Guest Rants, Ministry of Controversy

In defense of garden cats

Cat photo courtesy of Shutterstock

As a gardening veterinarian, I feel obligated to defend our feline friends against the recent onslaught of poor publicity directed towards them.  I’m referring of course, to news reports that stem from a January 29, 2013 article by Scott Loss, et al in Nature Communications, titled “The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States”.

As a scientist, I’d love to tell you that I carefully examined the data collection methods and statistics presented in the paper, but Nature Communications is one of those journals who publish manuscripts, usually for a fee, from authors (who are themselves required to publish or perish from their respective academic jobs) and then Nature Communications turns around and charges everyone else to read those articles, with no kick-back to the authors or the source of research funds for the study.  I believe the for-profit-motivated proliferation of such firms is largely responsible for most of the hastily-completed and poorly-controlled bad science being published today.  Although I am at the mercy of this professor-prostituting racket myself, I refuse to pay good money for publishers to make profits off what should be globally-available information, so I have read only the original abstract and seen other data second-hand in news reports.

Setting aside that minor rant, Loss’s paper estimates, not from their own research but by an analysis of other published studies measuring kill rates in urban and rural environments, and by using other various extrapolations and predictions of cat, bird, and small mammal populations, that “free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4–3.7 billion birds and 6.9–20.7 billion mammals annually.”  In other words, these authors take a whole bunch of assumptions, apply specific data sets to broader populations, and come up with some numbers that could be off by orders of magnitude if their assumptions are in error.  Not to mention any possibility of bias from authors who are all either employed by the Migratory Bird Center of the Smithsonian, or the Division of Migratory Birds of the U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service.  Personally, I’d like to see a little more research about unanticipated impacts before we see a massive Federal program created from taxpayer money to trap, neuter, and relocate cats.

I’m willing, however to set those concerns aside and allow for the fact that domestic cats may kill around 3 billion birds and 20 billion small mammals annually.  I don’t believe it, but if I accept the premise, then my response is still, “so what?”   And for the cats, “Good on ya!”   Twenty billion dead mice means twenty billion less roses that have canes chewed away, twenty billion less rats eating seed from my bird feeders and corn from my garden, and twenty billion less snakes in my garden that would have proliferated to eat the mice if the cats didn’t.   I’m sorry about the birds, but folks, that’s the nature of a Darwinist environment.  There’s a whole lot of killing going on out there in nature.  If the majority of those 3 billion birds are starlings and urban pigeons, then I’m not really very alarmed.  Millions of cats die annually as well, killed by cars and coyotes and domestic dogs and human psychopaths.   Yes, I am aware that cats have been responsible for the extinction of specific island bird species.  So have snakes, and both predators were introduced to those islands by Man, blundering around in our usual stupid fashion.  Man, in fact, has been responsible for the extinction of many more species than the domestic cat, so perhaps we should talk about limiting our own numbers before we throw stones at the cats.  Put a new predator in an environment where the prey don’t have time to adapt before they are eliminated, and extinction happens.  Ask just about any species group, including some native human populations.

Regardless, my personal experiences are directly opposed to the findings of the Loss study.  I have a cat in my garden, a calico named “Patches” by my imaginative children, who is a most efficient mouser.  I find almost daily presents of prairie mice remains on my doorstep, but I never once have seen that cat catch a bird nor have I found the organic remnants of such an attack.  Even the fat little ground-dwelling quail endemic to this area seem to be able to escape the clutches of my supposedly super-lethal cat.  I’m left, therefore, in a quandary, wondering where exactly the evidence of the slaughter is?  And in the meantime, I’m searching for a couple of more cats to live in an under-construction barn.  I would, personally, rather find more mouse parts strewn around the barn floor than find the snakes that would otherwise be hunting for the mice, so if it comes to a choice between having barn pigeons and having cats, the barn pigeons are just going to have to toughen up.

Posted by on February 14, 2013 at 8:34 am, in the category Guest Rants, Ministry of Controversy.
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63 Responses to “In defense of garden cats”

  1. Karla says:

    Interesting post. As the neighbor of a wandering cat, I often found “presents” of dead birds and I can attest that they were of the slower kind–mostly mourning doves. What I also found, however, were other birds–cardinals, finches, robins and other songbirds–dead of strikes agains my windows despite my precautions of putting decals there.

    Would some of these birds have perished anyway? Probably. Did some of them perish because they were started or flushed by the cat? Most definitely because I witnessed it.

    The cat has gone to the “happy hunting ground in the sky” and I haven’t had a bird strike on my windows since.

    I’m also not over-run with small vermin in the meantime.

    Perhaps in the country these cats serve a pupose. In the suburbs, I do wish their owners would keep them indoors.

    • allie says:

      wow, what an awful commentary. Killing a cat, for killing birds. Really?? Are you going to go out and kill the birds that kill other birds then? Yes, that does happen, killing and destroying eggs…and some birds of prey who kill other birds…..not to mention all the other preditors out there just doing what they do. I totally agree, cats should not be left to roam about if they are domestic…I have had cats…have 2 now…and NEVER let them roam…for many reasons, I love my cats and dont want people like you getting ahold of them…..I dont want them peeing and pooping in peoples yards n flower beds…etc….not cool……when they are outside, I am outside to keep them in our yard….they have caught a few mice, and one bird in the many yrs Ive had them….I prefere they not kill at all, but certainly am not going to justify killing a cat just because its doing what its programed to do. Hmmmm we dont like them killing birds…so we kill the cat….ok :/ sounds like a case of a cat hater, rather than someone trying to do the right thing…..fyi I am a bird lover as well….we feed the birds….actually, I am an animal lover….but also realize they dont always behave the way us humans to or think they should…they are animals…..

  2. Dan Mays says:

    Our gardening veterinarian’s rebuttal is largely: “I don’t like the findings so I will use my title to impugn the messenger.”

    I will be gracious and grant that perhaps the good doctor’s personal garden cat has never killed a bird. However, even he must surely recognize the staggering problem in this country of unneutered cats and dogs in this country. Many of these are feral — and therein lies the problem. In addition, in many areas cats claimed by owners are often intentionally left to roam at will.

    Again I will be gracious to the good doctor and pretend that the figures he questions are false, but how do you dispatch the issue of the proof presented on the “cat-cam” hung around the cat’s neck?

    I garden too. For years I have personally seen the avian carnage wrought by urban cats and those farther afield. Song bird populations are declining and the toll taken by cats is clearly partly to blame. If I have to choose between watching your cat or watching a family of birds nest out a family of chicks, the birds win every time — as long as your cat doesn’t get to them first.

    • Don’t get me wrong…having read the full article, the authors made a fine attempt; they just have little in the area of solid data to base it on and they make a huge number of extrapolations. And I’m not against the conclusions regarding feral cats. I believe, however in unanticipated consequences. Take away the cats and I’m quite sure the snakes and other predators (coyotes) would expand to fill the niche. That’s the way Nature works.

      BTW, what cat-cam are you referring to? There is nothing in the article about it and although I don’t have all the references, none of the titles look promising in that regard.

      • skr says:

        The cat cam in question was part of the University of Georgia study of 60 house cats allowed to roam. They found that the cats killed more frequently than previously believed and only bring back a quarter of their kills.

        • I found the information by searching “University of Georgia, cat, cam”. Did you look at the data? 55 cats killed 39 animals TOTAL over 7 days of filming (average 37 hours of film). Only 5 of the 39 were birds.

          Hardly a genocide. It would be interesting to know how many of those killed were infirm or aged or sick.

    • sweetbay says:

      Urban cats are mostly catching pest species like House Sparrows, Starlings, pigeons, and rats though.

    • Tami says:

      I suggest you visit the website of the ‘cat-cam’ researcher. There, you will discover that she states quite clearly that the MINORITY of studied cats caught anything at all, and, of that group, only SOME caught and killed birds. It is hardly a definitive study, although I think she has a great dissertation topic. Seriously, it’s a fun website to visit and it’s easily found with a google search.

  3. Well said James! Although I know that the various strays that have visited my garden over the past decade *have* killed birds and small rodents, I don’t believe it’s made any significant difference in populations in my neighborhood. I won’t believe any published estimates unless I’ve seen all of the details either.

    I’m actually more concerned about the number of toadlets that get crushed underfoot or devoured by the lawn mower than I am about how many birds the cats are getting.

  4. Susan INPH says:

    I’m a dog person so I’m on the fence about this. There is a huge decline in songbirds, and it seems to me that if this study has teeth it could be backed up through field studies or experiments.

    As for the critique on the paper the author has never actually read, I can understand if he doesn’t want to pay the fee, but then don’t complain about the statistical analysis of data you’ve never seen. It would be like me leaving a comment on this post after only reading the title.

    • Oh, thanks to Elizabeth Licata, I was finally able to read the entire paper. I’m checking up on some of the references now and I’m also confused by the probability distributions; because there is a paucity of studies in the US, the authors used some estimates in three groups; US studies, US and European Studies, and “all temperate zone studies”. Interestingly, the minimums and maximums for figures using the former two groups are often broader than the “all temperate zone groups”….which should include the US and European studies, so the “all temperate studies” should be the wider ranges…I need to figure out that discrepancy.

      In the meantime, I’ll stand by my original statement….this study makes a whole bunch of assumptions and extrapolates from discrete studies to broader populations…and may be about as accurate as the 1990′s “3 million homeless” estimation or Romney’s “47 percent” lump.

  5. Lisa-St. Marys ON says:

    I have many neighbourhood cats that visit my garden. My own cat doesn’t go outside. They spray to mark their territory, so if I want to sit on any of my furniture it needs to be cleaned first. They also leave offerings of beautiful dead birds in my garden. Although the black cat that killed the hummingbird in front of me didn’t leave it behind. Probably because I was chasing it.

    I love my own cat. I do not love everyone else’s cat that uses my garden for a toilet, and to hunt the birds.

    • Got to admit, I’m astonished that a cat could catch a hummingbird.

      • Jane B says:

        Sorry to say, mine could. I saw it with my own eyes, dead hummingbird in its mouth, the hummingbird’s tongue hanging from its beak. That was the nail in the coffin for me, no matter how many nuisance mice/rats it cleaned up. No more cats now that that one has passed on.

        • IT says:

          I’VE caught a hummingbird, in fact much more than once, which I do when they manage to fly into the house and need to be removed. If I can do it, it’s can’t be hard for a lethal feline predator, e.g. if the hummer is zooming low to get a taste of a low hanging flower.

  6. UrsulaV says:

    As we live in a Darwinian world, I assume our commenter has no objection whatsoever to me shooting the cats that come into my yard and prey upon my songbirds, as that is, after all, simply the way of nature.

    • Okay, I’ll add to the controversy and say, “No, I’ve got no trouble with that”. Wild cats are wild animals and sometimes pests, regardless of how much they look like our beloved extra family members.

  7. Tibs says:

    Thanks for the defense of the garden cat. I have always had one or two indoor/outdoor cats. I have received many presents over the years. I have loads of birds living in my city lot of 150′x 80′. Last summer there were 3 robin nests, 1 mourning dove, cardinal, blue jay, chickadee, house finch, sparrow. I do not have chipmunks (nothing like a little dead rodent by the front door to deter unwanted solicitors) or rabbits. Now if the cats could just catch the squirrels that are eating the house. I have never had the bathroom problem. I find more leavings from roaming dogs. And I love the cat company as I garden.

  8. skr says:

    Seriously? Oh sure, they are invasive exotics that damage wildlife populations but they are predators so that’s ok. It’s the cycle of life. You have got to be kidding me?

  9. skr says:

    I’m also pretty sure you can train a jack russel to take care of vermin problems in the barn.

  10. Frank Hyman says:

    The good veterinarian has made some reasonable comments and may well find some allies among those committed to combating invasive plants…..

    Many invasives such as privets, honeysuckle, etc. are spread by birds that eat the berries and poop them out everywhere. So proceeding logically, more feral cats means fewer birds to eat the berries of invasives. Which means fewer invasives to overwhelm our native plants.

    Free the Pound Kitties! Suspend the spay/neutering programs!

    This could be an ecological success story in the making !

    JK

  11. anne says:

    Good defense for cats as a species. But I think the controversy has less to do with cats vs. the environment than with cats invading the space of a neighbor (perhaps a bird-loving, gardening neighbor), who does not want to deal with cats.

    Meanwhile, as a vet, what do you think about the toxoplasmosis issue? Should catless neighbors just suck that up as another possible environmental hazard? Or should they feel free to “control” the threat by setting traps for “invasive” cats?

    • Toxoplasma is a little out of my expertise (as, for that matter, is population ecology sans birds)…but I’d like to treat the cats rather than to shoot or trap them. And they’re not the only vector.

  12. Makes you wonder who are paying these scientists? (money better spent elsewhere comes to mind.)

    We have three cats of various ages and they love to roam the backyard and every now and again they capture a bird or mouse. But I cant see this being a major environmental problem

    Loving the site great job

  13. Zafra says:

    We have 5 cats, and there are 3 more that belong to upstairs neighbors. So 8 cats, lots of dead mice. In four years, 2 dead birds. The birds seem to be holding their own around here.
    I think the issue is overpopulation and the solution is sterilization. All of the cats here are fixed, but there are many feral and homeless cats who pass through who of course are not, and keep adding to the population. I am all for publicly funded sterilization programs for both stray cats and dogs. Not because I think the cats are a huge threat to the ecosystem but because cats without homes can suffer greatly, and may carry diseases that can affect mine or someone else’s pets. The reproduction of all domestic animals should be tightly regulated, for everyone’s sake.
    If a stray cat is on your property I suppose you have the right to deal with it as you like (please don’t use poisons that cause long torturous deaths), but if it’s a cat with an owner please try to come to an accommodation. Big loud bells on a collar can help a lot to stop a cat from killing birds. As for gardening, (I am also a gardener), you have to protect your plants from lots of critters not just cats – it goes with the territory.

  14. gemma says:

    For gardeners, neighborhood and feral cats are just one more pest species that needs to be foiled. So new planting beds need to be covered with netting or spiky things to prevent cats from making unwelcome deposits. Barriers need to be made to protect new seedlings. String barbed wire. Build stockades. Do all this because some people think their cats need to roam free.

    Cat cams! I bet indoor cats would enjoy watching a cat-cam blog.

  15. My cat is a prolific mouser and the occasional bird – I would guessimate 20:1 in favour of mice. I have no problem with her mousing habits as we had a real problem with mice before we got her, chewing through wires etc. At the end of the day you cannot pick and choose what your cat hunts, they follow their instincts as do other living things and the notion of keeping cats indoors or ee serving them a vegetarian diet annoys me greatly. As ever mankind is transmitting its prejudices onto another species and not for the good

  16. Laura Bell says:

    We don’t have a feral cat problem in my neighborhood but currently, in my garden, I have evidence of two birds being attacked and – based on the sheer volume of feathers – killed by someone’s wandering cat. What really get me is that the cat owners have no issue with allowing their pet to wander into my yard & use it as a litterbox or feeding ground, but if my dog barks at said cat they’ll complain to animal control (yes, it has happened on more than one occasion). If they’d keep their pet at home, they would not be hearing from mine.

  17. As much as I like cats, they are hard-wired to hunt, and terribly good at it. So I come down on the side of responsible people don’t let their pet cats roam freely. Even in a harness and on a long lead, a couple of our cats have come close to catching a squirrel or baby rabbit, which would win them a medal. In our area, small mammals have a density in urban environs several times higher than in rural areas. But in some areas the toll on birds is terrible.

  18. Toxoplasmosis: http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/

    Toxoplasmosis is considered to be a leading cause of death attributed to *****foodborne illness****** in the United States. More than 60 million men, women, and children in the U.S. carry the Toxoplasma parasite, but very few have symptoms because the immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness.

    From the Biology link:

    Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoan parasite that infects *****most species of warm blooded animals,******* including humans, and can cause the disease toxoplasmosis.

    Intermediate hosts in nature ******(including birds and rodents)******* become infected after ingesting soil, water or plant material contaminated with oocysts.

    Yes cats are a main vector, but they are not the sole culprits or it seems the most common form of transmission.

  19. Great comments everyone! It wouldn’t be a rant if it didn’t strike a nerve. Yes, in reply to several readers, I’m a skeptic about a lot of science, evolving in that direction during training as I realized how much we really don’t know…at least about veterinary medicine if not about the rest of the biological sciences. I do tend to give the physical sciences a pass. I’m also not convinced yet about global warming (which seems to have evolved into “climate change”…less warming, more change)….more taxes versus less spending….or the existence of UFO’s and Yeti.

  20. c upton says:

    There isn’t much debate as to whether ground nesting birds have almost completely disappeared from suburban envirns including parklands and that feral/outdoor cats are primarily responsible. When did you last see a meadowlark or a Worm eating warbler ?

    • Actually meadowlarks are one of the most common birds around here. But then, I live on the tall grass prairie and there may be feral cats, but I’ve never seen one.

    • Actually meadowlarks are one of the most common birds around here and I see them every day. But then, I live on the tall grass prairie and there may be feral cats, but I’ve never seen one.

  21. emily says:

    I have 3 indoor/outdoor cats. One that never hunts, one that rarely hunts and one that is an accomplished hunter. I have noticed that her hunting successes have tapered off as she has aged. She constantly caught things (mice, moles, voles, birds, flying squirrels, bats, snakes and frogs) her first few years. Now she is about 10 years old. She catches about 3 birds a year, many mice and voles and, most surprisingly, rather a lot of frogs. I do feel bad about everything she catches but I live on several acres in the country and I have a hard time believing that she is having a major impact on the environment at this stage of her life.

    • Dan Mays says:

      “She constantly caught things (mice, moles, voles, birds, flying squirrels, bats, snakes and frogs)”

      I think the case against cats has just been made. They kill just to kill. :-(

  22. Tami says:

    Hurrah! I’m so glad you published this piece. It’s interesting reading many of these comments and discovering that, instead of actually looking up any of these studies, people would rather believe what they want to believe because of these specific things their pets do or don’t do. Science and math illiteracy is widespread and all too often exploited by the media and special interest groups. Thank you for pointing out this elephant in the room.

    BTW, you’re not the only academic skeptical of statistical studies like this:
    http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2013/2/1/cultural-cognition-cat-risk-perceptions-who-sees-what-why.html

  23. Susan says:

    Very good piece! As a cat owner, I’m afraid that it isn’t the fault of cats that they’re out there, roaming around. That’s the fault of ignorant, if well-meaning, people who are convinced that cats can only be happy if they’re traveling the great outdoors. Nonsense! All of my cats have always been indoor cats, and they’re perfectly content. As to killing and messing up the garden, I have any number of roaming cats that hunt and occasionally hang out in my yard, and I feed birds. There may be the odd victim of a cat among the dead birds I find, but I know for a fact that most of them are killed by other predators or by flying into my glass patio door. I had a family of baby bluebirds killed in their nest box by a sparrow! Yes, I’ve found the odd bit of cat exhaust in a bed, but the worst digging and destruction in my garden has come from woodchucks and voles. Cats get a very bad, and mainly undeserved, rap.

  24. gardengeri says:

    death to all pine voles

  25. Darrell says:

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the exploding population of Burmese pythons released into the Everglades by their former owners when they became inconvenient. They are systematically wiping out just about everything else that is edible: birds, rodents, other reptiles and specimens approaching 20 feet in length with bellies full of as many as a dozen or more eggs are being found.

    Of course, the answer to Everglades pythons is simple. Just transplant several trailer loads of South Louisiana Cajuns to South Florida along with their Cajun Cookers (deep fat fryers powered by propane tanks) and cast-iron skillets and then develop recipes for python etouffee, gumbo and python poor-boys and the problem will be solved.

  26. Victoria says:

    I have a cat and he stays inside but I have to deal with all the neighbors cats. Yes those cats take birds and not just the trash birds. They also pee a lot under my front stairs so on hot days it really stinks and I cannot sit on my front porch. Also cannot leave any cushions on my outdoor furniture as they use it for a bed and make a mess of them. Then there is the cat poop in my garden mulch. I should not have to deal with other people’s cats. Would they like me to bring over some of my dog or cats poop over to their house? I use to be a state game warden and in patrolling at night I would see an extreme amount of cats at night. This is a big problem.

  27. As someone who has devoted a whole blog to “Cats in Gardens” (catsingardens.blogspot.com), I have been inundated with folks forwarding that faulty study to me. Extremely irritating mostly because the media took the sensational headline and ran with it, never looking at the “science” or sources behind it.
    Do cats kill birds? Yes, particularly feral colonies who rely on wildlife for food. Are they killing them in the numbers this study reported? Hardly.
    Past studies with valid field research and peer-reviewed analysis have shown that by far the #1 killer of birds in our country is window strikes with vehicle/air collisions being the next highest deadly factor. Yet, I don’t see any headlines screaming to eliminate building high-rises, cars, and planes in order to protect our fowl friends.

  28. Debra says:

    It seems to me that the major force behind bird population decline is habitat loss. If more wild places existed for our feathered friends, then we may not be having this conversation so much. People have overtaken this planet, squeezing out other species and cats are a bi-product of that sprawl. It’s a concrete jungle out there.

  29. Inanna says:

    Thank you for being willing to take this position…and I heartily agree with you on every point. We have 3 indoor outdoor cats and feed sometimes hundreds of birds. The cats rarely get a bird…partly because we’ve let them know we love the birds…so they get no approval and short but sharp disapproval. We have more trouble with hawks and windows…and this happens whenever the birds are startled…and that can be by about anything. However, our huge garden is FREE of moles/voles and snakes…and living next to a mountain, to be free of snakes is a HUGE thing. And I totally agree that man is cause to so much greater harm to the environment and all life here…we really don’t have a leg to stand on when we point the finger at another species.

  30. Dave says:

    Anecdotally speaking, my wife and I have several wild cats that roam our suburban property and they certainly help to keep the mouse and vole populations in check. At the same time, our native plantings and careful gardening practices support a wide variety of songbirds, including nesting bluebirds. There seems to be some sort of balance going on, but then I am not a scientist, nor do I portray one on TV.

    My beef is not with the feral cats, but with the irresponsible owners who dump them and leave them to fend for themselves. That is one of my favorite rants.

  31. Rachel Hoff says:

    I have 3 cats that are indoor only. When I had outdoor cats I was greeted with dead (and sometimes live) birds on almost a daily basis. I keep mine indoor not only for the birds but also for their own safety. All too often I see dead cats on my street hit by cars. My dogs have gone after a few neighborhood cats as well (they are fine with our cats), so I’d hate to see my cats killed by a neighbor’s dog. I also keep them inside because I don’t want them to become a nuisance to my neighbors like other cats have become.

    One of the things I hate most is finding cat turds in with my carrots. This can be a public health issue, esp. to pregnant gardeners. The other thing I hate? When my neighbor’s cat sprays the tires of my car. Oh, and I’ve had cats attack my chickens. We ended up having to put hotwire along the top of our fence to keep them out.

  32. Deborah Banks says:

    I live in a rural area, and am a former cat owner/lover, but we are really overrun with feral cats as well as cats belonging to the 25 year olds that live near us and kicked their cats outdoors when their first child was born. Cats stalk the birds that nest in the fields around us and have come up on our porch to tear apart the robin’s nest in a wreath on the front of the house and leave dead babies on the porch. I find it entirely believeable that cats are a major predator of songbirds. It may be that there are problems with the study, but that doesn’t invalidate the premise. Songbird populations are plummeting, and we all should be concerned with turning that around.

    Interestingly enough Audubon quotes this statistic in their magazine, and notes that responsible cat owners should keep their cats indoors. Margaret Roach says on her website that she only allows her cat out at night to limit his impact on birds. Not sure how effective that is, since nests can be raided at night more easily than in the day.

    • You may have hit on why I don’t see my cat bring home birds; Since I grow mainly roses…several of which have nests in them…the cat may not be able or willing to get to the nests past the thorns. Hmmm….

  33. kermit says:

    A couple of questions for researchers to determine some day:
    1. What would the population of songbirds be in the various environments (suburban and urban, US and European, etc.) if house cats were not hunting them? Would it be higher? Or would other predators (i.e. coyotes) and starvation limit them to current levels? I am far more concerned about habitat destruction (and Burmese pythons).

    2. Although it is hard to quantify the consequences, my wife and I think it is a problem that a generation is growing up with little or no familiarity with nature, let alone the wild. When kids’ lives are highly structured, and there are no pets (even the neighbor’s), and their experience of being cut loose for a Saturday afternoon is spent at the mall, how are they going to vote on various issues as adults? Will they see the value in national parks? How about government protected wilderness areas and wildlife refuges? I remember walking to school in the suburbs everyday and being greeted by a German shepherd that lived half a mile from my house. It never bit any kids, so it wasn’t an issue. And we played in undeveloped wooded lots after school… Of course, that was 50 years ago.

    By the way, professor, global warming became climate change when Frank Luntz, the Republican spin doctor, suggested it to President Bush, because he thought it sounded less threatening. It is, alas, quite real, and coming on fast. But I suppose that’s another rant to stir up …lively discourse.

  34. Mike Oldham says:

    Thank you. I too am skeptical about the figures. Extensive observation of our cat outdoors indicates she is way more interested in wandering her yard smelling things than in chasing birds. I think she realizes they’re too fast for her so she doesn’t bother. Can’t say the same for other neighbourhood cats, whom I have seen stalking but their visits are brief since our cat ejects every other feline from the property. My sense, not based on scientific evidence, is that cats who are left outdoors for long periods by somewhat neglectful owners get into more trouble. Well-fed cats that go out for shorter periods aren’t so inclined. Younger felines, too, are more tempted until they realize it’s more rewarding to lie in the sun than try to catch birds.

  35. Tomi Matthews says:

    I am down to only one 13 year old cat after having had five at one time (too many!) While they caught an occasional bird, they caught far more rodents, notably roof rats that loved our citrus trees and gophers that loved eating everything else. They also caught many fence lizards most of which they usually “released,” alive yet tail-less, in the house.

  36. Autumn says:

    Cats with bells on their collars do kill birds. Some studies show they kill more than those with no bells (!). Birds do not necessarily associate the sound of a bell with danger, and cats with bells can learn to silently stalk their prey.

    http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/cats/materials/predation.pdf
    http://homepages.abdn.ac.uk/nhi775/cat_predation.htm

  37. Chad Lee Springer says:

    I completely agree. There are approximately 4 billion birds in n. America so they are saying 3 fourths of the population is being killed! And on the rodents side SO WHAT! Its mice, rats and the occasional bunny. But a couple island species went extinct from the cats rats mongooses(mongeese?) which is sad but that is dirty greedy Englishmen who wanted to be rich (I’m not gonna go into a 5th grade history lesson).

  38. Jan says:

    Regardless of what the cats may or may not catch and kill, I wish my neighbors would keep their cats in their own yard. I’m tired having to clean up all the little “smelly packages” they leave in my yard whether they’re something they’ve killed or digested. My neighbors would be applalled if I let my dog do his business in their yard but don’t have any qualms about what their cats do in mine.

  39. kim willis says:

    Statistics can be manipulated to prove just about anything. We seem to forget that most conflict problems are not black and white and the”issue” of free roaming cats is one such problem.

    Everyone should evaluate research studies with an open mind and read more than one piece of research on a topic before coming to conclusions. It’s just amazing what we don’t know about companion animals and how they and humans affect the environment. Here’s a middle of the road look at free roaming cats http://www.examiner.com/article/are-cats-killers-pets-or-both

  40. Patrick P. says:

    I assumed they need to create new topics for research to entice readers. That’s the reality in the market. So cats being responsible of the declining numbers of birds is an attractive topic.

    I have cats. I’m happy I have them rather than having snakes getting rid of the rats.

    The author is right, I have never seen any of my cats churning a bird meat.

  41. James says:

    There’s no difference between European Sparrows, Starlings, purple loosestrife, Asian Carp in the Mississippi or domestic and feral housecats let loose…justify your outdoor cat however you want, but let’s not start discounting scientific fact to suit the convenience of allowing your cat to wreak havoc on our dwindling songbird populations…shame on all of you who allow your cats to roam free…

  42. jon polvado says:

    everything lives off of everything else. everyone has something they don’t like/dislike. virtually anything can be justified if one does it right, right?
    it is good to have something to like/dislike, right? even intelligent/stupid opinions are entertaining and something to think about. i like my cats and most everyone elses’ cats/dogs and even most people i meet.

    there. i’ve said it, more or less.. jon

  43. James ^ makes a fair point — If the study is to be believed balance is needed.

    All said though, I’ve no problem with the ‘Circle Of Life’. It’s nature and cats have their place too …

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