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Cats And Birds

iStock_000003196778SmallCats are frequently blamed for the diminishing populations of various species of songbirds. While domestic and feral cats can be bird hunters, most research shows that cats are not the primary killers of wild birds. The domestic outdoor cat’s diet is similar to its wild ancestor (the African Wild Cat) and its relative (the European Wild Cat) with mice making up 70% of the diet, birds 10-20%, and reptiles 10-13%. Wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, and opossums take a greater toll on birdlife. These predatory animals thrive in rural and semi-urban areas. Birds and their eggs are among their favorite foods. However, humans are without a doubt the birds’ worst enemies. Habitat destruction, pesticide use, air pollution, even plate-glass windows in skyscrapers, kill vast numbers of birds every year. (According to recent estimates, the yearly toll for window-deaths is 975 million birds.)

The truth is…cats are opportunistic hunters. They go after whatever is easiest to catch, whether it is birds, mice, frogs, or insects. The cat’s hunting style–the hide, wait-for-a-long-time, and pounce method–is best suited for catching rodents, not birds. Consequently, the birds that cats do catch are usually old, ill, or very young. The following are a few suggestions to help prevent bird kills:

  • Be sure bird feeders are high off the ground and are not close to foliage which provides the cat with a hiding spot from which to launch ambushes.
  • Attach a bell to a break-away collar and make sure your cat is wearing it before going outside. The bells with the little dingers in them, not the jingle-bell type, work the best.
  • Avoid letting the cat outside during the peak feeding times for birds–dawn and dusk.

All cats, and feral cats in particular, have become convenient scapegoats for the loss of many species, especially songbirds. However, we can no longer ignore the role that we humans have played in this process. Before we can sentence cats to death for being carnivores, we need to take a hard look at ourselves and what we have done to our ecosystem.

* Keep in mind that there are many risks for feline that ventures outdoors. Cars, other animals, and even people can pose a significant threat to the health and longevity of your pet. Many communities in the U.S. have leash laws for cats as well as dogs.

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