Your Kitty the Killer

GrasshopperSparrow

A number of you are members of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology organization. In the Summer edition of Living Bird News, the Cornell Lab Director, John Fitzpatrick wrote a very important, yet chilling article concerning the effect of cat predation on birds and small mammals.

 

LivingBirdTo get your own copy of their magazine, click here.

I have seen the studies he referenced, but it really is worth repeating because there seems to be ignorance to the consequence of cat ownership. Some allow their cats to hunt thinking cats need this form of entertainment. Others turn a blind eye, thinking their cat would never take a bird from their backyard. In his article, John cites critter-cam evidence showing almost all cat’s hunting behaviors will likely end in a kill.

Jingles

The yearly toll on birds is staggering, with estimates ranging between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds killed annually by free-ranging domestic cats. Estimates of small mammals are from 6.9 billion to 20.7 billion. Not millions…BILLIONS. (S.R. Loss, T. Will, and P.P. Marra, 2013 – The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife in the united States. Nature Communications 4:1396/ncomms 2380).

Vireo

He brought up a point in his article that many of the cats roaming through cities and parks are “subsidized recreational killers.” I have surmised this for a long time as neighbors deal with cats left by thoughtless owners who leave them when they move away.

frostyKitty through the curtain…

Caring neighbors take these cats to trap-neuter-release organizations to be “fixed”, then they are returned to the streets to live out their lives in harsh weather and daily fierce battles with other cats and dogs.

Feral-CatA recently discarded city cat on the hunt for wild birds.

They say this is humane and a solution to cat overpopulation. I don’t agree. There is a tailless cat and one with only one ear in my neighborhood. Cats with mange, and cats of skin and bones roam the neighborhood, sick cats are not as proficient of hunters. I find it sad to see the poor cats, just as it is sad to see birds taken by cats.

YoungRobinPortrait

I read on blogs how kitty roams free daily and some even joke about the animals they bring home. The cats don’t always eat the prey either. What is funny or admirable about this? Cats being cats is not the problem, cat owners being irresponsible is the issue.

YellowWarblerPortrait

I am sure if I pictured a field mouse in this post, people would not be as sympathetic as these cute little songbirds, but mice is not all that domestic cats are catching as estimated in high numbers above. Since it is in a cat’s nature to hunt, it is not their fault.

OvenbirdPortrait

Like John Fitzpatrick was previously, I am a cat owner. I brought in two cats from the streets (seen in this post) that people discarded, but I NEVER let them outside for a fun jaunt of animal predation. After living three frigid winters outside on their own, they never want to be outdoors again.

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About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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49 Responses to Your Kitty the Killer

  1. P.E.A.C.E. says:

    Thank you for this excellent post. The toll is indeed staggering. It is essential that people understand how important it is to keep cats contained within their property. I would say ‘homes’ but as an animal lover I also love cats and believe that you can still let them outside into a contained space while keeping the birds safe. Lovely post. Thanks again for sharing! ~Gina

    • With watchful owners, cats can be free to roam a property. My neighbors just kick the cats out for days at a time. I often wonder why they even own them.

      • P.E.A.C.E. says:

        Yes I agree that with watchful (caring!) owners cats can have space to be outdoors like we do with ours. A small grassy area with tall walls and nothing to entice birds – only space for cats to lounge on lawn furniture. The perennials and feeders are out front.

  2. It’s sad that the problem stems from irresponsible cat owners. The real tragedy is that many of them turn cats out to live in the streets before being neutered so the problem just keeps expandng exponentially. Good articlce and great photos. Blessings, Natalie

    • Rarely are cats neutered prior to being set free, but one in our neighborhood is without claws. Sometimes, the cats never make it out of the apartments, left to starve. I always wonder why this is more often seen in cities.

  3. lucindalines says:

    Though some may not believe me, my cats roam a bit in the back yard, but to date I have never seen them with a bird. It appears feathers are not in their diet plan. They do keep the yard clean of rodents, and for that I am grateful.

  4. janechese says:

    Good post, thank you. Another solution i have heard is to not let your cat out during peak feeding times and put a bell on its collar. Not sure if it works,though.

    • Both my cats have bells, but being outdoors for three years, their hunting skills are honed. I believe they would still be good hunters. Not letting them out when birds are feeding is a great idea, but at night is when I always hear the screeching cat fights.

  5. I know! When I read the numbers from that report, I was almost embarrassed to have cats. But then I thought–I guess I’m helping with this problem, in a way, because my cats never go outside. They spend most of their summer days in the open windows looking out, or in the sunroom–so they have plenty of stimulation and entertainment … and of course, love. Meanwhile, the songbirds thrive outside … at least the ones that don’t get captured by the occasional hawks, owls, or coyotes that pass through.

    • I found those numbers unbelievable. Bird numbers are dropping dramatically anyway. I guess adding it to climate change and habitat loss, birds are really in for a population reduction. Hawks hunt here too in winter, not summer. They are not very successful because my yard is tiny and has lots of cover for songbirds, but they do get them on occasion. The cover aids cats though. They hide in wait, but they are not too often successful either because of plant orientation to where the birds feed.

  6. A.M.B. says:

    Our cats live indoors. They love to watch our bird feeders through the window, but that’s the closest they’ll ever get to it. Beautiful pictures!

  7. Andrea says:

    Hello Donna, glad to be here again. How adorable those birds are and very colorful. We have cats, they live with us but still they sometimes hunt birds, but they very seldom get one. Another cat took fancy with butterflies. It specifically love the big red once, which for are rare in the property. Neutering is not common here, so cats get plenty and difficult to discard most of the time, mostly because they are adorable too.

  8. It seems very cruel to abandon a cat that has no claws.

  9. Wow, I never thought the numbers would be so high! Everyone kept telling us that the best way to keep our vole population under control was to get a cat. But I love my birds so that option was out. Fortunately, our female Golden retriever turns out to be an amazing hunter and catches voles and moles regularly.

    • My Akita was a good hunter himself. I saw him catch birds midair. I ran out and made him spit them out. The birds were just a bit soggy, but flew off. Akitas have a soft hunting mouth luckily. Every bird that went in came back out.

  10. My heart goes to both the cats and the birds, i wish there was a even balance they could survive easily together. I was lucky with my cat; he was brought up in a home with parrots and other smaller birds and I managed to to teach him to never attack them. But he completely surprised me by never attacking my wild birds outside in his whole 15 year life; something I had never taught him. He made up for it however as a proficient mouser/ratter and rabbiter.
    Great post again, love your photos.x

    • My cats live with a cockatoo also. They know his reputation with cats. Once while boarding him a the vet’s office while I was on vacation, he was caged in the cat cages all stacked upon one another. When I left him there, he was alone. When I returned he was alone. But in the meantime…cats were all around him. But he made a game of having cat neighbors I was told. Rather than being afraid of them he would lay in wait for them to slip their tails out of the cage and got himself two cat tails. He nipped off the ends of the tails. Needless to say, no parrot was ever boarded at the vet’s office again.

      • OUCH poor kitty’s,I know what damage those beaks can do eep! Oh wow that must have been awkward, but then the vet staff should have known, especially after the 1st incident.
        I have Molluccan and an Umbrella too, an African grey and orange wing amazon. All mine will go for a cat if they have the chance and my Umbrella will dive bomb a cat. I swear they enjoy the chase. Theres me worried about the cats attacking the birds lol!
        Your Too sounds a great character and I cant help but smile despite the poor kittys tails. X

        • CreemCheez is a Molluccan. Here is a really “funny” story about him. He has quite a few too, I could write a book. One day I was cleaning his cage in his room with the door to the room closed. He was out of his cage running around on the floor. My Akita busted in through the door that was not properly closed. Instantly, he scoops up CreemCheez in his mouth and only the bird’s head was popped out one side and his feet out the other of Bram’s mouth. He was not moving and I thought he was crunched. I frantically yelled for Bram to spit him out. Out pops CreemCheez upside down on the floor. He lay there for what seemed like a long time, but wasn’t and then righted himself, dripping wet in slobber. He shakes off and spreads his wings, looks directly face to face with the dog and says a very bad thing. He calls him a f…ahole. This is NOT something I taught him, but one my husband would call him when the bird screams as you know all parrots do. Now every time the bird is mad at someone, they get called this name.

          But the story did not end here. The Akita got scared, turned tail and headed out the door and down the stairs, CreemCheez flapping on his tail. Wings clipped, he could not make the dogleg stairs turn and crashed into the wall. The Akita went to safety and poor Creemcheez suffered yet another humiliating ordeal. He really looked defeated when I picked him up. I have to say I was scared, but it happened so fast I could do little. Afterwards, I saw the humor in it all.

        • This happened at night on a weekend so the vet did not hear about it until the night watch person called with the news hours later. I am sure CheemCheez plotted the best time to make his kitty amputation. These birds are really smart and I know they are vengeful, so he must have been quite annoyed to be placed with cats. My cats will not even enter his room either. The office had a lot of explaining to do to the cat owners, not to mention suturing up the cat’s tails.

  11. Agreed. Our kitties (adopted strays) are both indoor cats. Very occasionally, they get to accompany me in the (100% fenced in) garden under my supervision. Major bonus of indoor cats is there are umpteen million diseases and predators (of kitties) that THEY are then not exposed to, so live a much longer life.

  12. Cats are so fast… I saved a bird once from sure death, but had no idea of those numbers.

  13. Pat says:

    My two cats are kept indoors, where I know they are safe and happy. I do have to chase away the well-fed but allowed to roam house cats from around the bird feeders though.

    • I am always chasing cats out of the garden. When I had my Akita, he would sit and guard the birds eating at the feeder, keeping them safe from predators. Of course when he was a young pup, catching birds was a hobby of his. He always spit them out unharmed, but it always made my heart skip a beat until they came out to fly away.

  14. Phil Lanoue says:

    Very well said, we have two cats that never go outside. One is 22 years old now and that has to count for something.
    I have big problems with dogs around here. Well I should say ‘dog owners’, because as you say it is the irresponsible pet owners fault not the animal’s.

    • My black cat, Jingles is over 20. I had her since 1993, but she was an adult when she came here. I am guessing her to be maybe 21 or 22. She still is doing well too. Frosty, the yellow cat, was on the streets three years before one day he was at the back door with ice cycles hanging off his fur. That was the day I brought him in. Jingles despised him for the longest time. Frosty used to go on dog walks with my Akita, so they were buddies. I still was worried how that union on the Akita’s home turf would transpire. The Akita protected Frosty from Jingles, so it all worked out.

  15. I still remember the time our cat decided to start targeting song birds and up went the chicken wire – should have had YouTube back then to see the cat bounce off the chicken wire and then come back again and again to figure out a way in to the birds. Every once in while I find a dead bird and wonder what happened – have feral cats, coyotes and other wildlife here – even the jays and birds of prey have no qualms about taking out song birds at times. Circle of Life. Happy Thursday:)

  16. lenaericsson says:

    oh, how close you get to the birds! Beautiful!

  17. Stephi says:

    Your pictures are beautiful and your post is a very good reminder about the damage cats can do to the bird population. I also always find great articles on the Cornell “All About Birds” Site. Just a wealth of information!

    • Ever since becoming a MG with Cornell Cooperative Extension, I have donated to their programs. They do a great job with birds, and are so well respected. I love their magazine too, the cover photo in the summer edition knocked my socks off it was so beautiful.

      • Stephi says:

        I didn’t realize there was a magazine as well. I’ve just followed them on line, or used their resources. It really is the place to go with any bird questions, or just to learn interesting tidbits. I also get a kick out of their March Migration Madness. I bet the MG program must also be exceptional, good for you for following your passion.

  18. bittster says:

    The pets and feral cats around here do a good job keeping down the rodent and rabbit populations, but I think I’d prefer to have more birds. One particular mother cat would always have two or three kittens to raise and I can only imagine the number of animals that went into their upbringing. Foxes are here now and the cats less common… I prefer it that way.
    I used to be fascinated by island animals and the story of the Stephen’s Island Wren is a classic one. In short the cat brought over by the lighthouse keeper succeeded in wiping out the entire species of this flightless wren. You can’t blame Mr. Tibbles, but it’s a sad story nonetheless.

    • I would love seeing foxes. I only see them as roadkill unfortunately. They must really be secretive since they do live in our area. Fox is supposed to be recorded at the gorge area, but I never saw one there. The story on the Stephen’s Island Wren is very sad that one cat could do all that damage. That would be terrifying for a bird that never had a predator like that.

  19. The statistics are staggering, Donna. I had no idea. Great photos as always.

  20. You’re right. There should really be a program to reduce the feral cat population, but attempts to do so have resulted in intensely emotional opposition.

    • The biggest problem is the domestic cats that people just let roam. They are the ones less likely to eat the prey and it just goes to waste. It is the thrill of the hunt I guess. In the city this is a big problem. The feral cats get sick with disease and their numbers seem to be in check as a result. Rarely is there a run on them.

  21. Emily Heath says:

    It is sad. I have a cat who goes outdoors, but as he has only three legs and no teeth (he’s a rescue cat) I don’t believe he’s a threat to wildlife. Most of the time he just sits on our doorstep. Obviously he’s an unusual case though.

  22. Very timely as we found a cat in our backyard “playing with” frogs…more like torturing them…we chased him. Then we found another laying in wait on our front porch…again we chased him…there are too many roaming as their owners thing it is fine to let them out to hunt. I find it sad for the wildlife and sad for the cats.

  23. Ramona P says:

    There are a couple of feral cats in my neighborhood and I often worry about the birds they hunt. I did not realize until I was told that they can leap and snatch a bird in mid-air. I think they kind of belong to a neighbor but don’t know why they are left outside most of the time.

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