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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cats as killers irks birders and costs billions

The family tabby is Wildlife Enemy Number One, standing accused by scientists of killing at least 480 million birds annually in the United States.

A peer-reviewed report from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln says that bird predation by feral cats also results in an economic loss of $17 billion each year.

The school’s “Feral Cats and Their Management” report further explores the issue, noting that in the U.S. the feral cat population is pegged at more than 60 million felines. And the population is growing rapidly, also notes the American Bird Conservancy.

Some of the reports other findings were:

n Most feral cats (up to 80 percent) carry a parasite responsible for what is called toxoplasmosis, which is a condition of special concern to pregnant women.

n Cats are directly responsible over the years for the extinction of no fewer than 33 bird species worldwide.

n Take into account the birds killed by household cats allowed to prowl outdoors during the day or night, and the total annual bird kill in the U.S. could be one billion individuals.

n Feeding feral cats encourages congregation of the animals which can encourage the spread of disease.

n The life expectancy of a feral cat is 3 to 5 years while it is 15 years for an owned cat.

Ohio wildlife officials agree that cats are a major source of wildlife predation, particularly as it applies to song birds and small game birds. And the problem is not just with wild cats, either, state wildlife officials say.

“Cats are very efficient predators and can have a very big impact on wildlife,” said Dan Kramer, wildlife administrator for the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s District Three (Northeast Ohio) office in Akron

As for which bird species is at greatest risk, Kramer says “take your pick.”

“Everything from robins to house wrens to mourning doves are in jeopardy,” Kramer says. “And just about any newly fledged bird is susceptible, too. These birds are often not well concealed and not experienced at evading predators. This report does drive home the point.”

Other vulnerable critters to feral cat predation are baby cottontail rabbits, which Kramer says “are easy prey.”

“Chipmunks are another wildlife species that are heavily preyed upon by feral cats,” Kramer said. “Feral cats will kill wildlife no matter how well fed they are, too. Certainly, responsible cat owners should keep their pets indoors.”

The Bird Conservancy agrees, likewise noting that the practice of “trap, neuter and release” has done little to stem the rising tide of a growing feral cat problem.

“Communities seeking a solution to their feral cat problems need to consider the science on the issue and the well-being of animals impacted by feral cats as well as the cats themselves,” says Darin Schroeder, Vice-president for Conservation Advocacy for the American Bird Conservancy.

“These other animals - birds especially - don’t deserve to die at the hands of a predator introduced into their environment by irresponsible pet owners.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn


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