Rare Breed: Baby birds are a feast for this cat’s eyes—not his mouth

WASHINGTON—This spring, it became his early morning ritual.

After downing some kibble, he would pad purposefully to the first-floor bathroom and jump to the tiny sink. There, he would pivot and leap three feet—landing daintily on all four paws on the sill of the open south-facing window.

He would hunker his 20-pounds of striped orangeness into a box shape, position his nose an inch from the screen—and stare—sometimes emitting that strange guttural sound that cats make when they spot a species that might be a meal under different circumstances.

In May, a pair of mourning doves—the plaintive coo-coo-cooers—of urban environs had built a nest atop the curved metal trellis over the gate in the back yard. The mates must have figured the sprawl of twirling grape vines had created the perfect hiding spot for raising young.

And, for the most part, it was. They just didn’t anticipate that a giant pumpkin-colored sentinel would be lurking a mere three feet away. But the mesh of the screen must have seemed like kryptonite to them because the female evidently felt comfortable enough to lay two eggs.

With mourning doves, nest is a term used loosely. They’ve been known to deliver their young in rain gutters and other oddball sites, usually cobbling together a rickety crib from bits of leaves, sticks and grasses. They leave all of that intricate weaving and careful creation to their winged cousins.

Jack O. Lantern, the feline with the prying amber eyes, watched daily as the male and the female shared incubating duties. But he seemed astounded one day when the silent eggs had morphed into two grayish brown balls of fluff peeping for food. Despite deluges of rain, their makeshift abode remained strong.

Jack watches his latest bird show from a screened bathroom window.

Through early June, Jack would sit, riveted as the parents caused a squawking commotion each time they returned with food for the growing babies.

On Sunday, June 10, Jack bounded into his usual window spot, fully expecting to watch the latest episode of his great outdoors documentary.

But nobody was home.

That was the morning mother mourning dove decided her babies should fledge. The youngsters fly-hopped down the trellis, and, bonk, landed on the soft grass. Then they shuffled to one of the brick steps directly below their nest and huddled together, impatiently awaiting their mother’s mouthfuls of morsels.

Fueled, they spread their wings. To the clothesline pole. The tomato cage. The fence. The top of the neighbor’s shed. Up and away, into the eco-neighborhood.

Jack’s favorite bird program might be over for the season. But the grapes will ripen soon. And the cardinals, robins, blue jays and yes, the squirrels, will be lining up to fill their bellies with fruit.

In the meantime, the window remains open. And, for the observant, the nature show continues.

Elizabeth McGowan

Elizabeth H. McGowan is a Washington, D.C.-based, award-winning energy and environment reporter. As a staff writer for InsideClimate News, her groundbreaking dispatches from Kalamazoo, Mich., “The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You Never Heard Of” won a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. An e-book version of the narrative won the Rachel Carson Book Award from the Society of Environmental Journalists. Elizabeth, who started her career at daily newspapers in Vermont and Wisconsin, has served as a Washington correspondent for Crain Communications, Penton Media, and most recently, Energy Intelligence. Her freelance news reports and features have also appeared in E/The Environmental Magazine; Washingtonian magazine; Intelligent Utility magazine; Outdoor America (magazine of the Izaak Walton League); the journal Appalachia; Capital Community News; the Gulf of Maine Times; Mizzou, the alumni magazine for the University of Missouri; Lore, the magazine of the Milwaukee Public Museum; and Nature Conservancy magazine Elizabeth’s latest reporting venture is Renewal News, a start-up that explores the intersection of nature, labor and energy. The idea is to tell stories about how U.S. communities are evolving as climate change forces all sectors to re-examine their relationship with a fossil-fuel dominant economy.

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