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Are Cats Really Ruthless Bird Killers?


News Media Calls Cats "Ruthless Bird Killers?"
Photo of Cat With Dead Mouse

Photo of Cat With Dead Mouse

Image © ayors

We who advocate responsible cat parenting have preached for years about the necessity of keeping cats indoors, not only for their own safety, but to help protect wildlife, including wild birds. We also advocate the spay and neuter of our pet cats. In March of 2012, my friend, the esteemed Dr. Shelby Neely, wrote, "1 billion spent to capture & euthanize. Shouldn't we neuter pets to save lives & reduce expenses?"

Early Reports of Owned Cats as Killers

These wild bird lovers vs cat lovers debates are nothing new. In late 2008, the BBC News Reported a new study being done by tagging 200 cats with data loggers attached to their harnesses to track their roaming range along with their activities. According to the article, "Correlating these data with the actual prey returned will give us a good idea of predation rates in urban areas." The article also referred to a survey of over 600 cat owners done in 1997, which resulted in the estimate that "British felines kill 92 million animals a year." I recall the publicity surrounding that survey. Although I no longer have access to the data, I do recall rebuttals by several TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) experts as to the validity of some of the "estimates" as they would relate to North America.

TNR Supporters Respond to "Cats as Killers" Media Frenzy

While cat parents can help the wild bird population by spay/neuter, what about stray and feral cats? Are they really the heartless killers they are being made out to be by the news media?

Kitty Cam Project in Georgia

From November, 2010 to October, 2011, a Georgia ecologist with a doctorate from the University of Georgia worked with the National Geographic Kitty Cam group to track owned cats fitted with Kitty Cams, to observe and record their hunting habits. Read my blog entry of 2012 for more information about the findings of this project and the subsequent reactions of feline experts.

Cat-Free New Zealand?

In New Zealand, Gareth Morgan wants to see a future with no pet cats whatsoever in that country. Ironically, as reported by Fox news, he also wants to "raise $1 million to eradicate mice from the remote Antipodes Islands, where rodents are the only predators."
See Forum discussion regarding this campaign.

Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Report

This report claimed deaths of both birds and mammals in the billions, and blamed feral cats for the brunt of the killing. See the ABC News article for more details. On the other hand, ABC missed an important detail of this study. According to the Washington Post, "Marra and two other scientists, the Smithsonian institute's Scott R. Loss and Tom Will from Fish and Wildlife, conducted their analysis as part of a broader study of humans' impact on bird mortality. Roughly 150,000 to 400,000 birds in the United States die annually in wind turbines, according to recent estimates, while 10 million to 1 billon birds die after colliding with glass."
See Alley Cat Allies' response to this study.

HUMANS Are To Blame

There is no doubt in my mind that we humans are responsible in a large part for the losses in wild bird populations.

  1. We domesticated cats in ancient years, and as we moved around, imported them into countries all over the world, either as pets, or as "watch cats" to guard grains against infestation by rodents. In Japan, early cats became the models for the Maneki Nekko, small statues which were revered as a symbol of good fortune or good luck. In the United States, the first cats were believed to have arrived here from Europe via ship
  2. Birds' habitats have dwindled exponentially, as we have expanded our own territory into areas previously populated only by birds and other wildlife.
  3. Our failure to spay and neuter pet cats has created a huge cat overpopulation problem for years. In the first place, spaying and neutering cats was unheard of for centuries. Although the practice has been around since the 20th century, the surgeries were performed only by private clinics. It wasn't until 1969 that the first spay and neuter clinic was opened, in Los Angeles, CA. However, even today, thirty-five percent of Americans fail to spay and neuter their pets.
  4. We allow our whole cats to run loose, mate freely, then when the queens get pregnant, many are dumped along with their kittens in areas where they have to hunt for food. Eventually a group of abandoned cats may form a colony, where they will then spawn first generation feral cats.

The Solution is NOT to Kill the Feral Cats

You could rerun the above list to see the solutions. But briefly, we need to spay and neuter our cats. We need to keep our cats indoors, for their protection and well as the protection of birds and other prey. Municipalities and military facilities need to cooperate with TNR groups rather than rounding up cats and killing them.

Consider the Natural Food Chain

Our world is built around a "natural food chain." We humans like to think we are at the top of it. Consumer-wise, we likely are, except for those of us who are vegans. The BBC News article quoted earlier, concludes with "It is estimated that people in the UK consume 1 bn farm animals and 1.5 bn fish each year."

However, in our world almost everything is relative. As an example, those abandoned stray cats will indeed kill birds for food at times, although they are more likely to kill easier prey, such as mice and voles. But if a hungry hawk or other raptor spots a hapless cat out in the open, it will swoop down, and in seconds, have itself a meal of tasty feline.

Humans do not always kill for food. In some states it is still legal to kill mountain lions as a sport. In August of 2012, the California President of the Department Fish and Game Commission was removed from his office for killing a mountain lion in Utah as a trophy hunter.

We aren't necessarily ordained to be the top of the food chain. For example, a mountain lion, temporarily lacking other prey, may kill a hapless human to feed her cubs.

But Are Cats in General Vicious Killers?

We wouldn't love our cats if we could believe that. Killing out of necessity for food is not a ruthless act. Even the occasional "recreational" killing of a mouse or bird is not done for fun. I believe it is an instinctual act to keep their food-gathering skills honed, should the need arise.

I do not have access to the complete data resulting from these various studies, therefore I cannot comment on their accuracy. Another factor is that many of these studies are subject to interpretation. But even if they could be proved to be entirely accurate, the fault does not lie in the cats, nor should they be punished because of our failure to do the right thing.

Our cats are not to blame. The fault lies with us. The bottom line is that it is still our responsibility as caregivers and advocates, to do all we can to protect both our cats and our wildlife. As the popular comic strip character by Walt Kelly, Pogo once said, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

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