A Varied Thrush could be heard softly calling from an alder tree in Seattle’s Schmitz Preserve this afternoon. The bird was very animated, hopping from branch to branch, looking in all different directions and alternating between robin-like chatter and a call that sounded like a truncated version of the species’ airy, single-note mating call. As I stood below the bird I was struck by how much this one individual’s voice added to the life of the forest. Moments before, I could hear branches and dried leaves rustling in the wind, and the trickle of a nearby stream, but the thrush’s contribution added a new dimension to what had already been a beautiful chorus. His voice would have been music to my ears no matter the circumstances surrounding our meeting, but my emotional response to his calls was heightened by my awareness of just how close he had come to being silenced forever.
The thrush that was calling above me was one of the tens, if not hundreds of millions of songbirds that are attacked by free roaming house cats in our country every year. When I first met him, his body was riddled with scratches and puncture wounds. Some of his feathers were disheveled and/or broken while others were simply missing. He was a mess, but he was one of the lucky ones. He survived the attack. He received treatment for his wounds, and antibiotics to stave off infection. He was kept in a protected environment while he healed and grew in new feathers. When he was strong again, and ready, I returned him to his home. He got a second chance that millions of wild animals that encounter outdoor house cats never get.
And to be clear, the cats are in no way to blame for the loss of these wild animals. The blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the humans that allow their pets to roam free, or that turn a blind eye when they encounter stray or feral cats in the world at large. The cats are as much victims as the wildlife, often dying prematurely from accidents or disease, or becoming prey to predators larger and more capable than themselves.
As I stood in the forest and listened to the thrush’s beautiful voice, I wondered how many other voices within the range of my hearing had been silenced forever by free-roaming cats. In the same moment I wondered how many neglected or abandoned cats were suffering nearby. As I walked out of the park I reaffirmed my commitment to doing everything within my power to speak up for all of the victims in this scenario, and to keep helping the individual animals I encounter in my everyday life. If you are reading this, I sincerely hope you will do the same.