Ever since a neighbor gave us a large pussy willow wreath some years ago, we have hung it on our front door each April to remind us that the exasperatingly halting pace of Maine’s northern spring will one day bring forth new growth. The wreath is a large but delicate piece, and no one in the household is allowed to handle it because its spiky sprigs, radiating outward in a splendid whorl amid a dappling of soft and furry light gray buds, might be injured by an indelicate hand or incautious body.
Which is why the mistress of our domain grew exceedingly irritated after finding a handful of willow sprigs on the front door porch three days in a row last week, victims apparently of errant shoulders brushing cluelessly by. Since she shares this domain with only one other full-time resident, suspicion fell on the house gardener and naturalist, who is normally only in charge of the annual battle against bishop’s weed come spring and is supposed to enter and exit the house through the side, mud-door entrance.
After sweeping up the twigs from a careless passer-by for a third time in as many days, the mistress was about to file formal charges, when she was arrested by the glint off a single dark circle within the sea of dappled gray upon the door. As she leaned into the wreath, a startled mourning dove burst out, and she saw a single tiny egg. It is amazing how quickly homicidal thoughts give way to tender maternal urges when small, feathered creatures reveal themselves.
But what to do?
After criss-crossing brightly colored strands of twine across the house entrance with a sign warning away UPS and other errant delivery men, the immediate crisis had passed. The residents settled back in satisfaction at the thought of spending the rest of the spring and early summer in a grand-parental mode while watching nature take her course.
But there was an immediate complication. It is not clear whether the soft gray pussy willows had first prompted a visit to the local animal shelter a few days earlier. We will simply report that the household, which had been cat-less for the only time during the past 14 years of domestic harmony, was not complete without the morning companionship of a purring creature to help the mistress greet the day. And two little gray-black, dappled and striped tiger kittens later, the household was again complete.
The cloud, of course, across the sunny heavens of this scene is the matter of nature’s exquisite timing. After an Internet search and some quick arithmetic, the household naturalist determined that the pair of mourning doves on the front porch, which apparently mate for life, incubate their eggs for 12 to 14 days and then feed their young for another 14 to 16 days before they fledge. And in that period of time, the eight-week-old kittens would develop the ability to launch themselves four feet into the air to intercept the dovelets.
Thus, the kittens must be imprisoned inside the house in order to prevent a murder.
Which then led the naturalist to wonder just how many birds are consumed each year by domestic cats, as opposed to, say, those that die in collisions with wind turbines, which has been a source of national controversy. Again, the internet offers a trove of information, including apparently reliable sources such as the Journal of Ornithology, as reported in The New York Times that reported wind turbines, which have sprung up like mushrooms after a rain across rural America, apparently kill an estimated 440,000 birds per year.
And according to the American Wind Energy Association, there were 46,100 grid-scale wind turbines operating at the end of 2012, which suggests an average of 10 birds per year are killed by each wind turbine.
This sounds like a lot of dead birds, but then the naturalist was stunned to learn that an estimated 114 million cats in the United States kill between 1 and 3 billion birds per year, or an average of nine birds per cat. Now if we assume that feral cats kill twice as many birds per year (18) as a domestic cat, which don’t actually have to hunt, we have stumbled upon a wonderful, PETA-friendly, pet-proof and environmentally-conscious mitigation strategy for the wind industry.
If wind companies were to round up half as many feral cats as turbines they were proposing to erect — for example, 15 feral cats per 30-turbine array — and established a shelter for them where these creatures could be fed cat chow for the remainder of their natural lives, we would have mitigated the wind turbine-bird collision public policy controversy, and we could all live happily ever after.
As you ponder the wisdom of this strategy, the naturalist will continue his observations and file a report after the doves have fledged, and the kittens have been released on parole.