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The Catbird Seat: Birding Gets Catty

by Pete Dunne
cats and birds

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[SCENE: Midmorning. A small grassy yard in a Gulf Coast town celebrated for its spring migration. Three semi-feral cats lounge in the shade next to a semi-empty food bowl put out by a semi-crazy, cat-loving resident. One cat is the color of—and about as old as—DIRT. One battleship-gray, battle-scared TOM is feigning sleep but regarding the world with half-closed eyes. One wide-eyed FELINE is licking her paws. They are approached by a lithe, young TABBY so cheerful he fairly prances.]

TABBY [smiling]: Hi! Catch anything good today?

[Tom narrows his eyes to slits and says nothing. Dirt looks up. Searches his mind for a thought. Succeeds. Then seems to get lost in it.]

FELINE [smiling widely]: Oh, my, yes! I caught a nice, fat cricket this very morning.

TABBY [puzzled]: I mean birds. Did you guys catch any birds today? Seems like a pretty decent fallout. Got here at dawn. Stalked four warblers and caught a thrush.

[Tom rolls his eyes. Dirt turns his cataract-compromised gaze to Tabby, starts to speak, but is cut off by the chirping voice of Feline.]

FELINE: Oh, my, that’s wonderful. Did you hear that Tom? Four warblers and a thrush. That’s good.

TOM: What species of thrush?

TABBY: Uh . . . tasted liked gray-cheeked. But I only got a quick bite. It got away.

TOM [rolling on his side, facing away]: Too early for gray-cheeked.

FELINE: Now, Tom, two years ago there was a gray-cheeked . . .

[Dirt’s voice finally catches up with his wandering thoughts.]

DIRT: I rememba back in ’67 we had a fallout a thrushes the likes you nevah seen. Thrushes comin’ in off the Gulf like a 10-foot tidal surge. Thrushes so thick you had to eat a hole in the air just to breath.

TOM [rolling his eyes]: There he goes again. Always talking about the good ol’ days.

TABBY: Yeah. I read how great this place was in CatBird magazine. Couldn’t wait to get here. Catch a real fallout like you read about. Been a good spring so far?

FELINE [distracted, suddenly and seemingly, by her paw; then a dandelion, then a passing cloud]: Oh, well. You know how it is. I mean it’s been pretty good but maybe not as good as it was when I was a kitten. Still there’s lots of White-eyed Vireos and cardinals, and, like my daddy used to say, a House Sparrow under your paw is better than a thousand neotrops in the . . .

DIRT: An’ warblers! Why, I remember times they was so many warblers they was sittin’ ten . . . twenty to a tree; so stumblin’ tired even week-old kittens was catchin’ ’em. You weren’t careful, you opened your mouth, there’d be a Ovenbird walkin’ across yer tongue an’ a Worm-eating Warbler proddin’ your tonsils. One time I . . .

TOM [shaking his head]: Never happened. Cat’s lost his mind. Been catching birds here for ten years. Never seen anything like that.

TABBY. In this article they say there used to be flights that spectacular every year.

TOM [looking at Tabby the way a hangman regards a new client]: Listen to me. It never happened. Hundreds of birds in a day? Yeah, when you get the right condition. But blanketing the trees? Underfoot? Only in the minds of crazy old cats.

DIRT: An’ warblers! Used to eat my way across the south ever morning. Kentucky, Nashville, Louisiana Waterthrush. Man I never tasted nuthin’ so good as . . .

TABBY: Well, I sure hope I catch a fallout, even a small one. Getting hard to find migrants where I come from. Harder every year it seems.

TOM: You need a cold front; rain. Thursday; maybe Friday they say.

TABBY: I’m supposed to head home Thursday but . . .

DIRT: Nuthin’, I mean nuthin’ could ever beat that Good Friday flight back in ’83. Rainin’ birds and rainin’ rain. Why I seen cats old and blind as I am with bellies as tight as a size eight butt in size four jeans. Seen cats that couldn’t figure out how to deal with the Yellow Rail under their nose ’cause they already had a bird under every paw and two in their mouth.

FELINE: Oh, I’m sure you’ll catch some fine birds, young man. Remember, no matter how bad it gets everywhere else, there’s always going to be more birds here. And like I always say, you just give me a sassy old White-eyed Vireo or a perky little cardinal and I’m just as happy as if I . . .

TOM [rolling back on his side; glancing up at a cloudless Texas sky]: Dreams. [end]

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