A Love Story With A Tragic Ending

Where Grantham Crescent executes a right angled turn towards Brooklyn there is a native rainforest block, which being unoccupied and densely vegetated is periodically home to some interesting bird life. Last year white-faced herons reared a youngster high up in the tree tops. This year, for several months up to a couple of weeks ago it was home to a male Tawny Frogmouth which issued its hoom-hoom-hoom call throughout the nights in an effort to attract a mate. During the day it perched low down on the stub of a lower branch and island residents and their visitors knew this and would stop to photograph the bird.

Three weeks ago I was delighted to see the original male had been joined by a smaller and lighter coloured mate which sat alongside it and this continued to be the case over the next week or so. The male had ceased to call, apparently satisfied with the results of its untiring efforts. I anticipated nesting activity was just around the corner but then disaster struck.

When I visited the block to tidy it up for Christmas I couldn’t see either bird on the usual perch. Instead there was a smashed white egg on the path and tell-tale bunches of feathers in the area around. My conclusion was that the female had flown down to the ground to pick up an insect, as these birds often do and then been attacked by a cat, causing the ejection of an egg which was about to be laid. I eventually located the male sitting several trees away alone, but he too now seems to have left.

Cats cause enormous damage to birdlife both on and off the island. Some residents who are otherwise very decent human beings seem to have a blind spot when it comes to addressing this problem. When I was involved in preserving the then endangered Lord Howe Island wood hen in the late 1970’s I had legislation brought in to have all domestic cats desexed to prevent a continuing flow of animals into the bush and to allow current pets to live out their lives but prevent further imports. Cats on Dangar Island nightly patrol most of its 30 hectares and have divided it up into their territories in much the same way as we have into our domestic blocks. New arrivals spark furious screaming and growling from outraged cats on either side but only at night. Because of this range of predation nothing of suitable is safe. Be it a bird, a possum, a lizard or a snake.

Throughout the Australian mainland domestic cats are estimated to kill 61 million birds each year, which is a truly staggering figure. The entire Australian mainland is overrun with feral cats that kill an estimated 316 million victims per year making a grand total of 377 million victims per year or more than 1 million each day.

Islands such as Dangar Island offer the only possibilities of providing cat free habitat for birds and as a great admirer of our wonderful native fauna I believe this is the direction we should be heading in.

Dr Benjamin Miller