If every cat in North America caught only one bird per year, that would be over seventy million dead birds.
Today, a salute to the winsome dark-eyed junco, and with it a plea to please keep your cats indoors. Cornell University reports that this tame little sparrow is the number one victim of backyard cats, with more juncos taken than any other species, including the utterly expendable house sparrow.
Many cat owners still consider it a cat’s birthright to wander at will, though the risks to the cat’s own health (and accompanying vet bills) are high. What’s becoming clear is that the cost to indigenous wildlife is astronomical. And while many cat owners will adamantly claim that their cat doesn’t hunt, if every cat in North America caught only one bird per year, that would be over seventy million dead birds, a greater toll than from any single oil spill in history. Most estimates actually run into the hundreds of millions.
According to the American Bird Conservancy, in England…
“During a five-month period in 1997, 964 cats killed more than 14,000 animals. The mean number of catches or kills per cat was 16.7, and birds were 24% of the prey. The mean kill rates for belled cats was 19 and for no-bells 15. In other words, cats wearing bells killed more.”
A study in Wichita, Kansas revealed:
“In a study of cat predation in an urban area, 83% of the 41 study cats killed birds. In all but one case, when feathers were found in scat, the owner was unaware that their cat had ingested a bird. In fact, the majority of cat owners reported their cats did not bring prey to them. Instead, the owners observed the cats with the bird or found remains in the house or in other locations. A de-clawed cat killed more animals than any other cat in the study.”
And a reminder that even well-fed cats hunt (this one comes with a free, delightful mental image):
“Well-fed cats kill birds and other wildlife because the hunting instinct is independent of the urge to eat. In one study, six cats were presented with a live small rat while eating their preferred food. All six cats stopped eating the food, killed the rat, and then resumed eating the food.”
Horrified cat owners may be relieved to know that the worst culprits are feral or un-owned cats. A recent study published in Nature Communications estimates that free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4–3.7 billion birds and 6.9–20.7 billion mammals annually. That, my friends, is carnage.
It is always extremely contentious to treat feral cats as invasive species. Nobody wants to see innocent (if bloodthirsty) cats eliminated simply for being cats. But in areas where species at risk are at stake, there may be few alternatives.
Please keep your cat indoors. Always.