I was doing my quarterly patrol of the backyard (a.k.a. yardwork) when I stumbled across the body. Startled, I froze in horror, staring at the unfortunate victim, dragged by the killer and hidden under a cassia bush. The desecrated corpse was on its back with its limbs splayed, empty eye sockets staring, the abdominal cavity a gaping cavern. There was no smell — so, the kill wasn’t fresh, but I gagged anyway. The hairs on my neck stood up as I backed away and retreated to the house. I informed the Houseguest that there’d been a murder and told her who I suspected of committing the crime. She rolled her eyes.
“You have no proof the cat was responsible. That bird could have simply died of old age or been sick.”
The Houseguest, I concluded, was either hopelessly naïve or in willful denial over this obvious felonious feline behavior. This bird was undoubtedly a victim of the neighbor’s nameless cat, a frequent interloper, whom I’ve dubbed the Shadow of Death. I should have known better than to take my suspicions to an infamous cat apologist. Let’s put it this way; if a ruthless terrorist were holding the neighbor’s cat and me at gunpoint and told the Houseguest that one or the other would die but the choice was hers, I’d be highly concerned about the potential outcome.
True, I had no evidence of the cat’s guilt other than the avian carcass. But there has been demonstrated intent to commit harm. Every week, I catch sight of the would-be serial killer lurking in my backyard, sometimes in the act of stalking the ground-feeding birds mobbed under my feeder for the seeds the picky lovebirds discard. I’ve caught it on the verge of pouncing and once even chasing the birds around. Typically, it sees me and runs away, though occasionally it hides in a bush, and I have to rattle the branches with a carefully aimed pebble to send it scampering for the wall. But over time, it’s grown bolder and sometimes will stand its ground, staring at me till the last second as I walk over before bolting for the safety of the wall.
The real guilty party — Guess who?
Naturally, the Houseguest blames the entire situation on me. According to her reasoning, if I were not feeding the birds, they wouldn’t be flocking to my yard, and predators wouldn’t be trying to murder them. As I noted in my last post, my yard has become quite the bird hotspot, which makes for lively birdwatching (the neighbor’s cat agrees, though it wants a more interactive, paws-on experience.) Despite domestication and a life of leisure, urban cats are still highly successful hunters — I recently read a webpage that said cats kill 27 million birds in the UK each year. But cats aren’t the only bloodthirsty hunters stopping by — I even had a pair of large Harris’ Hawks land right outside the window of Nerd Central one day while I was working. It was such a startling event that I grabbed my phone to snap some photos, but the hawks flapped up to the wall, spoiling my shot, and my window screen made the pics blurry anyway.
All hail the Uber Cat
Until I put up the bird feeder, I had no problem with the cat stopping by to visit. I had observed it peeking in through the patio door a few times, and another day I found it boldly sunning itself on one of my flagstones. The Houseguest thought it liked the wildness of my humongous yard (It’s big — nowadays they’d probably build two more houses on it), but I was convinced the real reason for the gray and white cat’s visits was because it was obsessed with me. Of course, the Houseguest rolls her eyes at this theory, but we’ve known each other for about 18 years, and much to her chagrin, despite her being a fanatical cat-lover, felines find me far more fascinating than her. *She coos and fawns over them, trying to coax them into petting range, talking to them in a baby voice, but I ignore them — which makes me far more mysterious and alluring. When the Houseguest was roommates with her friend, Gavin, many years ago, he was watching his other friend Laura’s cat, Murray, while she studied lions in South Africa. The Houseguest doted over Murray. But Murray was besotted with me. My theory is that cats are fascinated by my haughty treatment of them. Let’s face it — as cute as they are — cats are demanding snobs. Hence, they see in me as one of their own, a large two-legged Uber Cat that won’t give them the time of day. And they can respect that.
*The Houseguest believes that I’ve mischaracterized her relationship with cats and that they do, in fact, respond to her. Fair point, but let’s face it — I’m still the main attraction.
A history of violence
Anyway, with the increase in predators, it was only a matter of time before there would be bloodshed. However, this wasn’t the first case of animal savagery on my property. Several years before the arrival of this cat, I had several suburban-dwelling jackrabbits that liked to squeeze into my backyard through a gap in the wall and hang out. I don’t keep a manicured yard, so wildlife loves it. Then one morning, I came out to find a murdered rabbit, most likely done in by a cat since an owl or hawk would have eaten most of it. The night before, I’d heard a commotion and been startled by a weird, horrifying scream, presumably the poor rabbit meeting its end. The main suspect was a different grey cat that I used to see around. The rabbit smelled awful, and I’m pretty squeamish about dead things, so it took me a couple of hours to get around to cleaning up the crime scene. Dry retching the whole time, I finally used a shovel to scoop up the poor jackrabbit at arm’s length, gently tip it into a plastic garbage bag, and deposit it into the trash. Afterwards, the rabbits stopped visiting, which bummed me out, but I couldn’t blame them.
The way of things
So, my attempts at discouraging the cat’s hunting sessions have failed. Of course, the Houseguest isn’t helping. Every time she sees the cat, she starts trying to make friends with it, though unsuccessfully. As unhelpful as ever, the guys I hang out with have offered various useless suggestions, including that I mark my territory. Besides the fact that I’m confident I’m missing the required scent glands, I also think the neighbors would object to me perching on a step ladder and peeing along the top of the wall. My infrequent interactions with them are already awkward enough — and I don’t want to be arrested.
There was a close call the other day. I looked out the window just in time to see the Shadow of Death just as it started its charge, so I banged on my patio door. It stopped in its tracks as the birds flapped away. I went outside. I could hear the lovebirds scolding us from the tree. Overly bold, the cat stood its ground — until I walked over. Finally, it lost its nerve and dashed for the wall. But instead of a graceful leap, it stopped at the tall cinderblock wall, looked up, tensed, paused, looked up again like it was calculating, paused, and then leaped. Its claws found purchase at the top of the cinder block wall, and the cat dangled there pathetically at full stretch, it’s back feet scrabbling futilely for purchase. I felt sorry for it as it struggled ungracefully to hoist itself up, reminiscent of my gangly fourteen-year-old self trying in vain to do a pull-up in PE.
Slowly, it pulled itself to the top and sat there staring at me, as if daring me to question its dignity.
“Listen, cat,” I said. “I’ve got nothing against you. Can you just give it a rest and stop trying to eat the birds? Please.”
Just then, the lovebirds returned to the feeder and started squabbling. One bolshie bird decided it was dissatisfied with its location and nipped at the lovebird diagonally above it, which vacated the spot. Then the bully, almost as if it were mocking the cat and me by showing off its pull-up prowess, grabbed the plastic perch above with its beak and hauled itself effortlessly up to its new spot.
I looked at the cat.
“Okay, maybe you can eat that one.”
Update! We now have another suspect. Just as I was finishing this post up, the Houseguest let out an excited exclamation — there was a different cat in the backyard. Sure enough, when I looked out the window, a cat was skulking in the yard. When I went outside, a cloud of birds lifted off, the lovebirds scolding me from the tree. The cat was nowhere to be seen, so I walked back to the bushes along my back wall, and suddenly, a grey cat panicked and bolted, struggled to hoist himself up the wall. Unlike the other cat, which usually drops into another yard, this one started running along the wall. It went the entire length of my section of wall, then kept going along it, from house to house, to house till he was out of sight.
3 thoughts on “Murder in the Backyard”
I’m still laughing with this post! Love your attitude towards cats. That gray one in the last photo looks like a criminal.
And I realized, after listening to the lovebirds, that of course I’ve seen them before. I just had no idea they were called lovebirds.
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Yes, I had always heard of lovebirds over the years, I just had no idea what they looked like until a few years ago.
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I’m sure I’ve seen them in pet shops. And some time ago we came across a colony of them in the woods nearby, which was a very nice surprise. They had probably either escaped cages or set free by owners who lost interest in them. I haven’t seen them since, but hope they are well.
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