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The Truth about Cats & Dogs

For a creature that can fly, it seems odd that a bird would choose to nest on the ground. Presumably, it was once a good idea. Not so now, given our massive take-up of the surface area of this planet and given that half our Red List species are ground nesters.

For them we have set aside some small patches, which dogs then render useless, as typified in a story from Nate, the Drinking Bird. An example from the Americans, who are at least enlightened enough to try to ban dogs from their reserves.

Here, the animals are bloody everywhere. My local patch, Portbury Wharf, is overrun. Near Weston-super-Mare, the Axe Estuary, whose bitter winds the Bristol Ornithological Club braved yesterday, would hold breeding skylarks. Oh, these Red-Listed birds try but, according to one of the locals, they’ve never succeeded. His theory?

Dogs, ever present as we walked round.

He had the touching notion that informing dog-walkers about the birds would solve the problem. Nate’s experience suggests the exact opposite. After all, given the state of the planet, the very thought of adding a dog into the mix must mark owners out as suspect. Oh, they may come across as reasonable but scratch the surface, as Nate did, and true nastiness can ooze out.

In comparison, that other bane of birding life, a cat, seems benevolent. Being domesticated, it tends to take birds that tolerate humans and that are thus relatively successful. At the very least, the birds have an opportunity to replenish their losses without being driven away from their breeding spaces.

And when was the last time you saw a cat with a skylark in its jaws? When the last time a dog flushing a flock of them? (Never, and yesterday for me.)

2 comments to The Truth about Cats & Dogs

  • Nate

    We have the same problem. One of my favorite local spots here in the states has perfect habitat for Ovenbirds and Wood Thrushes and other ground or near ground nesting birds. But dogs are allowed so the birds are usually gone by the time nesting season heats up.

    There was a study that was done a few years back that shows that even leashed dogs have a negative effect on nest success of ground-nesting birds. I can’t remember it specifically, but I think it was done in England and found dogs screwed with Woodlarks. Rough stuff.

  • Andy

    Dogs are top predators, so I’m sure birds are on the look-out for them, know when they’re around and make themselves scarce. A leash means nothing to birds. Maybe they’ll evolve to recognise the difference in a few thousand generations – a few thousand they’re unlikely to get. So, I can well believe that study.

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