Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Domestic cats pose a major threat to birds


Betty Firth’s column on dogs and cats states the obvious: golden retrievers have more cognitive capacity than do cats (full disclosure: I’ve lived with golden retrievers all my life). She then wades into the even more fraught issue of cats killing birds, citing the opinion of “internationally recognized cat and dog researcher” John Bradshaw that “in all likelihood, your house cat is probably a clumsy and inefficient hunter” because they aren’t “born in the wild and taught to hunt by their mothers in their first two months of life.”

Don’t believe it. First off, Mr. Bradshaw is expert only when it comes to cat-human interactions (“Anthrozoology,” as he calls it), not cat-wildlife interactions. If he were, he would know about the damning literature on mortality of birds caused by both feral and domestic cats. The best paper on the subject, “The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States” was published in Nature Communications in 2013. The authors did a data-driven, systematic review of studies of predation rates of feral and domestic cats, and estimated the magnitude of bird mortality caused by all cats. Their conservative estimate: Cats kill between 1.3 and 4.0 billion birds each year across the contiguous United States. While the majority of this carnage was caused by feral cats, domestic cats were thought responsible for between 400 million to 1.25 billion of those bird deaths. That means domestic cats rival or surpass all the other direct sources of human-caused mortality, including collisions with windows, buildings, communication towers, vehicles, wind generators and pesticide poisoning. A study in Canada reached a similar conclusion.

I didn’t have to go any further than my living room easy chair to see evidence of this. On occasion I’ve spotted neighbors’ cats stalking birds at my bird feeders, and often see their tracks in the snow there. Once, while watching evening grosbeaks on the feeder out the window, I witnessed a neighbor’s cat suddenly rocket into view from under the feeder, its paw stretched overhead ala LeBron James going in for a dunk, except in this case the cat deftly swiped a grosbeak off the rim of the feeder before dropping back out of sight.

Responsible cat owners who have made the decision to keep their cats indoors shouldn’t be fooled by Mr. Bradshaw’s poorly-informed opinion about the impacts domestic cats have on bird populations (and other animals, including small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, which could fill another letter). Keep on keeping your cat indoors. For those interested in more information, check out the American Bird Conservancy’s website under, appropriately, the “threats” link.

Steve Wilson



3 comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

Agreed Steve. Keep your doggone cat in the house please.

Friday, February 16

I've lived with cats all my life. Their hunting instinct to stalk and take down critters is very strong. Our current cats are indoor only and they hunt anything that moves, flies, moths, assorted insects that get in the house during non-winter months. One cat even "hunts" and brings to her humans non-living things, oddball objects like fuzzy paint roller covers just as outdoor cats drop their mouse, bird, etc kills on the doorstep.

More reasons to keep cats indoors is danger of diseases and injuries from other outdoor cats, animals and hit by cars. Large birds like eagles and owls view cats and small dogs as treats.

Monday, February 19

The response of cat lovers who let their pets outside to slaughter birds is typically ‘hunting is their nature’. Cats kill birds for fun, not food. I know what my dog would do to a cat. I’ve seen it and it was horrid. My 2 dogs each grabbed an end and tore the cat in half. That is in some dog’s nature, which is not allowed by most dog owners. I think cats should be inside, all of the time with ‘things’ to keep them busy. How cat people do not understand this is beyond me, a confirmed dog lover. I do know what my husband would do if a cat showed up at my bird feeders. The cat would not be going home.

Monday, February 26