I witnessed a vivid demonstration that domestic cats aren’t the only cause for decline in songbirds a couple of nights ago when I heard frantic bird calls just outside the window of my mother’s living room near Sebastopol, where I had been sitting and talking with her. I couldn’t tell for sure, but it sounded like a blue jay. I hurried out with flashlight in hand and thought I heard something in the pyracantha bush near her front door. I shone my light into the bush, but couldn’t see anything in the thick tangle of branches and leaves. There was silence, even after I jostled the bush slightly. Then I heard a slow drip, drip, drip, like water leaking from the gutter above, but no rain had fallen for weeks. The flashlight’s beam revealed nothing until it fell on small, red drops splattering the ground near the trunk.

I rushed to get the stepladder and climbed up so I could look down into the middle of the pyracantha. Even then, I saw nothing, but eventually I found a nest and a brown, furry creature huddled in the center, straddling the mangled carcasses of baby blue jays. The mother–the source of the blood — lay dead in a crotch of branches a few inches away. The marauding Norway rat seemed completely unafraid and after a moments’ consideration, continued with its business.

When my father was alive, he regularly battled rats (and gophers) on their ranch. Although I don’t think he ever had much effect on the gopher population, he kept the rats under control. I’d seen more rats around since his death seven years ago and since my mother’s cats had died, but this was the first time I truly saw their impact. No wonder my mother has fewer birds around her house now. It’s not just the cats’ fault.

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