May 2013

- by Linda Orkin

The recent spate of publicity regarding feline impacts on wildlife started with the release of results from the kitty-cams that the University of Georgia fitted 60 cats with. These kitty-cam collars were able to document the out-of-sight behaviors of family cats, and many were shocked to learn that the prey these cats brought home represented only about a fourth of what they had killed. This disturbing study was followed by many reports that have been published in recent months enumerating the rates of kill of free-ranging domestic cats. These articles have been linked on the Cayuga Birds listserv and on the bird club Facebook page, but I felt it was worthy of reflection in this mid-spring edition of the bird club newsletter.

In January, a report that is a peer-reviewed study and authored by scientists from the Smithsonian and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and which compiles results of 90 other studies on the impact of outdoor cats, extrapolates the median number of birds killed annually at 2.4 billion and the median number of mammals at 12.3 billion. These numbers mean that the negative anthropogenic, or manmade, effect on native wildlife is greater from cats than from all other causes combined. To add to this bad news, a recent peer-reviewed study in Great Britain detailed extremely negative effects on nesting birds. Adult nesting birds who were exposed to cats alarm-called much more loudly and were thus inadvertently pressured into advertising the presence of their nest. A dire consequence of this was the great increase in predation effects not only by the cats themselves, but by many other nest predators including birds, mammals, and snakes who as a result were alerted to the location of a nest. Not only was this negative effect seen in rates of predation, but adult birds greatly decrease their feeding activity of nestlings and not just when the cat was in place but for some hours afterwards. You can search on the American Bird Conservancy website for these articles: “Outdoor Cats: Single Greatest Source of Human-Caused Mortality for Birds and Mammals,” “Study Documents Dramatic New Impacts to Birds from Outdoor Cats,” and “New Study Provides First Direct Evidence of Feral Cats in Hawaii Killing Endangered Hawaiian Petrel.” This last article headline raises a valid point. A large percentage of birds and mammals are killed by socalled “unowned” cats, and I do want to make this clear. The issue of Trap, Neuter and Release inspires passionate outcries on both sides and is not one I will address at this point. Still, there are about 40% of cats in this country that are owned and do have a home who are also out and about committing this mayhem.

I remember the long ago days when dogs were put out to run with little criticism. It was just considered to be normal and right. I know we still encounter dogs on the trails who are off leash, but they are ostensibly under voice control of their person and not just wandering freely. Today, loose dogs are not tolerated and, indeed, are arrested and ticketed. Leash laws work and represent a consensus that we all benefit from not having dogs out roaming, that they could cause us and themselves harm, they could carry disease, and they could harass wildlife. Our attitudes about the rights of dogs to experience what some might call their true nature by being unrestrained have evolved over time. It is time to bring cat controls up to this same standard.

Our Conservation Action Committee is committed to an education program that will disseminate information about the extremely disturbing impacts that outdoor cats are having. There are so many human caused problems for birds these days, and most of these will take many people in agreement to effect a change. Each of us as individuals may have little chance to change building and window design, or halt the large-scale use of agro-pesticides, or ameliorate the myriad other dangers birds face. Yet, here is one easy thing just one person, each person can do. Keep your cat indoors. Only let them out in a covered cat run or go out with them and monitor their activities if you are able to keep them nearby. If you get a new kitten, leash train it. NestWatch does not like to be too judgmental with people; and as they attempt to maneuver through this extremely emotional and loaded issue, they recommend that you keep cats indoors at least during nesting and fledging season. Think of all those helpless babies hopping around, cheeping and begging and advertising their very vulnerable existence. Watch this YouTube video if you want to see some very fun things you can do with your cat.

YouTube Video

Happy spring and let’s all do our part to keep nesting parent birds and their young safe