Keep your cats inside. For everyone’s sake. Vale Ozzie the cockatiel.

ornamental ozzie

Vale Ozzie. Fabulous little cockatiel, and occasional shelf ornament.

I just found out that Ozzie the cockatiel, beloved feather-baby of my friend Leah  and honoured guest in my house last year, was killed by a roaming pet cat, who attacked him inside his cage, tearing off one of his wings. He had to be put down.

Ozzie on my head

Ozzie loved eating Post-It notes, chewing on important pieces of paper, and whistling Jingle Bells off-key.

Caught in the act of destroying my "to do" list, Ozzie takes offence at me documenting the offence.

Caught in the act of destroying my “to do” list, Ozzie takes offence at me documenting the offence.

He was seven years old – young for a cockatiel – these Australian natives can live up to 20 years in captivity, and are intelligent, loving companions.

Ozzie on boot

This is Ozzie and his beloved Ugg boot. Some might say he loved the boot a little too much…

Feral and other marauding cats kill millions of animals every night across the country, doubtless many wild cockatiels among them. Not all of them have names, personal histories that tie them to humans like Ozzie, but all of them are vital, living parts of the complicated landscape that we call home.

Ozzie eats the competition

Native birds in battle for habitat on the kitchen shelf.

Cats do not need to roam outdoors. Sure, most like to, but it’s not strictly necessary for their happiness and well-being. I’d like to spend my whole life frolicking at the beach drinking fancy cocktails and eating green tea ice cream whilst receiving foot massages, but we can’t have it all.Ozzie likes TasCountry

My cat never goes outside, and is rarely seen listening to Morrissey records, moping around in heavy black make-up or looking longingly at razorblades. I make sure she has fun things to play with indoors, feed her a healthy diet, and occasionally sling a tennis ball her way for her to murder like the mesopredator she is.

ozzie eats pencil

Keep your cats inside. Desex them. Microchip them. Love them and keep them safe from cars, disease, dogs and other animals. Keep the local wildlife and other people’s pets safe from your cat. It’s better for everyone.  Ozzie's to do list

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Tiger Hut, Liawenee, Tasmania’s Central Highlands – snow! ravens! roadkill!

Part 8 of the Spooky black birds of SoHo series, for my #AnimalMOOC Field Notes.

I’m in the snow – wooooo!

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We’re up at Tiger Hut, and while everyone else busies themselves attempting to brain one another with balls of crunchy ice, I’ve been wandering around in the snow and stalking wildlife.

Even here, in the snow, the corvids are still active, but you see them mostly on the roads where the dead things are.  Every dead marsupial body on the road up was crowned by a ravenous raven, indelicately partaking of their juicy entrails.

You rarely see ravens hit on the roads here, unless they are babies.  People love to talk about their understanding of road rules – they do indeed appear to just cross over the white line in the middle of the road as you approach them, before moving back to the roadkill in your lane once the car has passed them safely by.

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If you look very carefully, you’ll see a raven hopping off the road to the right hand side – honest!

 

The unwelcome guests – Wombats apparently immune to “ugly lights”, and will sleep through just about anything

Some people just can’t take a hint. The same could be said for certain marsupials.

Zombat! A wombat detected under the house at night time with the ugly lights on.

Zombat! A wombat detected under the house at night time with the ugly lights on, at historic ‘Bundanon’, in NSW.

Although wombats often appreciate the cover that buildings provide, their presence is not always appreciated by their landlords. Furry bulldozers of the bush, wombats are renowned for causing carnage, shoving their way through fences, burrowing in under houses, and destabilizing building foundations, before collapsing in exhaustion to sleep it all off.

Australian scientists from the University of NSW recently spent a year surveilling the movements of a gang of common wombats (Vombatus ursinus) living under an old, heritage-listed cottage, to determine whether turning floodlights on them might encourage them to snooze elsewhere.

Although many landholders would like to see wombats move out from under their houses, only a heartless bastard would want to see them harmed. Many scientists have trialled non-lethal methods to move nuisance animals along, using lights and sounds in much the same way nightclubs use the ugly lights, or shopping malls use classical music, to encourage undesirables to leave. Other studies have shown that altering light levels can diminish nocturnal derring-do in rats, by interfering with their natural body clocks.

Professor David Eldridge and the late Dr. Phil Borchard were inspired by these previous studies – if lights could tame deer and rodents, would the common wombat be similarly swayed?

The historic Musicians' Cottage - note the floodlights mounted next to the steps, and the easy access provided by the sandstone piers.

The historic Musicians’ Cottage – note the floodlights mounted next to the steps, and the easy wombat access provided by the sandstone piers.

No one had tried this sort of thing on wombats before. Anecdotal evidence suggested it just might work. Unless they’re sick, wombats avoid foraging during the day, preferring to hole up somewhere until it gets dark, and the scientists were banking on the fact that lighting up the marsupials’ bedroom like a Christmas tree would discourage them from napping there.

It didn’t. Over a year, the team alternated ten weeks of illumination with ten weeks of natural light patterns, and it didn’t appear to affect the wombats’ nocturnal activities at all. In fact, the floodlights may have made them even more active during their normal slothful daylight hours, possibly due to disturbance of their body clocks.

The team did get a range of other interesting data on how light patterns affected other, more sensitive creatures, including Eastern grey kangaroos, lace monitors, and a range of insect eating birds, many of whom found the extra illumination provided by the flood lights very useful for capturing their daily meals.

But unfortunately, the underlying hope of the study – that wombats could be deterred by floodlights – was left unfulfilled.

“Overall, our study has shown that the activity and movement patterns of wombats could not be reduced effectively using artificial light… With our main focus on managing wombat activity, there remains a need to examine alternative methods to manage wombats where they come into contact with humans and their infrastructure.”

Meaning, it’s back to the drawing board for dozy wombat deterrents. Michael Bolton, anyone?

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Many thanks to Professor David Eldridge, of the Arid Ecology Lab, for permission to use the late Dr. Phil Borchard’s images.

Dr. Phil was a great champion of wombats – read about his work and make a donation to wombat protection here.