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An open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond

Songbird habitat program: thank pheasants

‘Clean water deal aids birds.’


That was the headline Wednesday, Oct. 12, on the outdoors page of the StarTribune. In this case, ‘birds’ referred to pheasants, game birds. 


As explained in the story’s opening, “Minnesota has tentative agreement with the federal government to fund a massive clean water conservation program that will double as the centerpiece of the state’s pheasant plan.”


The intent of the plan, of course, is to have more pheasants. You might think this is strictly a hunting issue. No, no, no.


Grasslands, pheasants or not, are nesting home to dozens of non-game birds — songbirds, shorebirds, raptors. 


Meadowlarks, several species of sparrow, Bobolinks, godwits, phalaropes, and other bird species use grasslands, particularly those adjacent to water, like wetlands. Raptors hunt over grasslands for the small mammals that also call that habitat home.


It’s intent is to diminish farm runoff that pollutes surrounding lands. This is done “by planting grasses, restoring lost wetlands, and surrounding streams, rivers, and lake with vegetative bufffers.


The story quotes a DNR source as saying the proposal is “huge.” It is, for anyone who loves birds of any feather.


We need more grasslands. Hunters have clout that birders do not. I don't think we're going to see the governer and secretary of agriculture signing off on such a project aimed strictly at songbirds. If providing more sport for hunters is how it gets done, that’s fine with me. Do it. Do it again.


Incidentally, Pheasants Forever is one of the game associations to which I belong. It has my membership because it is habitat oriented. Hunters are our allies.

This hen pheasant uses grassland for protective cover and nesting. Songbirds do the same.

Oct. 16 is National Feral Cat Day (really)

Selected passages from the new book “Cat Wars” by Peter P. Marra and Chris Santella, Princeton University Press, 2016, hardcover, illustrated, 212 pages with index, $24.95. Marra is the director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. This is a most interesting and very well done book. I recommend it.



Cats are animals with fascinating and alluring personalities, but they can be destructive to native wildlife. Wild birds and mammals, however, also have rights that do not seem to receive as much attention as the claimed rights of cats to wander freely outdoors.


Domestic cats have been in North America for at least 500 years, if not longer, and their spread, through both unintentional and intentional actions of humans, earns them the status as one of the most successful invasive species on earth.


To be considered an invasive species, the plant or animal, whose movement is assisted by humans, must be nonnative to a particular location and to spread like wildfire there, causing ecological damage to native species and the habitats they occupy.


There are more cat owners in America now than at any time in history. But far fewer people, it seems, can summon affection for both cats and wildlife — and empathy for those they perceive to be on the “other side.” As each side has swelled in numbers, the stage has been set for “bird people” and “cat people” to square off, forgetting, perhaps, that they are all animal lovers in the first place.


Globally, there are 40 native cat species in the family Felidae, indigenous to all continents except Australia and Antarctica. Most familiar are the large cats — Lion, Cheetah, Leopard, Jaguar, Snow Leopard, Cougar, and Tiger. The remaining species, all smaller, are the African Golden Cat, Andean Mountain Cat, Chinese Mountain Cat, Asian Golden Cat, Bay Cat, Bobcat, Black-footed Cat, Canada Lynx, Caracal, Clouded Leopard, Eurasian Lynx, Fishing Cat, Flat-headed Cat, Geoffrey’s Cat, Kodkod, Jaguarundi, Jungle Cat, Iberian Lynx, Leopard Cat, Marbled Cat, Margay, Pallas’ Cat, Pampas Cat, Ocelot, Rusty-spotted Cat, Sand Cat, Serval, Iriomote Cat, Oncilla, Colocolo, Pantanal Cat, and the Wildcat, the progenitor of the newest and most controversial species of feline — the Domestic Cat.


A female cat can produce a litter of as many as eight kittens. The average number of kittens in each litter is four to six. The female can be impregnated again within days of giving birth. Cats average three litters a year. Kittens can come into estrus as early as four months after birth.


Cats do not always kill out of hunger. They seem to be stimulated by the chase, and if not hungry will still kill.


===== My note:


Feral cats are animals that have been abandoned by their owners, or are runaways, consequently allowed to hunt and and breed uncontrolled. Cats make wonderful pets as long as they are kept indoors, always.

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