June 20, 2024
And what on earth is that hawk doing with that sparrow?

DEAR JOAN: Our 2-year-old tortie house cat, April, has a couple of odd behaviors.

On occasion she will drag her front paw across the floor area next to her food dish. It’s the same maneuver as in her litter box. It’s brief, then she’ll proceed to eat. What do you think is going on in her mind?

Secondly, April frequently likes to climb under a bed, where it’s dark and hard to retrieve her. This is a kitty that walks around dragging her tail on all of us. She loves to be close, lying on the floor with her hind paws touching our feet and purring up a storm. She knows she has it good living here. What’s behind this habit of escaping under a bed often?

— Rod Lund, San Jose

DEAR ROD: Both of these cat behaviors are normal and common, which says a lot about the quirkiness of cats. It’s also a reminder that while cats have been domesticated for centuries, they remain one catnip mouse away from being wild.

Cats often appear to dig around or bury their food. If they do it after eating, they may be telling us it was too much food, and they are saving the leftovers for later. Instinct is telling them to bury it, even if there’s nothing for them to use.

The scratching behavior before eating is only slightly less common, but is another flashback to the wild. Because cats once had to hunt for their food, they can be territorial about keeping it. Scratching the area around the dish is likely an attempt to cover the scent of the food and keep intruders away from it.

As for hiding under the bed, even the friendliest, most social cat needs some “me” time. Or would that be “me-ow” time? Cats spend the majority of their day snoozing, and they do their best sleeping in confined, quiet, hidden spaces where predators can’t sneak up on them.

It’s nothing personal. It’s just cat.

DEAR JOAN: I usually have flocks of sparrows in the sagebrush in my front yard but haven’t seen them in a couple of weeks. I think I found out why. I was on my computer and out of the corner of my eye saw a hawk fly into the sagebrush.

What is fascinating is the behavior of the hawk. It looks (like) in the beginning, the sparrow had chances to escape, but as time went on, the hawk appeared to “play” with the sparrow as a cat will “play” with a mouse. After the hawk determined the sparrow was lifeless, it finally took off with its prey. My guess is that it needed to make sure it wasn’t going to have problems achieving flight after the capture.

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— Debbie Rheuark, Richmond

DEAR DEBBIE: Raptors prefer to eat their prey after they’ve killed them. Some raptors use a constrictor method, squeezing the life out of their prey, while other hawks rip off the head and wings before beginning to eat. No matter how the death is accomplished, it’s serious business and hawks don’t play around, but I think what you saw was a juvenile hawk that was just learning how to feed itself. Because of that, it might have been extra hungry and tried to consume the sparrow before he had dispatched it, leading to the sort of play activity you witnessed.

Animal Life runs on Mondays. Contact Joan Morris at [email protected].