Beware the wrath of the birding legions!

A Snowy Owl at Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Montana, safe from murderous bureaucrats and and Silver-bellied Gashawks.

A Snowy Owl at Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Montana,
safe from murderous bureaucrats and and Silver-bellied Gashawks.
CC image courtesy of USFWS Mountain-Prairie on Flickr.

(Title borrowed from a column by the late, great Molly Ivins.)

On Monday morning, the New York Daily News broke a story about the Port Authority killing Snowy Owls at airports in New York City. Follow-up articles contrasted trigger-happy NYC with the more responsible and humane policies of Boston’s Logan Airport (a famous location for wintering Snowy Owls). The story quickly spread via Facebook, prompting a petition and phone campaign to stop the carnage (three owls had already been shotgunned by the PA’s euphemistically named “wildlife specialists” after five others struck planes).

Usually such efforts take days, weeks, or months to bear fruit, and some never do, but by Monday evening the PA had come around and agreed to stop slaughtering the owls and cooperate with trapping and relocation. The outrage from the public, including the birding community, was so swift and so fierce that it overcame bureaucratic inertia.

Every day on social media we see calls to action in support of one good cause or another or against the latest outrage. It’s good to know that raising our voices and signing our names can make a difference.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  — Margaret Mead

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Bad news about free-roaming cats

Lucky Wilbury, our most recent shelter cat, lounging on the cat throne. We have no intention of allowing Lucky outdoors off leash, as much for his protection as for the wildlife. Our previous cat, Bart, snuck out the door one night when the coyotes were howling and Great Horned Owls hooting. He was never seen again. We feel like we let him down and only hope that he met a quick, merciful end, not like the weeks, months, or years of suffering endured by most stray and feral cats.

There’s been a recent flurry of bad news about free-roaming cats, which is timely considering a recent visit to the comments section of one LB&E post by an incipient cat hoarder. His last comment was so out of touch with reality that I did him a favor by declining to publish it. That’s tragically typical of the breed, but I hold a polyanna-ish confidence in the power of facts to overcome the disinformation thrown around by obsessive cat defenders (OCDs).

Oregon Plague: Woman Contracted Disease From Cat

Thought theBlack Death” was history? Think again. These days, plague is usually contracted from the bites of fleas in and around rodent colonies, but cats and dogs that eat infected rodents can contract and transmit the disease and/or bring home infected fleas to their human families. (Warning: The article is headed by a grisly photo of the original victim’s blackened hand.)

Rabies threat prompts town to trap feral cats

A kitten adopted from a TNR program tests positive for rabies:

The kitten was friendly and domesticated, according to the family that adopted it. Because of its demeanor, police aren’t sure that the kitten was part of the feral colony – there is a chance it was abandoned in the park. [emphasis mine]

One big reason that TNR is such a failure at reducing, much less eliminating, feral cat colonies is that the conspicuous presence of “managed” colonies in public places tends to attract people looking for places to dump unwanted pets. Inadequate commitment to vaccinating all cats in a colony at recommended intervals to prevent outbreaks of rabies, feline immunodeficiency virus, feline leukemia virus, etc. makes it a public health failure, too.

Study Finds Free-Roaming Cats Pose Threat from “Serious Public Health Diseases”

This press release from the American Bird Conservancy reports on an important new paper published in the journal Zoonoses and Public Health: “Zoonotic Diseases Associated with Free-Roaming Cats,” by R.W. Gerhold and D.A. Jessup (2012). The study reviewed the various diseases that infect free-roaming cats and the implications for public health of trying to manage feral cat populations via TNR. Three significant findings related to the second story above:

  • Free-roaming cats are disproportionately responsible for exposing humans to rabies.
  • Cat colonies “managed” by TNR attract unneutered, unvaccinated cats and increase their survivorship and reproductive success, leading to increases in colony size and potential for disease transmission.
  • Feeding stations for feral cats attract wildlife such as raccoons, skunks, and foxes that may transmit rabies and other diseases to the cats and/or carry feline diseases into the wild. (Wild predators that prey on free-roaming cats are also vulnerable to their diseases and parasites; strains of feline leukemia virus that have killed critically endangered Florida Panthers have been linked to domestic cats.)

An even more insidious public health menace related to free-roaming cats is toxoplasmosis. The organism that causes this disease can infect many animals, but cats are the only ones that pass the parasite’s infective oocysts in their feces. A cat may only shed oocysts for a couple of weeks early in the infection, but they can persist in contaminated soil—garden beds, children’s sand boxes—for years. Authors Gerhold and Jessup cited a 2011 study that found that 63 percent of the patients with acute toxoplasmosis had become infected through contact with cat feces.

One more cat item that relates to the “kitty-cam” study in Georgia:

Opinions from the Front Lines of Cat Colony Management Conflict

The authors conducted a survey of opinions about feral cats and their management with cat colony caretakers (CCCs) and bird conservation professionals (BCPs) across the United States. Naturally, they found strong polarization between the two groups (even though substantial portions of both described themselves as both cat- and bird-people), and they also documented how poorly informed/in denial CCCs were about the impacts of free-roaming cats on wildlife and public health. Even among the BCPs, awareness of feral cat issues was lower among respondents who lacked college degrees, so there’s a need for outreach and education even within the bird conservation community.

The authors suggest:

To the extent the beliefs held by CCCs are rooted in lack of knowledge and mistrust, rather than denial of directly observable phenomenon, the conservation community can manage these conflicts more productively by bringing CCCs into the process of defining data collection methods, defining study/management locations, and identifying common goals related to caring for animals… Our findings suggest that when such collaborative measures are not logistically possible, CCCs may be more likely to accept scientific results framed in terms of directly observable phenomenon (e.g., feral cats kill wild animals) rather than indirectly observable phenomenon (e.g., feral cats contribute to global declines among songbird populations). For instance, most CCCs see direct evidence of cats killing wild animals and would find denying those experiences difficult without creating some degree of cognitive dissonance.

In discussion of the Georgia “kitty-cam” study, OCDs glommed onto the low number of documented kills by the pets in the study, even though a conservative extrapolation of the results suggests that free-roaming cats kill more than 2 billion animals per year. It seems obvious that feral cats, even those that are being fed, will hunt more than well-fed, part-time outdoor pets, but seeing might be believing. It’s time to put “kitty-cams” on feral cats in managed colonies so that CCCs and OCDs can see the carnage up close and personal.

“Kitty-cams” document lives of outdoor cats

Injured phoebe

An Eastern Phoebe with a mangled wing awaits death at the jaws of a pet cat.

The National Geographic Society and University of Georgia recently teamed up to apply “critter-cam” technology to understanding the lives of pet cats, documenting not only their predatory habits but the many hazards they face.

The team, led by Kerrie Anne Loyd of the University of Georgia, attached small video cameras to 60 outdoor house cats in the city of Athens, Georgia. The cats’ owners were recruited through newspaper ads and assisted the team by doing daily downloads of video from the cameras.

The most important findings were about cat predation. Loyd said:

In Athens-Clarke County, we found that about 30 percent of the sampled cats were successful in capturing and killing prey, and that those cats averaged about one kill for every 17 hours outdoors or 2.1 kills per week. It was also surprising to learn that cats only brought 23 percent of their kills back to a residence. We found that house cats will kill a wide variety of animals, including: lizards, voles, chipmunks, birds, frogs, and small snakes.

It’s no wonder so many cat owners are unaware that their pets ever kill wildlife. Even if they found every animal their cats brought home, they’d still miss more than three quarters of the death toll.

The cats in the study were outside for only 5 to 6 hours a day on average. It’s sobering to compare these well-fed pets to homeless/feral cats that are outdoors 24/7/365 and may hunt for survival as well as recreation.

Dr. George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy, found the project’s findings alarming:

If we extrapolate the results of this study across the country and include feral cats, we find that cats are likely killing more than 4 billion animals per year, including at least 500 million birds. Cat predation is one of the reasons why one in three American bird species are in decline.

Think about that: 4 billion animals, including at least a half billion birds, that die purely because of human irresponsibility.

The cameras also documented risky behavior that should alarm cat lovers: crossing roads, hiding under vehicles, climbing trees, exploring roofs and storm drains, confronting dogs, opossums, and other cats, and killing small mammals that are vectors for diseases such as toxoplasmosis and Lyme disease.

The National Geographic & University of Georgia Kitty Cams Project

American Bird Conservancy: “KittyCam” Reveals High Levels of Wildlife Being Killed by Outdoor Cats

American Bird Conservancy: Cats Indoors

Dear Etsy Legal Department…

I know your job is usually to ignore copyright and intellectual property infringements (except when it involves the IP of Disney and other powerful and highly litigious corporate entities), but could you please take a moment to ignore this probable violation of federal wildlife law?

This shop is selling items made with real bird skulls:

soultosoul19: Dead Birds & The Lost Key

Though the skulls are not identified by the seller, they are obviously not from common domesticated birds such as poultry or pigeons, ornamental gamebirds such as pheasants or peafowl, or common cage birds such as parrots or finches. They appear to be from wading birds and seabirds and were most likely salvaged from nature. Since the seller is in the United States, it is almost certain that the skulls belong to species that are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The Act states the following (in part):

“…it shall be unlawful at any time, by any means or in any manner, to… possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, cause to be shipped, deliver for transportation, transport, cause to be transported, carry, or cause to be carried by any means whatever, receive for shipment, transportation or carriage, or export, at any time, or in any manner, any migratory bird, included in the terms of this Convention . . . for the protection of migratory birds . . . or any part, nest, or egg of any such bird.” (16 U.S.C. 703)

If these items are in violation of the MBTA, their sale, purchase, and shipment are also violations of the Lacey Act.

If these skulls do not belong to native birds covered under the Act and were legally acquired and legal to resell, there should be a statement to that effect in the description of each item and some documentation to back it up. If not… well, I’m not a lawyer, but I’m sure you’ve got the resources to figure out the exact legal ramifications for the company.

Regards,

Sheri L. Williamson

cc: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Etsy’s boilerplate non-response:

Case #: 38410
Jason Seger
JUL 16, 2012  |  07:26PM UTC
Sheri -Thanks so much for contacting Etsy. As you may know, by using the site, each person agrees to comply with Etsy’s policies and with applicable laws. Also, Etsy is a venue which is comprised of third-party or user generated content. Etsy is not a juried site.Thanks so much for sending this link to Etsy. If you have questions about a certain seller’s material, you may choose to respectfully contact that person with an inquiry.

Etsy complies with our policies and we remove material when we are notified by proper authorities and have reason to believe that the material is not in compliance with Etsy’s policies.

Jason
Etsy Legal Support

Update: As of September 20, the store is still online but is now empty.

Does that mean that:

  • the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service stepped in?
  • Etsy decided, without direct prompting from federal officers, to enforce its own rules?
  • all the illegal items sold, and “soultosoul19” needs to scavenge more bird carcasses off the beach to restock his/her shop?

The last option seems unlikely, as Etsy shop pages usually list the numbers of sales, but the fact that the shop is still on line is troubling. I’ll be keeping an eye on it just in case.

HOAX: Gum does NOT kill birds

BOGUS: Gum does not kill birds

This blatantly manipulative hoax keeps going around and around and around Facebook, and I’m beyond sick of it. One version currently has 8,725 shares, even though people have debunked it over and over in the comments. It’s frustrating as hell to see a debunking comment followed by a string of “aw, poor birdie” comments, then another debunking and another string of… well, you get the idea.

No one seems to be taking credit/blame for this garbage, but the originator is an idiot who’s needlessly upsetting goodhearted people.

There are three huge problems with this image:

  1. Wildlife biologists and rehabilitators don’t report birds dying from gum clogs (Google it).
  2. Birds aren’t so stupid that they can’t tell gum from bread (which they shouldn’t be eating either).
  3. The birds in the photo are swallows, which eat only insects, and the dead one has been hit by a car.

There are valid reasons to toss chewing gum in the trash instead of on the street, but saving birds isn’t one of them. Please don’t “like” these posts, don’t share them, and inform any friends who share them that they’re perpetuating a hoax.

Mountain-Gem Arts update

Lucifer Hummingbird Heart I

Lucifer Hummingbird Heart I

Wow. My polymer clay jewelry has been really well received. Most of what I’ve added to the shop in its first few weeks has already sold, and to fill demand I’ve made new versions of popular designs, including four Lucifer Hummingbird Hearts (so far). I’ve received other special orders, too. This is truly gratifying, and I thank everyone who has made a purchase from the bottom of my heart(s).

The holiday shopping season is the perfect time to start something like this, so I don’t expect this run to continue, but that’s just as well. I do art in part as a way to keep burnout at bay, so I wouldn’t want it to turn into drudgery.

There is one major but hopefully temporary change in the shop: I’ve disabled the shopping cart by marking available items as out of stock. You can still buy them, but only by contacting me directly. I regret adding this extra step to what should be a seamless process, but I no longer trust PayPal with my money. The company has a nasty habit of putting holds on customers’ accounts for extremely flimsy reasons (too few transactions, too many transactions, transactions not marked as shipped, alleged violations of the TOS, etc.), all to earn more interest off the money before its rightful owner can withdraw it.

I never used to worry when I used PayPal only to make payments. Since the Regretsy Secret Santa debacle, though, I live in fear that the company will freeze my account and deny me access to funds I need to pay for supplies and postage, buy groceries, pay bills, etc. This is predatory behavior and a serious burden to microbusinesses like mine that depend on electronic payments. Until PayPal changes the way it does business, I choose not to do business with PayPal.

At present, PayPal is the only payment option available from my storefront host, Storenvy. If that doesn’t change soon, I’ll be looking for an e-commerce alternative. In the meantime, I’ll be setting up accounts with other electronic payment services and will accept prepayment by personal check.

One positive development is that my sickly laser printer has received an overhaul and is working again. That clears the way for the next version of the Supplement to A Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America. I’ll be busy through the end of the year with jewelry orders, Christmas Bird Counts,  field trips, etc., but watch this space early next year for the announcement that the new edition is ready.

Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast: an endangered hummingbird hot spot

A female Lucifer Hummingbird, one of Ash Canyon B&B's star attractions

Hummingbird enthusiasts and other bird lovers around the world have been following the complex and contentious controversy over access to Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast in southeastern Arizona.

Resentments that had apparently been festering for years erupted after the Cochise County Planning & Zoning Commission granted owner Mary Jo Ballator a special-use permit to formalize the day-visitation portion of her operation. Owners of several neighboring properties responded by filing an appeal to have the permit revoked.

Yesterday, the county commissioners held a hearing to consider this issue. The neighbors were allowed to air their objections, including irrelevant complaints about trespass by hunters and hikers and transparently self-serving claims that 1) feeding is harmful to birds(!), 2) the Plain-capped Starthroat that summered with Mary Jo in 2002 and 2003 was a random, one-time thing(!!), and 3) Lucifer Hummingbirds can be seen in many locations(!!!).

I wasn’t the only member of the audience flabbergasted when one complainant took the stand with a copy of A Field Guide to Hummingbirds in hand, sticky notes marking passages he hoped would support these claims. When my turn came to testify, I spent most of my precious three minutes refuting disinformation and defending my book’s integrity instead of praising Mary Jo’s exemplary hospitality to both birds and people.

Despite expert testimony and passionate testimonials from many members of the birding community (including over 350 letters of support), the issues of traffic, noise, privacy, trespassing, and easement interpretations remained, and the commissioners voted 2-1 to revoke the permit. There’s still hope that a compromise can be worked out to allow Mary Jo to continue welcoming visitors while reducing their impact on neighbors. Otherwise, the easement issue may end up being decided in court.

For the time being, Mary Jo will continue to welcome her friends in the birding community on a limited basis. She now has only 6 parking spaces and can no longer accommodate RVs or buses. With this change in operations comes a reduction in income, so Mary Jo needs our support more than ever. If you’re lucky enough to visit her yard this spring or summer, please make a generous contribution to the feeder fund.

Though I doubt she’ll ever see this post, I’d like to thank (again) Bisbee’s representative on the Cochise County Board of Supervisors, Vice-Chair Ann English, for casting the sole vote in support of Mary Jo and against the appeal.