Cats and Songbirds, Living Together in Harmony

A story in the Washington Post, 'Bird Lovers See Roaming Cats as Major Threat to Many Species,' by Adrian Higgins doesn't quite get it right. The story appeared September 30, and I've been meaning to blog about it.

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Song birds are wonderful, aside from their pleasing music and good looks - they are instrumental in catching insects we don't want. This bird is called the cat bird.

Apparently, the reporter didn't do his homework - or, I bet, had preconceived notions before he began which altered his perspective.

In the story, he asserts millions of songbirds are killed each year because of cats. Well, that may be true.

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I'm not saying cats don't kill birds, they do. And that's more than unfortunate. But this doesn't make it any better to kill cats.

We don't really know. He also asserts in the story that two-thirds of all bird species are in decline. Well, that probably is true.

However, what he only touched on - and the National Audubon Society has confirmed in a previous conversation with me, the significance of light and air pollution, as well as habitat destruction. Other experts suggest various types of pollution and loss of habitat are actually the primary factors for the decline of most songbird species.

Higgins quotes experts from Partners in Flight who suggest the average cat bird kills 54 birds a year. No way, not if the cat is owned and being fed (though cats will sometimes kill animals just because - their instinct is to catch moving objects even if they don't eat it.

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This cat isn't chasing anything, or at least not catching a thing!

Still, many indoor/outdoor cats are filled or too fat to manage the acrobatics), and feral cats that are a part of trap, neuter, return programs are often supplemented with food - and therefore less likely to snatch as many birds. And one more thing, while cats climb they don't fly.

The Washington Post story also indicates two-thirds of all owned cats are indoor/outdoors; that's just plain wrong. According to the American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey (and data from others confirms), about  22% are actually indoor-outdoors.

I believe we are wasting our time with the same old arguments - let's do something to help cats and to help birds! What? Help both cats and birds - sure, why not? Just because I adore cats doesn't mean I don't love birds. And I'm not alone. To begin with, I endorse pet cats stay indoors (except on a leash and harness, in yards protected by cat fencing, patio with 'catios', in cat strollers, etc).

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This is a great way for cats to enjoy the outdoors, a catio

It is FAR better for the health of the cat without fights with other cats, or the possibility on contracting feline disease. Indoor cats are not attacked by stray dogs or coyotes.

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I know this is graphic but people need to know - it can one day be your cat. This cat was hit by a car.

The most significant predator are cars. Your neighbors will appreciate not having to clean up cat poo from their garden, or having an outdoor cat spray on their home causing their  indoor-only owned cats to spray back. I even know someone who was killed attempting to avoid hitting cats on a road as he was driving. Unless they are supervised owned cats belong indoors - period!  I agree, they don't naturally belong in the ecosystem.

Then what about all the feral cats, and we're taking upwards of 50 million to well over 90 million. Well, for generations of trying - we KNOW that capture and kill doesn't work.

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The animal control officials (these days under-staffed anyway) can't get them all. And because cats are so adept at reproducing, they replace what's been taken from the colony to fill the void. Besides data from Alley Cat Allies and others has demonstrated that the public doesn't want to see cats captured and destroyed.

Other archaic ideas have been proposed, even shooting cats (so what, if you happen to hit a person in the process?). Anyhow, feral cats have lived alongside people for eons - and so far, TNR is the only solution that's worked to diminish their numbers.

We know that trap, neuter, return (TNR) works.

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TNR works, and has added benefits including providing neighborhood spirit

Volunteers, perhaps animal control workers and shelter employees as well can humanely trap cats. They're taken to be spay/neutered and vaccinated for rabies. In some places, it's also the law to microchip. They're identified so when returned to the colony, and newcomers not 'TNR'd' can readily be noted. Dealing with possible rabies transmission is sometimes overlooked, but very important for public health, so rabies vaccines are a very good idea. Of course, even cats can't reproduce if they are spayed or neutered. This process isn't an instant fix - but it is obviously a fix. It does work.

Instead of hollering about the cats - I call on birds lovers to help out - help TNR groups with dollars or another pair of hands. In Chicago, contact any local shelter, or Tree House Humane Society about their Feral Friends program.

We know the solution - it's just a matter of convincing cat lovers to keep their owned cats indoors, and bird lovers to support TNR initiatives. Impossible? I don't think so -

Meanwhile, let's all work toward protecting what little wild space is left, for songbirds and other animals too. And cutting down on light and air pollution is beneficial for us as well as for birds.

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  • Thank you, Steve, for devoting your column to this important topic!

    I agree that the

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