect blend of access to pollinating flowers and shrubs to raise babies
in safety. But this year, that area was under construction, so they had to quickly find a new spot, out competing other birds and ensuring it had all the right resources for me. My Mom, who happens to be a great builder, made a delicate but sturdy nest the size of a thimble, woven intricately with thistle, dandelion, spider webs and pine resin. The nest took
almost two weeks to make, she was so careful and particular. She then laid 2 perfect eggs, and incubated us for another two weeks, all the while pollinating the plants and flowers in the new yard, avoiding hawks and even blue jays, chipmunks and snakes.
Then we were born! My sister and I hatched out of our eggs and we were so helpless. Our eyes were closed, we had no feathers and we were was so hungry! Thankfully, my Mom was there and she would came back and forth to the nest 60-80 times a day making sure our bellies were full. After 3 more weeks, we were getting so restless and wanted to fly! I
needed some time to build up my flight muscles and learn how to get around like an adult, but I knew my Mom was there to protect me. The day I left I was so clumsy, and confused, but gaining confidence and ability. Then, out of nowhere, my Mom started swooping, overhead , making a weird call. She was trying to protect me from a predator, eek!
This predator was different though, it seemed to have boundless energy, and wanted to play with me. I got hit over and over by large paws and sharp claws. Ouch, they felt like pin pricks and my wing feathers were not quite long enough for me to fly away and protect myself!
The last thing I remember is being picked up and put in a box. I was brought to the Center for Wildlife, and they let my rescuer know I had been caught by a domestic cat. Because of this domestic cat's play, I have punctures over my body which need to be cleaned and I need to take medicine because the bacteria in a cat’s mouth is toxic. They said domestic
cats are different from regular predators, because they get fed at home, so they have endless energy to hunt for play, and they don’t stop hunting once they’ve caught something. They’ve cleaned up my wounds, and feed me every half an hour to help me continue developing. This morning I was even brought fresh flowers and I’m back to practicing my
coordination of hovering and aiming my long bill and tongue through the flowers to get to the nectar. I overheard them talking today that they are hopeful I can be released back to the wild, but are unsure if I can go back to my mother and my home because of the presence of outdoor cats.
This story is one that Center for Wildlife and wildlife caretakers across the country encounter far too often. It is hard as an animal and cat lover to believe that your beloved feline family member can kill and/or maim songbirds, small mammals, amphibians and snakes every day. But, in our 35 years of operation, at least 20,000 animals have been brought to us injured or orphaned due to domestic cats. And studies over decades have shown that outdoor and feral cats in the US kill 1-3 billion songbirds each year, and that doesn’t even include the numbers of small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. See, cats are different from other wild predators. If a red tailed hawk spends all day looking for prey, burning calories, soaring over a field, finally catching a mouse or a rabbit, they consume that animal and they are done hunting for the day. They are very careful with their energy spent to caloric intake because they never know where their next meal is coming from. It’s similar to how coyote tracks in the snow are an efficient straight line, while a domestic dog vivaciously meanders wherever they want, for fun, chasing scents, etc. with a full belly of dogfood and no energy expended to keep themselves warm. Domestic cats are known as subsidized predators, fed and sheltered and unfortunately with boundless energy to hunt and kill not for food, but for sport.
It’s certainly not their fault, its in their genetics! But, we as humans have the opportunity to help both cats AND animals like this sweet hummingbird. Indoor cats live an average of 5 years longer than their outdoor counterparts. And though cats are absolutely interested in feeling the sun on their faces and being outside just like dogs, there are ways to do this
mindfully and safely like we offer for our canine friends. We love the “catios” that people now build for their cats. These catios are screened enclosures that allow kitties to be outside, but remain safe from predators or becoming predatory themselves. It’s a win-win! And for wildlife that face so many introduced obstacles, they need as much help
winning as they can get.