Oops. There’s a bird in my house.

Oops.

There’s a bird in my house.

Again.

Carolina_Wren1
By Dan Pancamo (Flickr: Carolina Wren) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
It’s clinging to one of the blades of the ceiling fan. No, wait! Now it’s on the lampshade. Oh, and now it’s flapping spasmodically at the window–seeing the trees, drawn to the trees, but barred by glass and walls, possibly forever…. No. This cannot stand.

The door is still open. The bird just needs to find it and aim for it, and it will be free.

Why was the door open?

The door is often open because I like it open. I like the sounds of nature–a breeze jostling the leaves of the mature oaks that preside over my backyard, birds saying undecipherable things to each other in cheeps and chirps, squirrels scolding my cat for being a predatory jerk who belongs in the house.

windows don't open
Sights but no sounds, unless I open the door…

The windows in my living room look out on all these living things, but they don’t open. So I can see all this life. but I can’t hear it, and I want that. The door opens onto an enclosed deck, and when the door is open, my dog and cats can come and go at will. I like that I can spice up their day by giving them choices, and access to places that interest them. Especially my little blind cat, who lives in a world of sounds without sights. The great outdoors is too dangerous for him, but in the safety of the deck he can dream of wild ways.

daredevil on my lap
Laps get boring. The deck beckons…

This door-propping behavior is unpopular with my family. Some of these living things I want auditory access to…they find their way inside. Or really, they lose their way and wind up inside. Usually it’s just bugs. Which make great cat toys–especially buzzy, frantic cicadas. And naturally (this is nature, after all) there’s the occasional wasp, which freaks out my kids.

I tell them beating their fear of wasps is one of the most empowering life changes they’ll ever make. Imagine becoming someone who can dispassionately observe all that flamboyant whirring and ominous hovering and just think to yourself, mmm-hmm. There goes a wasp. That is so cool.

European_hornet_lateral_view
By Trancelius (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
I am this someone. I wasn’t always, but now I am. And I feel smug and bad-ass about it. When a wasp zooms in, I let it wear itself out a little with its hissy fits of bashing into lights and crashing into windows. I wait for it to land. Then I calmly place a cup over it, slide a piece of cardboard under it, walk it outside, and liberate it. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

But when the intruder is a bird, that calls for a different tactic–one that eludes me. In the past it’s usually just been quite literally a hit or miss thing (with the bird hitting stuff and me missing the bird) until the bird accidentally escapes through the open door.

There must be a better way. But it’s not coming to me as I plot with my daughter about how to solve this thing.

We helplessly, foolishly try to communicate with this bird. We point to the door. No comprende. We walk toward the door with an exaggerated stride, inviting the bird to follow. It does not. We appeal to it in words: “Bird! Over here!” Not surprisingly, this also has no effect; the bird continues to flit randomly from edge to ledge to tip to top, occasionally in the direction or vicinity of the door but never through it.

I get a broom.

My plan with the broom is nebulous so far. I’m not going to swing it at the bird and panic it to death. But maybe I can block the bird from flying away from the door by brandishing this broom at a strategic angle in a strategic spot? As I grasp the handle and hold it aloft, lo and behold, the bird swoops over and alights on the bristles. All I have to do is march the bird outside as it surfs the broom! But the moment I move, the bird startles and flutters off. Drat.

Think. THINK! I’m a lifelong student of animal behavior. How can I commandeer this bird’s natural behavior to get it out of my house to freedom–and fast, before it poops all over my rug? What has it consistently, repeatedly been doing the whole time I’ve been effetely following it around trying bird-brained ways to save it? It’s been looking for perches.

What if I could entice the bird to perch on something that lies beyond the door?

Carolina_Wren_(1)
By Manjith Kainickara (Flickr: Carolina Wren) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
I step outside and out of view, holding the broom horizontally about chest height in the doorway. The bird spies this new perch. It is an excellent perch, if I may say so. The bird agrees! It flaps over from across the room and lands on the broom. It seems to instantaneously recognize the sensations of the outdoors. It takes flight and disappears. I feel relieved and a little bit self-congratulatory.

Will this work next time? Because there will be a next time. Because I like the door open so I can hear the natural world out there. And when the natural world pays me an intimate visit? Well, as you may have heard, I like animals underfoot.

my feet on deck
My deck.

Siamese Cats: Feline Mood Rings

I’ve been thinking about how cats get their markings. My brother once told me someone told him it has something to do with temperature. That always stuck with me, but…the temperature of what, exactly? I pictured a tangle of kitten fetuses squished up against each other in utero. I imagined different splotches of color spreading across swaths of their fur depending on how and where each one was snuggled up against another. Maybe it worked sort of like a mood ring? A whimsical notion but almost certainly deeply flawed.

When I looked into the matter, I found I was pretty far afield. The temperature thing definitely doesn’t apply to feline coat markings across the boards. But it wasn’t a complete red herring. Temperature comes into play in a specific form of albinism that produces the trademark “point” coloration of Siamese cats (and their similarly patterned brethren–the Himalayans, Burmese, Tonkinese, Balinese, etc.).

http://purrfectcatbreeds.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/siamese51.jpg
http://purrfectcatbreeds.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/siamese51.jpg

There’s an enzyme, tyrosinase, whose job is to make melanin–the pigment that gives fur its color. In Siamese cats, the gene that makes tyrosinase is a clunker; the resulting enzyme doesn’t work at the regular body temperature of cats. Result: No color. But on the bits of the body that are cooler–the ears, face, tail and paws–tyrosinase behaves normally. The result is that striking contrast between the light torso and dark point areas.

And there is an in utero aspect that’s worth mentioning. Because unborn kittens in the womb are kept so uniformly toasty-warm, Siamese kittens are solid white when make their debut. Their dark points don’t start to emerge till a few weeks after birth.

http://www.fanciersplus.com/feature/bluegem-siamese-cattery.htm
http://www.fanciersplus.com/feature/bluegem/bluegemsiamesnewborn.jpg

Throughout their lives, temperature will continue to influence the shades of Siamese cats’ coats. If fur has to be shaved, for example for a veterinary procedure, it will commonly grow back dark. That’s because the skin temperature when “bald” is cooler, and therefore the screwed up enzyme is able to produce melanin. It’ll fade when the skin is furry again and therefore warmer. I even saw an anecdote about a cat who liked to lounge on a heat register and developed a very light patch of fur corresponding to the shape of the vent. If a Siamese cat spends a lot of time outdoors, its coat may lighten in the summer and darken in the winter. The mnemonic “cooler=color, warmer=whiter” helps me remember this intriguing relationship between temperature and pigment.

http://www.globalanimal.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Siamese-Cats.jpg
Must be chilly in their house! http://www.globalanimal.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Siamese-Cats.jpg

Do you have a Siamese cat? Ever notice any color shifting?