Cat owners expect “presents” from their furbaby, but this family couldn’t believe what they were seeing. What was the bizarre bundle in front of them? When they realized what it was, they knew that if they didn’t proceed carefully, lives could be on the line.
As cute as they are, cats are really furry killing machines. Indeed, any feline owner will know that when their pet goes out the catflap, they’ll often return with dead or wounded prey as gifts for the household. But although these presents aren’t always welcome, they’re actually proof that your cat loves you and sees you as family.
In fact, these gory gifts can mean that your cat even sees you as their surrogate kitten. Because female cats use this very technique to teach their young how to hunt. They bring their babies little gifts of food, and it shows the kittens what they are capable of when they grow up. And of course, it keeps the kitty family fed too.
And that was the scene that one English household, like countless others before it, woke up to in June 2017. The family’s cat had been let out the night before and had gone hunting for a nice treat. And sure enought, the present was waiting for everyone the following morning.
But the gift waiting for them was rather strange. If fact, it just looked like a messy ball of yard debris. One of the components turned out to be plant matter. However, there was another, more obvious ingredient to the clump: it was made from a lot of feathers. There was only one thing the “gift” could be.
The cat had brought its family a nest, although the location of the nest’s previous owners was unknown. Did the feathers covering the nest belong to them? They family were at a loss with what to do – they couldn’t tell if anything inside the feathery ball had survived their cat’s hunt.
Subsequently, the family took the nest to an animal rescue charity called Folly Wildlife Rescue (FWR) in Sussex, England. FWR specializes in treating wild animals that have been accidentally or intentionally wounded as a result of human interaction. The charity also goes into schools to promote conservation values.
FWR teach children how to respect local wildlife and avoid common mistakes that can cause them harm. A trustee with the organization, Sarah Nunn, was acting as a receptionist when the nest was brought in. She recalled the morning in an interview with The Dodo in June 2017.
“[The nest] was completely unopened,” Nunn said. “They had no idea if there was anything in it all. [The family] didn’t know where the nest had come from, so they couldn’t return it where it should have been.” However, the FWR team then noticed something.
It turned out that the feathers may not have belonged to the cat’s prey after all. “We knew something had actually used it for nesting because it was lined with so many feathers,” Nunn said. And so they made a decision to find out for sure.
“We very guiltily had to destroy the nest to see what was inside,” Nunn continued. And when they did, they couldn’t believe what they found: something had actually survived the cat’s hunting trip. In fact, three little somethings were alive within the nest.
Inside the nest were three little baby hatchlings that were so young, their bald bodies hadn’t even grown any feathers. Not only did this make it hard to determine their species, but at such a young age the little birds were also helpless. Indeed, they couldn’t even feed themselves and were completely reliant on their rescuers.
And so Nunn and the FWR team decided to take the birds under their metaphorical wing and raise them. “They’ll continue to be hand-fed from dawn till dusk,” Nunn told The Dodo. And she explained that, as the babies grow, their care will be adjusted according to their needs.
Nunn described the stages that the bird’s treatment will take. Care began in an incubator, but she explained that as they grow, they’ll need new accommodation. “Once they start to show signs of feathering up, they’ll be moved […] into a larger cage,” she said.
“And once they show signs of wanting to fly and being fairly self-reliant on feeding, they’ll go into an aviary.” But there was one question that still hadn’t been answered: just what species were the birds? Well, to begin with, the FWR mistook them for goldcrests.
However, Nunn said that the birds have grown considerably in a short space of time, and are now thought to be long-tailed tits. And this would explain the contents of the nest too. Because long-tailed tits often use moss, lichen and feathers along with spider silk to make their homes.
Furthermore, long-tailed tit nests are often the target of predators, so it’s common for their nests to fail. If this happens at the start of May, the tits will move in with a related family. The new arrivals then act as babysitters and look after the nest’s hatchlings.
Despite their low position on the food chain, long-tailed tits are common across Europe and Asia. Their species isn’t in danger but if it wasn’t for the FWR, those three babies would have been. But thanks to the charity – and the quick-thinking family – the birds have another chance at life.
Cats are predators by nature and it’s normal for them to go out hunting, but there are ways to limit their gory gifts. Nunn told The Dodo that, “night is when [cats] hunt the most. Invest in a collar that’s got a bell on it.” This limits their ability to catch prey.
Your cat’s activity can also be made more bird-friendly by keeping the killer kitty inside at night. If you do so, however, be sure to fulfill their prey drive by playing with them and buying them lots of toys. The long-tailed tits and other birds of the world will thank you for it!