Saturday, December 11, 2010

Birds of a Feather

Much as I wish I could, I can’t feed every stray cat I see, and I am always saddened when I find evidence in our backyard that a cat has made a bird its prey. But some fine-art birds are meant to be captured, and was it only two weeks ago that bibliophiles were still stalking an original edition of John James Audubon’s Birds of America, yearning to bring home one of the most coveted rare-book trophies in the world?

Audubon’s book has now entered the annals of auction history, with the final gavel price of $11.5 million. Going, going, gone! Meanwhile, the stray cats in our neighborhood keep coming, walking up and down the streets in search of sustenance of the feathered kind. I see a grey tomcat making the daily rounds, as well as a tortoiseshell who arrives for nocturnal visits. The scruffy felines may lack the glamour of the hedge-fund managers or retail heiresses or wealthy Russian and Japanese collectors who were purportedly bidding on the Audubon book, but, just like art collectors, these cats do know how to hunt, very well, and in secrecy.

Part of the value of the Audubon book was determined by its scarcity. For the cats forced to live as orphans on my and neighboring streets, the scarcity of food is simply a fact of life, not a thrill. Yet for both hungry cats and the avaricious winning bidder of Audubon’s masterpiece, birds are a status symbol. I know what happens to birds trapped by cats, but I wonder whether the proud new owner of the Audubon will ever release his birds from his treasure trove.

Query of the Day: Does your cat suffer from ruffled-feather syndrome?

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