Margaret Atwood wowed the audience at the recent International Ornithological Congress in Vancouver, a gathering of more than 1500 birders, bird scientists and conservation activists from all over the world.
She spoke about the many threats to birds: “Habitat loss, climate change, with its floods, droughts, and, right now, massive wildfires; glass windows, with their fatal strikes and fatal light at night, especially during migrations; toxicity and poisoning, both direct from such things as oil and chemical spills, and indirect, via plastic pollution and the pesticides and herbicides that have wiped out a huge biomass of insect and arthropod bird food”, and of course, that “loveable introduced species, the cat.”
Atwood went on to talk about her own lifelong love of both birds and cats and encouraged the audience to take a cat-positive approach to the issue. She emphasized that it does no good to attack cats, who’s owners are every bit as devoted to them as ornithologists are to birds. She introduced her Angel Catbird, “a flying comic-book superhero who is part bird, part cat, and part geeky genetic scientist – and can thus understand all sides of the conundrum” and its association with Nature Canada’s collaborative Keep Cats Safe & Save Bird Lives initiative.
“Is this just a bunch of bird-brained horsing around – I was going to say catting around, but it’s not quite the same – you may ask? No – results are coming in. The message is – why should your cat be treated worse than your dog? Keep kitty inside, provide a catio, use a leash… and there was been a 13% reduction in roaming domestic cats between 2016 and 2018. There’s still 28% to go, but it’s a rapid improvement.” There is reason for hope!
“Hope is the thing with feathers.”
She closed her talk with a quote from Emily Dickinson:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops – at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.