Cat Got Your Bird

At ENN, we are a big fan of our feathered friends (Big Bird and Tweety included). Last year we posted 2 articles on our blog discussing strategies for feeding and interacting with the birds you might find in your back yard. In this article I plan to focus on the wild bird’s greatest nemesis, and one of human’s closest friends, the domestic outdoor cat .

According to the Humane Society, cats can be found in thirty-three percent of households in the United States. This is a lot of cats- approximately 86.4 million.  Of course not all of these cats are allowed outside, or pose a threat to wild birds, but many of them do. The American Bird Conservancy estimates that up to 500 million birds are killed each year by cats, half by pets and half by feral animals.

 A recent study in the UK by Dr Rebecca Thomas of the University of Reading, looked into the relationship between birds and cats, to better understand the threat cats pose to wild birds.

Dr. Thomas found that hunting behaviors vary among cats. In a survey of pet owners, 22 percent of owners said that their cats never brought them dead animals and only 20 percent of cats brought back greater than four dead animals a year.  The study found an average of 18.3 kills per cat, meaning, a small minority of cats is responsible for a majority of the killings

Thomas is most worried about the effect of cats in urban environments. ‘The density of cats in urban environments is the biggest issue,’ Thomas says. ‘Even if a cat isn’t killing often, there are so many of them in a small area that they can have a very serious impact. Owners might think their cats only catch two or three birds a year and that won’t make any difference, but they need to understand all the other pressures that wildlife is under from habitat loss and environmental change.’

So what can we do to protect the birds?

Please keep your cats indoors.  Banning cats from the outdoors is an efficient way to “keep cats off the streets”.  The practice of sterilizing outdoor cats is extremely useful in controlling stray cat populations in urban areas.  A less intrusive option could be requiring outdoor cats to wear bells. Belles can reduce hunting effectiveness (though some cats learn to compensate for the bells).

 I know from experience that public ordinances relating to animals are hard to maintain, so it is up to individual cat owners to take some responsibility for their pet’s potential behaviors. 

Cat with Bird via Shutterstock

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013 at 15:30
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