My friend Nina is an animal lover. All her pets are rescues. She keeps her cats inside. Unless she is accompanying her dog, he stays in a fenced-in area. She doesn’t use pesticides, she loves the local wildlife, and she does everything a good pet owner should do.

But one day, unbeknownst to her, a wild rabbit dug under the fence. She let her dog out, he spotted the rabbit, and took off like a bullet. Nina raced after him, screaming, but she couldn’t save the bunny.

Nina was distraught. “I keep my cats inside,” she texted me, “and my dog turns out to be the killer.”


She went on Facebook for consolation. Here was her first response: “Oh, so sorry. We have a cat that is a hummingbird murderer.” This was followed by, “I have one who is a chipmunk murderer.”

So: Nina is beating herself up over the fact that her dog, who is a pet and thus not a part of nature, has killed a wild creature – and people try to make her feel better by telling her their cats do it all the time.

I was tempted to go on Facebook with guns blazing, but right now I am forced to pick and choose the timing of my battles. This was the wrong time to get into a public fight.

My energy-saving strategy did not help me. At 2:00 that morning I paced furiously around my house, unable to fathom how mind-bogglingly cold and callous people can be. Since I am a wild bird rehabilitator and have seen, up close, the damage a cat can do to a bird, let me address the owner of the “hummingbird murderer.”

When your cat catches a hummingbird, the bird probably dies an excruciatingly painful death. This is entirely your fault. If the bird manages to escape she will still die, because cats’ claws and teeth are crawling with bacteria; one tiny nick and she will just die more slowly. This is also entirely your fault. If the bird has nestlings, they will all starve to death. This is also entirely your fault.

ecuadorianhillstar corey

You are personally responsible for the agonizing deaths of possibly hundreds of birds per year. Question: how do you continue to pull this off?

I paced around my house that night, wracked with sadness over the deaths of so many beautiful, defenseless birds, furiously angry at people who bear complete responsibility, then joke about it and sleep like babies.

Outdoor cat owners, here’s how you can help me. Tell me: what is your secret? How can I become as cold and unfeeling as you are, so I can finally get some rest?


Anna’s Hummingbird by Mike Bergin; cat by; Ecuadorian Hillstar by Corey Finger

Written by Suzie
Suzie Gilbert is a wild bird rehabilitator whose shameful secret is that on more than one occasion she has received a female LBJ, or a fledgling whatever, and has been completely unable to ID it. Luckily she has birder friends who will rush to her aid, although she must then suffer their mockery. She is the author of her bird-rehabbing memoir Flyaway (HarperCollins) and the children's book Hawk Hill (Chronicle Books). Her recent suspenseful, bird-filled adventure novel Unflappable (Perch Press) was selected by Audubon Magazine as one of their Three Best Summer Reads of 2020. She lives in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley and is always up for a good hike.