Cats vs. Birds, New Report Suggests Cats Are Bird Killers. Exaggerated or Not, Talk Solutions

Cats vs. Birds, New Report Suggests Cats Are Bird Killers. Exaggerated or Not, Talk Solutions

Cats are responsible for killing more birds than previously expected, according to a newly released report, "The Impact of Free-Ranging Domestic Cats on Wildlife of the United States," published in the Journal Nature. This report and the response have caused all sorts of media attention and corresponding emotional responses by those who love cats, and also those who disdain them.

According to the report's findings, domestic cats kill 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals annually. Un-owned cats as opposed to owned pets, cause the majority of this mortality. Authors write, "Our findings suggest that free-ranging cats cause substantially greater wildlife mortality than previously thought  and are likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for U.S. birds and mammals."

Coincidence, or not....This report's results were released on the heels of  a New Zealand conservationist making international headlines expressing serious concerns about cats killing birds there, and even suggested banning future cat ownership in New Zealand.

Every few years some scientific report is released  - backed by bird groups, which vilifies cats. Why is this one  report different?

Well, for one thing these estimates of cats related wildlife fatalities are higher than in most previous reports. Bruce Kornreich, associate director for Education and Outreach at the Feline Health Center of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, Ithaca released this statement,  “The impact of both owned and un-owned domestic cats on wildlife is an important ecologic issue, as highlighted by the recent manuscript in Nature Communications.  We commend the authors of this study for their efforts to shed light on the magnitude of this problem, and it is clear from their work and the work of others that domestic cats have a considerable impact on wildlife in both the U.S. and abroad."

Lots have weighed in on this. Becky Robinson, co-founder and president of Alley Cat Allies, a national advocacy group which supports humane treatment of cats gets to the heart of the matter. “This so called ‘survey of research’ seems just another misguided attempt to draw attention to the decline of wildlife by manufacturing a fake debate. The study conveniently sidestepped the primary culprit of decline of wildlife populations which, of course, is human activity including habitat destruction."

Let me go one step further. Scientists, outside the cat debate, make it clear that habitat loss, pollution (light pollution and air pollution) and even climate changes have significantly impacted wildlife, including songbirds. They make little mention of cats....Do cats play a role, perhaps even a significant role toward diminishing wildlife? Sure, they do. However, cats are hardly the most significant factor.

Feral cats (as well as owned indoor/outdoor cats) do eat. But lets use some common sense - despite their extraordinary hunting skills, cat don't fly. Many of the adult birds they catch are ill. Also, many feral cats (and many - likely most indoor/outdoor owned cats) live in large cities. In these places, for feral cats, trash (in garbage in alleys) and rodents (including city rats) are on the menu. Owned cats here may take some animals outdoors, but studies show being well fed as they are - they may not even have the athletic prowess to catch birds. Also, in some places birds may sadly not be in sufficient numbers to even catch.

Also the reality is that feral cats may not have it so easy....they are predators, true. But they are also prey to coyotes, birds of prey, cars, infectious disease, extreme weather, etc.

For study after study to target cats does little - except to stir an emotional fervor which bird groups use to raise money. And to pit birds vs. cats. This idea of one species vs. another is truly unfortunate - and does neither birds or cats any good.

Reading through the report in Nature and comments from organizations and individuals responding, though many 'pile on cats,' few offer a solution.

That "solution" in recent decades has been trap, nueter, return (TNR) feral cats. Volunteers humanely trap the cats, which are spayed or neutered, vaccinate for rabies and they are ear-tipped for identification (so  people know which cats have been TNR'd). Any very ill cats are euthanized. Very young kittens are adopted into homes. All others are released back to live our their lives without reproducing. When supplemented with food, they may not to as fervent about taking birds (though it is true many cats will still hunt).  In some instances, when cat colonies live near particularly prone species (such as rare ground-nesting birds), all the cats are relocated.

Those involved in the study published in Nature do suggest that that, far from diminishing the population of unowned cats, trap and release programs may be making "it worse, by encouraging people to abandon their pets to outdoor colonies that volunteers often keep lovingly fed."

These comments seem to be based on personal feelings rather than data. And they are simply divisive (which this entire discussion really is).

No one has come up with a better idea. They only complain about current programs and ideas.

The only alternative plan (to TNR) that I've seen in recent years is to legalize aiming and shooting at cats. Really? You're kidding. Proponents are dead serious about this. Never mind concerns that people will shoot their neighbors or spouses in error; hitting a moving target (mostly out at night or at least in low light) as small as a cat isn't easy. I do have oncerns that shooting and not killing is hardly humane. Bottom line for centuries feral cats have lived alongside humans - with benefits and with detriments. That's a fact. Another fact is that eradication efforts from using guns to poisons have never worked.

I would be no better if I didn't offer a solution.

1) TNR: A part of the reason TNR hasn't worked as effectively as some might want (though clearly TNR - given a chance - does work)  is simply a lack of volunteers. Absolutely, there are legions of cat lovers - thousands across America, who are involved with TNR. But if there were more volunteers and more cats were TNR'd, and more TNR'd cats were supplemented with even more pet food. Instead of the co-called 'bird people' hollering about all the cats, why don't they volunteer and call for others to be a part of the solution themselves?

2) Indoors Only: America is moving in this direction but perhaps not fast enough. For their own safety, cats are better off living in an enriched indoor environment  Indoors only, cats tend to live longer. Indoors only, cats are not using neighbor's yards as litter boxes or catching anything, except toys. Outdoors, cat fencing, catios (enclosed cat-friendly patios) and even walking cats are harness and leashes are all great ideas for those who want to give kitties outdoor time; in these controlled situations, everyone is safe.

3) Bird people vs Cat people: This mentality has to stop. I've called for a summit bringing everyone together. The Humane Society of United States did host an event, I don't know all the details, I wasn't invited. That's a part of the issue - all the appropriate players weren't there. Both "sides" must agree to at least attempt to work together. However, at least for some groups, it appears in their best interest to stir the emotional catnip pot every year as an apparent effort to fundraise to save the hapless birds (without making mention of other factors which we know more greatly endangers birds), but those are apparently less emotional.

Tell me what you think....

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  • For a solution to outside owned cats killing birds. Tell your readers to use a CatBib. Tested by a University biology dept. and found to stop 4 out of 5 cats from killing birds. Recommended by Audubon and the University of Georgia kitty cam project. www.catbib.com

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    Steve,
    Great article about a subject near and dear to my heart. I'd like to see a study that shows the positive impact of feral cats, namely the reduction in rats and mice and the diseases they can carry. Surely with the supposed vilification of cats killing birds there is also adoration for them keeping our crops from being destroyed or vermin-bourne illness being spread?
    And for what it's worth, I love birds. I have feeders all around my house. Over the past 20 years I've seen a shocking decline in the numbers and varieties of birds here and my feeders are 20 feet off the ground. I know my feral cats didn't kill those birds, but I suspect between the violent weather shifts and loss of woodlands, that DOES have something to do with this equation.
    I love cats. I run a cat rescue. Our adopters sign a contract, one of the conditions is to always keep their cats indoors. We want to be part of the solution, while making certain cats are always safe, loved and cared for.

  • You are RIGHT, RIGHT - about CatBib LeftFielder....Of course, indoors they don't even need that...but thank for your comment.

  • @Robin - well articulated...yes, experts - as I said - indicate cats play play a role but habitat loss (often far away - many birds migrate - but ow have nowhere to migrate to), pollution and other issues most significantly contribute to bird numbers going down.

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    I think the ppl behind the studies have ulterior motives. Truth is that against facts there are no arguments -> http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/01/12/eco.macquarieisland/ . Cat population control to the point of taking them out of society leads to calamity in the ecosystem. SO in a way, if NZ wants to go ahead and get rid of the cats go ahead, ill laugh my butt off when the population is being overtaken by rodents full of diseases. Mankind...always wanting to kill something...using the guy's logic, mankind should be "euthanized" since we caused plenty of species to be extinct because of our behaviour. My 2c.
    ps: TNR WORKS!

  • Marco - understand ---- makes me kinda sad, hopefully you are wrong about some of what you say....And YES TNR (when given a fair shot) does work!

  • Let’s have a discussion about how many animals HUMANS (who aren’t obligate carnivores) kill. Let’s get real here.

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    Fantastic write up, Steve. This is such an important debate and we can only hope that with our voices, we can educate more of the mainstream public on the benefits of TNR and dispel the slanted information that the media has been running with. I wrote about it on my blog as well in this very thought provoking post: http://zeezoey.com/blog/dear-editors-my-response-to-the-cats-killing-birds-study/

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    Thanks for sharing this article and the insightful write up. I'll have to read the study in Nature; such a prestigious journal...I'm surprised. What I don't understand - and what doesn't make sense from a cat's point of view - why would a cat choose a target with a poorer success rate of capture and a smaller return on investment/expenditure of energy? Rabbits, voles, mice, etc. would be a much better R.O.I.

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    I agree that cats should be kept indoors, not only to reduce predation on birds, but for their own safety. Remember, small cats are also prey for larger carnivores, as anyone with coyotes in the area will attest. Robin makes a good point about feral cats keeping down the rodent numbers, and the implications that may have on diseases carried by those rodent populations. Keep in mind that cats were persecuted and killed during the middle ages in Europe, and there is a correlation between low cat numbers and the outbreaks of flea-spread bubonic plague.

  • People today are so stupid. Cats have been killing birds for thousands of years. And we still see a ridiculous number of birds. The killing of birds is part of the cycle of life. Cats were meant to eat birds, rabbits, and rodents. I had a cat that was miserable as a kitten. Several vets never could figure out the problem he was having. Tried every food known to man. Until one day, one of our cats caught a bird and left it in the yard. The kitten found it and he was turned on in ways I had never seen. He spent a good 30 minutes eating up everything but the feathers. He turned into the most lively cat ever. Turned out that he was just allergic to any and every kind of food except the wild. I began feeding him birds. It cured his problem completely and overnight. This I found out after paying $1000 to vets.

    The modern way of thinking is highly flawed. Wisdom is something that requires time. So it comes from the past. The present is only a moment in time. And arrogantly, people today reject the past, thinking we are smarter today. Not so at all. If one does not reference the past, then one does not become wise. People today are ignorant and foolish. They are guided by the corruption of politics. In the case of cats and birds, I will shoot birds to feed the cats. That's what they were put here for. If you people can't see that, then you are completely DUMB.

  • In reply to joem789:

    Very well said. As I said in my post, outdoor cats are healthier than indoor cats. They are supposed to eat birds and mice. I think a lot of these people are just followers of the most current trend, or just aren't really thinking about it. How can something be so wrong with the most natural thing?... The food chain. Unfortunately, I have an outdoor cat who won't eat birds, and guess what? He has a bladder problem. Something that usually occurs in INDOOR cats.

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