Wednesday, February 23rd, 2005

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PAWS Mailing Address:
PO Box 1037
Lynnwood WA, 98046

PAWS Physical Address:
15305 44th Ave W
Lynnwood, WA 98037

Kevin Mack

Preventable Predation
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist

On February 3rd, 2005, a female Pine Siskin sat alone in a cage at the PAWS Wildlife Center. A card on the door of her cage identified her as "case #05-0063". At this time of year, the small, finch-like bird should have been surrounded by others of her kind; moving from place to place in a large winter feeding flock. She had almost certainly been a member of a flock before her arrival at PAWS, and with a well-chosen release site, and a little luck, she would be again by the end of the day. Unfortunately, I had no way of conveying that idea to the siskin, so as I attempted to catch her in my net, she did her best to avoid letting me. Had there been no walls to contain her, I would not have stood a chance of getting close enough to even attempt to capture the bird.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin 05-0063's fractured ulna was clearly visible on her radiographs.

Considering her skill at evasion, even within such a limited space, it was hard to believe that the Pine Siskin had been brought to PAWS after being caught by a predator. But the predator in question was not naturally occurring, thus the siskin was less prepared to deal with the threat it posed than she was to deal with threats posed by predators with which her species has evolved.

As I watched Pine Siskin 05-0063 fly in her aviary cage, I wondered why she had been on the ground on January 21st-the day of her injury. Had she been attracted to the ground by spilled seed from a bird feeder? Had she been drawn down by some other human-provided food or water source? Or perhaps a natural food source of some kind had drawn her away from the safety of the trees. Whether the attractant was natural or not, the predator that was waiting on the ground was definitely placed there by humans. Siskin 05-0063 must have attempted to fly at the last moment, but it was already too late. In an instant, the strong jaws of a house cat closed on her right wing, and she was rendered flightless. Her only means of defense gone, the siskin would certainly have been killed had a human not intervened. The bird was snatched away from the cat and brought to PAWS for treatment.

Although siskin 05-0063 did not escape completely unscathed, she was extremely fortunate to escape with her life. Twelve to fifteen percent of the roughly 4,500 patients received annually by the PAWS Wildlife Center are brought in after being attacked by outdoor house cats. The majority of them do not survive. Some of them die, or must be euthanized due to extensive injury. Others succumb to a systemic infection that is caused by the potent cocktail of bacteria in cat saliva.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin 05-0063 stands on a rope perch in her flight cage.

In small birds and mammals, this infection can set in very rapidly, so it is of critical importance that cat attack victims receive prompt treatment. The Pine Siskin was very lucky in this regard.

Upon arrival, Pine Siskin 05-0063 was immediately started on antibiotics to counter the threat of infection. A radiograph of her right wing showed that she had suffered a fractured ulna in the jaws of the cat. Fortunately, the fracture was well aligned. The siskin was prescribed 10 days of cage rest to ensure that the bone healed properly. By January 31st, the bird had regained her ability to fly. She was moved to an outdoor aviary, and four days later she was showing off the extent of her recovery by making a naturalist's head spin as he attempted to capture her.

After successfully capturing siskin 05-0063, I placed her in a transport box and drove her to a release site in Bothell. I chose to release her in a patch of alder forest that was several blocks away from where she had been found. The cover was dense enough to allow the siskin to assess her surroundings in relative safety, and the habitat was likely to attract others of her kind. After slowly making my way through a thick tangle of blackberry vines, I placed the transport box on the ground and scanned the area one last time for potential dangers to the siskin. As none were evident, I proceeded to restore the bird's freedom.

Pine Siskin 05-0063 did not wait for me to open her transport box all the way before making a break for it. As soon as the gap was wide enough for her to fit through, the siskin erupted from the box and streaked for the nearby cover. She came to rest on a low branch amidst the blackberry vines about 20 feet away from me.

Pine Siskin

Siskin 05-0063 is well camouflaged as she sits in a bush at her release site.

She looked excitedly in all directions, and then let out a series of tentative alarm calls. To my left, a Winter Wren responded to her call with an alarm of his own, and I turned my head to look in his direction. When I turned my head back to where the siskin had been sitting, she was gone. I wished her well, collected the empty transport carrier, and slowly made my way back through the blackberry bushes to the road.

As I stated earlier, roughly twelve to fifteen percent of the 4,500 animals PAWS Wildlife Center receives annually are victims of cat attacks. So, Pine Siskin 05-0063 represents just one of the approximately 540 to 675 wild animals injured by cats that PAWS receives each year. In addition, we receive hundreds of phone calls from citizens who have lost their indoor/outdoor cats. They often suspect that wild animals have preyed upon the cats. This may in fact be the case, but outdoor cats may also fall victim to cars, dogs, other cats, and parasites/disease. In addition, they may be taken by either concerned, or ill-intentioned people. Any way you look at it, a safe containment plan for your cat is essential if you wish to keep both your pet, and the wildlife on your property out of harm's way. More information about cat enclosures, keeping cats healthy and happy indoors, and the effects of cats on wildlife can be found in the "Cat Fact Sheet" section of the PAWS website at this address:

Wildlife Release tally: February 2nd to February 22nd, 2005

1 Bald Eagle
1 Pine Siskin
3 Glaucous-winged Gulls
1 Great Blue Heron
1 Canada Goose
1 Northern Pygmy Owl

Wildlife Release tally: 2005
23 animals

All rights reserved. 2005 Progressive Animal Welfare Society