Kedi, A Heartwarming New Documentary, Stars Istanbul's Street Cats


In Istanbul, the cat is king. The city is famous for its legions of feral felines. Even though no one technically owns them, these hundreds of thousands of street cats are as well cared for as any pet—people feed them, welcome them into their shops and homes, and even bring them to the vet. The kitty culture in Istanbul is notable enough that the Turkish city’s magical relationship with its feline residents is the subject of a new documentary, Kedi. And yes, it puts all other cat videos on Earth to shame.

Kedi follows seven street cats on their daily jaunts through the city, exploring their social lives and encounters with their favorite human friends. The documentary takes a cat’s-eye view of the city: The camera tracks low along the ground, eye-to-eye with the film’s feline stars as they roam the streets, following them into cafes, up onto rooftops, and down to the waterfront. Most have several human allies who care for them and whom they visit every day.

In interviews, these caretakers often meditate on the fiercely independent nature of the cats living around them. One compares being friends with a cat to communicating with aliens. Most of the interviewees call the cats that pop into their lives "friends," rather than "pets." The cats come and go as they please, each one with its own agenda and distinct personality. They might stop by for a bite to eat or for a round of petting, then move on to their next destination. Some stalk boldly into cafes, while others wait patiently outside for someone to bring them a snack.

Many cities have stray cats, but the people of Istanbul have an unusually friendly coexistence with their feline residents. Director Ceyda Torun, who was born and grew up in Istanbul before her family relocated to New York, attributes the city's unique relationship to its feral cat population to its culture. “Without the cat, Istanbul would lose part of its soul,” says one resident in the film’s opening.

Cats have a special place in Islamic folklore as well, Torun tells mental_floss. In one folktale, the prophet Muhammad cuts the sleeve off his robe to avoid disturbing his sleeping cat.

More importantly, cats have been wandering the city for millennia. Founded as Byzantium in 660 BCE, Istanbul has been a major trading port for centuries. And with the ships came the cats. The oldest known remains of a domestic cat were found in nearby Cyprus, where humans have likely had feline pets for some 9500 years, and Torun says there’s evidence of Turkish cat culture dating back more than three millennia. One zoologist she spoke to—who had been collecting animal remains under the Bosporus strait—found the 3500-year-old skeleton of a cat whose broken leg had been mended by human hands.

To get a sense of just how revered Istanbul's street cats are, consider this: In 2016, the city erected a statue by a local artist honoring a recently departed street cat, Tombili. He was so beloved (locally and on social media) that the petition for a statue of him gathered 17,000 signatures in less than two months. Street cats are welcome at mosques, in cafes, and in people’s apartments.

Torun and her crew spent three months in Istanbul finding both human and feline subjects before any filming even began. They took a two-pronged approach to their search, both roaming the streets themselves to look for cats and asking locals if there was a special cat in their neighborhood, including cats that hung out in a particularly unusual place, like a mosque or a Turkish bath. Some of the subjects, like the mother cat who stars in the first vignette—cheekily nicknamed “YellowS**t” by one shopkeeper who feeds her—were only discovered after production began.

As you might expect, cats don’t make entirely dependable film subjects. For one thing, they could get a little too excited about the cameras. At times, Torun says, “we had a hard time shooting because we had multiple cats on us rubbing their face on the camera rig.” They ended up with a lot of shots of cats “just rubbing themselves on the camera or rig or spraying things [with urine].” Luckily, once the cats had made a thorough inspection of the cameras, they tended to go back to whatever they were doing before. “We have hours and hours of footage of cats grooming themselves or sleeping. They weren’t going to perform,” Torun says.

And yet, in other ways, the cats were easier to film than you might expect. “They stick to routines,” Torun explains. “They do the same things over and over. They don’t really stray out of their territory.” All the documentary crew had to do was show up in the right places. They would come back every other day or so during the two months of shooting to see what the cats were up to. Some of them even seemed to know they were being filmed.

The cats would perform “as if they were getting instructions from me,” Torun says. The film ends on a rooftop, focused on a cat perched on a ledge as the sun sets over the city in the background. “He almost knew that we were making a movie and that was the best place,” says the director.

Torun ended up with 180 hours of footage of cats lounging around, stealing food, begging for attention, and more. The finished film, debuting in the U.S. on February 10 courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories, clocks in at an hour and 20 minutes. But if Torun decided to release those other 178-plus hours of cat videos, we wouldn’t be opposed.

All images courtesy Kedi.

14 Bold Facts About Bald Eagles

Bald eagles are powerful symbols of America—but there’s a whole lot more to these quirky birds.


A young bald eagle with a brown head on a beach.

So obviously adult bald eagles aren't really bald, either—their heads have bright white plumage that contrasts with their dark body feathers, giving them a "bald" look. But young bald eagles have mostly brown heads. In fact, for the first four or five years of their lives, they move through a complicated series of different plumage patterns; in their second year, for instance, they have white bellies.


A red-tailed hawk.
A red-tailed hawk's screech is usually dubbed over the bald eagle's weaker scream.

It's a scene you’ve probably seen countless times in movies and on TV: An eagle flies overhead and emits a rough, piercing scream. It's a classic symbol of wilderness and adventure. The only problem? Bald eagles don't make that sound.

Instead, they emit a sort of high-pitched giggle or a weak scream. These noises are so unimpressive that Hollywood sound editors often dub over bald eagle calls with far more impressive sounds: the piercing, earthy screams of a smaller bird, the red-tailed hawk. If you were a fan of The Colbert Report, you might remember the show's iconic CGI eagle from the opener—it, too, is making that red-tailed hawk cry. Listen for yourself and decide who sounds more impressive.


Two bald eagles guard their prey against two magpies on a snowy field.

Picture a majestic bald eagle swooping low over a lake and catching a fish in its powerful claws. Yes, bald eagles eat a lot of fish—but they don't always catch them themselves. They've perfected the art of stealing fish from other birds such as ospreys, chasing them down until they drop their prey.

Bald eagles will also snack on gulls, ducks, rabbits, crabs, amphibians, and more. They'll scavenge in dumpsters, feed on waste from fish processing plants, and even gorge on carrion (dead, decaying animals).


Two bald eagles perched on a tree.

Trash and carrion aside, they're pretty romantic animals. Bald eagles tend to pair up for life, and they share parenting duties: The male and the female take turns incubating the eggs, and they both feed their young.


Two bald eagles sitting on a rock.

Those romantic partnerships are even more impressive because bald eagles can survive for decades. In 2015, a wild eagle in Henrietta, New York, died at the record age of 38. Considering that these birds pair up at 4 or 5 years of age, that's a lot of Valentine's Days.


Two bald eagles in their large nest.

Bald eagles build enormous nests high in the treetops. The male and female work on the nest together, and this quality time helps them cement their lifelong bond. Their cozy nurseries consist of a framework of sticks lined with softer stuff such as grass and feathers. If the nest serves them well during the breeding season, they'll keep using it year after year. And, like all homeowners, they can't resist the thought of renovating and adding to their abode. Every year, they'll spruce it up with a whopping foot or two of new material.

On average, bald eagle nests are 2-4 feet deep and 4-5 feet wide. But one pair of eagles near St. Petersburg, Florida, earned the Guinness World Record for largest bird’s nest: 20 feet deep and 9.5 feet wide. The nest weighed over two tons.


Two bald eagles in their large nest.

In many animal species, males are (on average) larger than females. Male gorillas, for example, dwarf their female counterparts. But for most birds of prey, it's the opposite. Male bald eagles weigh about 25 percent less than females.

Scientists aren't sure why there's such a size difference. One reason might be the way they divide up their nesting duties. Females take the lead in arranging the nesting material, so being bigger might help them take charge. Also, they spend longer incubating the eggs than males, so their size could intimidate would-be egg thieves.

If you're trying to tell male and female eagles apart, this size difference may help you—especially since both sexes have the same plumage patterns.


A bald eagle flies across the water.

People often get excited about a big soaring bird and yell "It's an eagle!” just before it swoops closer and … oops, it's a vulture. Here's a handy identification tip. Bald eagles usually soar with their wings almost flat. On the other hand, the turkey vulture—another dark, soaring bird—holds its wings up in a shallow V shape called a dihedral. A lot of large hawks also soar with slightly raised wings.


Baby eagle chicks in a nest.

Before European settlers arrived, bald eagles were abundant across the U.S. But with settlement came habitat destruction, and the settlers viewed the eagles as competition for game and as a threat to livestock. So many eagles were killed that in 1940 Congress passed an act to protect the birds.

Unfortunately, another threat rose up at about that time. Starting after World War II, farmers and public health officials used an insecticide called DDT. The chemical worked well to eradicate mosquitos and agricultural pests—but as it traveled up the food chain, it began to heavily affect birds of prey. DDT made eagle eggshells too thin and caused the eggs to break. A 1963 survey found just 471 bald eagle pairs in the lower 48 states.

DDT was banned in the early 1970s, and conservationists began to breed bald eagles in captivity and reintroduce them in places across America. Luckily, this species made a spectacular recovery. Now the lower 48 states boast over 9700 nesting pairs.


An African fish eagle flies over the water.
The African fish eagle is a relative of the North American bald eagle.

You've probably heard of America's other eagle: the golden eagle. This bird lives throughout much of the northern hemisphere. But the bald eagle is only found in North America. It lives across much of Canada and the U.S., as well as northern parts of Mexico.

Though it may be North American, the bald eagle has seven close relatives that are found throughout the world. They all belong to the genus Haliaeetus, which comes—pretty unimaginatively—from the Latin words for "sea" and "eagle." One relative, the African fish eagle, is a powerful symbol in its own right. It represents several countries; for example, it's the national symbol of Zambia, and graces the South Sudanese, Malawian, and Namibian coats of arms.


A bald eagle carries a fish off in its talons.

It seems too weird to be true: While flying, bald eagles sometimes grab each other's feet and spin while plummeting to the earth. Scientists aren't sure why they do this—perhaps it's a courtship ritual or a territorial battle. Usually, the pair will separate before hitting the ground (as seen in this remarkable set of photographs). But sometimes they hold tight and don't let go. These two male bald eagles locked talons and hit the ground with their feet still connected. One subsequently escaped and the other was treated for talon wounds.


Close-up of a bald eagle's face.

What if you could close your eyes and still see? Besides the usual pair of eyelids, bald eagles have a see-through eyelid called a nictitating membrane. They can close this membrane to protect their eyes while their main eyelids remain open. The membrane also helps moisten and clean their eyes.

Eagles also have sharper vision than people, and their field of vision is wider. Plus, they can see ultraviolet light. Both of those things mean the expression "eagle eye" is spot-on.


A bald eagle sits in a snowy tree.

If you're a bald eagle that nests in northern Canada, you'll probably head south for the winter to avoid the punishing cold. Many eagles fly south for the winter and return north for the summer—as do plenty of other bird species (and retired Canadians). But not all bald eagles migrate. Some of them, including individuals in New England and Canada's Maritime provinces, stick around all year. Whether or not a bird migrates depends on how old it is and how much food is available.


A bald eagle

There are several videos online—like the one above—that show a bald eagle swimming in the sea, rowing itself to shore with its huge wings. Eagles have hollow bones and fluffy down, so they can float pretty well. But why swim instead of soar? Sometimes, an eagle will swoop down and grab an especially weighty fish, then paddle it to shore to eat.

Note that the announcer in the video above says that the eagle's talons are "locked" on a fish that's too heavy to carry. In fact, those lockable talons are an urban legend.

How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library

Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]


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