Thursday, June 11, 2009


My wife bellowed, then shot past the window, accelerating so fast that she assumed a reddish tint. I followed her out, and found her standing in front of the gate which guards our neighbour's yard, faced off against our very angry cat. Behind the gate, a very frightened juvenile starling huddled against a wall, shivering. No wonder: apart from being soaked in cat saliva, each and every tail-feather had been extracted from a now-naked behind.

Manouevering carefully to keep myself between the bird and any effective cover, I raced to catch it, expecting at any moment to be overtaken by the assassin (now using the cover of a high wall, to attempt a flanking manoeuvre). The little starling hopped and fluttered away from me for a few yards, then became hopelessly entangled in a dwarf pine - ouch! Seconds later, it was secured (in a former cat-carrier, the one we used for our cat (Sox) until he developed the muscle to simply shoulder his way through the door).


Google got me some key bird facts: starlings need lots of protein, and birds generally tail-feathers regrow in 4-6 weeks, their loss being a common defensive mechanism. I read that minus tail-feathers, flight should still possible (which made sense - not much survival value in sacrificing a tail if you have to walk away afterwards). Excellent news.


Our violently shivering little patient enjoyed a couple of hours resting and warming up in protective custody (our shed); fortunately for its peace of mind, it couldn't see our rascally cat as he tried, in succession, to tunnel through shed floor, to pry the doors open, to deglaze the windows. The would-be murderer was preparing to peel back the roof when I removed the patient to my car, and took off at speed, braking hard once or twice to shake any furry fiends from the undercarriage, and following up with a few hand-brake turns, just in case he was pursuing in another vehicle.

In a quiet lay-by between a small river and some exceptionally beautiful parkland, I put the cat box on the ground and opened the door for a flight test. With no homes close by, I could assume there weren't too many lurking housecats, and with plenty of bare ground, a flightless bird could easily be recaptured, while a flying one could soon reach good cover and good hunting. There was a momentary pause: then, with an explosion of beating wings, the patient shot from the box, and made an almost immediate lift off, climbing in a straight and steady line to a perch in a nearby a tree. The thrill of flight was amazing, as if I had taken to the air myself. I stayed a minute at the tree-lined river bank, enjoying the golden light of early sunset on the mass fresh green foliage and the warmth of a June evening; and then I drove home, to be sulked at by my rascally cat.

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