The New Yorker:

Feline residents of Walldorf, Germany, can’t go outside when certain birds are breeding. Is it cruelty or conservation?

By Ben Crair 

Regine Tredwell decided to become a cat owner in 2009, shortly after she divorced the father of her two young daughters. “I wanted the kids to grow up with pets, to learn how to treat animals right,” she told me. A dog seemed like too much responsibility, so she took the girls to visit a neighbor whose family cat had given birth to a calico kitten with white boots and a pink nose. The children named the kitten Mimi and quarrelled so much over holding her that, after a few months, Tredwell also rescued Fluffy, a cuddly white tom with two Rorschach-style blots on his back. Their cozy apartment, in a prosperous German town called Walldorf, was filling up; Tredwell installed a cat flap on the balcony, to encourage Mimi and Fluffy to explore outdoors in “a natural way.” They slept for hours on warm stones beneath the balcony, and occasionally hunted critters in the garden. “If they catch a mouse,” Tredwell told me, “it’s just for fun.”

Around that time, a young ornithologist named Tobias Lepp passed through the area while looking for his favorite species, the crested lark. Crested larks are not globally endangered—tens of millions are estimated to live in Europe, and hundreds of millions worldwide—but, in a two-year survey of the state of Baden-Württemberg, where Walldorf is situated, Lepp counted only about sixty breeding pairs. Near Tredwell’s apartment, he found a single male in a field, belting out whistles, tremolos, and double notes. Lepp could tell the crested lark apart from a skylark or a wood lark by the spiked feathers on its head, as well as by its slightly longer bill, shorter tail, and rounder wings. He went looking for the birds often enough that some of them seemed to recognize him, too. “They are so clever,” he told me. “They know we are observing them.”

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