If you own a cat (Felis catus), you have plenty of company. There are now more than 100 million house cats in the United States. With regard to predation, cats are classed into three categories:
- Owned (live with owner but often are outside)
- Stray (lost or abandoned by their owners)
- Feral (descendants of strays that shun all human contact).
Domestic cats are non-native predators and exist in significant densities throughout most areas populated by humans in the United States.
Cats kill approximately 2,400,000,000 (billion) birds and 6,300,000,000 to 22,300,000,000 small mammals every year in the U.S. alone, making cat predation by far the largest human-caused mortality threat to these animals. Canadians own about 8,500,000 (million) cats that kill an estimated 100,000,000-350,000,000 birds per year in Canada. This is almost an unbelievable number of birds lost.
Although methods of study vary and so do results, nearly all researchers on cat predation draw the same conclusions from their research: cats are a significant cause of bird mortality. In fact, next to habitat destruction, cat predation is the second highest form of bird mortality in North America.
How should we deal with this problem? The American Bird Conservancy encourages the following measures:
- Keep cats indoors or under close supervision
- The humane removal of all free-roaming (stray and feral) cats from important wildlife areas
- Support programs to neuter or spay cats before reaching reproductive age
- Strongly oppose free roaming cat colonies
- Work with the scientific, conservation, and animal welfare communities to educate the public about the dangers free-roaming cats pose to birds and other native wildlife
- Require that cats be licensed and prohibit free-roaming cats by adopting laws similar to those in existence for dogs.
Make no mistake about it, knowing what we now know about the world-wide decline in bird populations, controlling cats should be near the top of our bird conservation list.