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The Cat-Bird Conflict

They say that fools step in where angels fear to tread. Well, here I go!

I got another one of those emails where you’re asked to vote for a cause to receive a charitable donation from a major foundation. I honestly hate these things on so many levels. In the first place, it points out how many amazing causes are in desperate need of support. As a volunteer for a couple of non-profits, I really understand that. Who could imagine the lengths we are willing to go to in order to get a bit of financial support! In the second place, these votes typically push conservation efforts to the bottom of the priority list. How can you expect the general public to vote for saving a wetland (known by most as a swamp) when they are looking at pictures of hungry children, dilapidated schools, battered pets and people struggling to overcome illness or disability? And then there’s the cats and the “trap, neuter, release” programs…

I love cats. A lot of my non-birder friends think it’s strange that someone who cares about birds and conservation could love cats. A lot of my birder friends have no problem understanding it. A recent poll on the Wild Bird magazine website showed that 58% of the respondents had at least one cat. Cat loving and wild bird loving are not mutually exclusive! Our cats and birds fill completely different needs for us. However, there’s no question that there is a conflict, and it’s outdoors.

Cat and mouse
Even well-fed cats will hunt. Their skill at killing rodents endeared them to many settlers, but they are proving to be too good at it for native birds and animals.

So how do we resolve this conflict? I will confess that I’ve been a convert since about 1990, and as any of you who have had to deal with people who have stopped smoking or quit some other habit, converts can get a little bit evangelical. I used to let my cats go outdoors. I thought it would be cruel to keep a cat indoors. I never liked them catching wild animals and birds, but my last indoor/outdoor cat was not a hunter. (Yes, I really believe that some cats do not kill birds.) I knew, and used, all of the excuses.

In fact, it wasn’t even a love of birds or nature that prompted me to keep my cats indoors. A neighbor trapped my cat! I couldn’t find Rufus for days. For more than a week, I wandered the neighborhood calling his name. I put up posters. I put ads in the paper. I even checked with highway maintenance to see if they’d found his body. I was heart-broken. For some of us, our pets really are more like furry children. After eight days, a much thinner cat with worn claws and foot pads finally came home. It was shortly after this that I found that 14 cats had gone missing in our neighborhood and that a trap had been found in a yard in the middle of the “no cat zone”. This neighbor didn’t love birds—he loved gardening and hated cats. After, that, I still allowed Rufus outside, but only under supervision. Then I moved. Whew! What a relief it was to be away from such a dreadful neighbor.

At our new house, I kept Rufus on a leash for the first week so that he could get used to his new surroundings. When I finally let him off his leash, he made a bee-line to a neighbor’s yard. I was determined to keep a closer eye on my cat, so I followed, only to find a tin of poison laced with sardines on my new neighbor’s carport floor. Was there no safe place left for a cat? I started hearing horror stories about how people were trapping cats throughout our city and killing them. My blood pressure rose thirty points every time this made the news. The choice was clear. If I loved my cat and wanted to keep him safe, I was going to have to keep him indoors.

After Rufus came Okie and Hobbes–100% indoor cats except on leashes or on a high enough deck that they wouldn’t jump to the ground. And guess what? They were happy, healthy, energetic pets. I was a convert. The number one “must have” for my next home purchase was a deck that the cats could use and not get to the ground. Did I mention that I love cats? Sam and Mushu followed, and have been indoor cats since I got them. They are also healthy and happy. And Mushu, if given a chance, would kill every bird in my yard. Despite my efforts, there is still about one bird a year that meets its end on my deck.

Mushu, a stray that may have become feral, found a home with an elevated deck fills his desire for trips outdoors.

Pre-conversion, I scoffed at the statistics. The numbers put out by bird protection groups like the American Bird Conservancy and their British counterpart seemed greatly inflated, extrapolated from a highly successful hunting cat. Then I heard a statistic that I didn’t have trouble believing—the population estimate of cats in North America. There are over 100 million pet cats on the continent. If they each only caught one bird a year on average, that’s 100 million birds! And that doesn’t even take into consideration the estimated 40 million feral cats which would clearly take a lot more. I had to concede that this was an issue.

A dead bird on the doorstep is usually an indication of a kill by a well-fed cat. 

While some folks still don’t agree that this is a problem, there are lots of people trying to address this issue, in very different ways. Pet owners are becoming more responsible. More and more of us are keeping our cats indoors, or outside in enclosures or on leads. Some cities are implementing bylaws to license and/or neuter cats and generally make owners more responsible. There are bibs that some owners put on their cats which apparently do prevent them from catching birds, but I suspect the cats wearing them are so humiliated that they probably don’t even want to venture out where anyone can see them. I actively encourage outdoor cat owners who won’t keep their pets indoors to at least keep them in until a couple of hours after sunrise and during the twilight hours when birds are most active. I also remind them that when a cat kills a bird in the spring, there’s probably a nest of babies left starving somewhere out in their neighborhood. You’d be surprised how many people hadn’t considered that.

DSCF6400Cat enclosures are becoming more popular and provide a safe–for both cats and wildlife–outdoor environment. This one even has a long run along the top of the fence. Photo provided by Beautiful World Living Environments.

The feral cat population is a whole other matter. The feral cat protectors (who, for the most part, also like birds), killing the free-roaming cats is not an option. I honestly don’t want the cats killed either. Let’s face it, the problem is the people that let the cats go, not with the cats themselves. They are doing what comes naturally, but unfortunately, they are doing it in a part of the world where the resident species can’t naturally expect them. That’s the crux of the issue. An introduced, very efficient predator is going to wipe out a lot of naïve natives.

The cat advocates are not happy that these descendents of pets released by irresponsible owners have to forage in the alleys of the city or in the wild just to survive. Enter trap, neuter, release or TNR. The TNR programs are intended to gradually reduce the feral cat population through natural attrition as the reproductive abilities of the cats are limited by neutering. I can find statistics that shows that these programs are working in some locations and not working in others. The “carrying capacity” of an area (i.e. the number of animals that can survive on the available food resources) is increased by the cat feeding programs that invariably go along with TNR. One un-neutered female can easily make up for any natural attrition in fairly short order. Whatever the success or numbers, cats in the wild will continue to take a toll on birds and small mammals.

DSC02851Trapped, neutered and not released, Boodah, his mother and one other feral cat are now much loved and happy indoor cats sharing a house with two cat and bird loving humans.

For the most part, I believe that the TNR and cat advocacy groups truly hope that every cat will be a wanted pet. The bird advocates want every cat to be a wanted pet and kept under control. There are more shared objectives here than differences, yet we seem to often find ourselves in heated battles. Trap, neuter, release doesn’t protect the birds, but it’s undoubtedly better than not neutering the cats. It may not be reversing the number of feral cats, but it certainly must be slowing the growth of the feral population.

There’s no doubt that people are a major part of the problem when it comes to bird population issues. We’ve found so many highly efficient ways to kill birds—windows, habitat destruction, pesticides, transmission towers, cars, and cats just to name a few. Of all of these, we may have our greatest opportunity to limit the damage by being responsible for our cats.

So I’m throwing it out there. What can we do as bird advocates to work with the cat advocates to achieve our common objectives? Encourage cat licensing/neutering bylaws? Help cat protection agencies find homes for abandoned pets? Take in a feral cat or two?  Support TNR until we find a better solution? Come on, cat/bird lovers! Let’s figure this one out.

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Ann Nightingale

Ann Nightingale

Ann Nightingale (and yes, that is her real name) is an avid birder and amateur naturalist. A relative late-comer to birding, Ann took up the binoculars and scope in the mid 1990’s and has been making up for lost time since. Ann serves on the board of Rocky Point Bird Observatory, a migration monitoring station on the southern tip of Vancouver Island (the place with the Skylarks!) She first volunteered at RPBO in 1997 and over the years has become a licensed passerine, hummingbird and owl bander. Also active with the Victoria Natural History Society, Ann leads local birding field trips and coordinates the Christmas Bird Count for the Victoria circle. Recently she has added coordination of southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands for the British Columbia Breeding Bird Atlas to her “administrative birding” activities.
Ann Nightingale

Latest posts by Ann Nightingale (see all)

  • Mary Ann

    Your history of cat ownership is very much like mine. Now I have 4 rescued indoor cats. The problem of feral cats is one that I have thought a lot about. Every year when the organization Best Friends does its feral cat appreciation week o whatever they call it I write outraged letters to the editor which are never printed and never acknowledged. I point out to them that the average life expectancy of a feral cat is 2 years and that those years are often marred by illness, injury, hunger, pests, and that no feral cat ever dies of natural causes. I have come to the conclusion that if a cat can not be placed in a safe home, if it is never more than marginally cared for, if no one ever loves it perhaps it is better off being humanely put down. Cats are domestic animals just as dogs are and no one in his right mind would think of neutering a pack of feral dogs and turning them loose. Why do this to a poor cat?
    Mary Ann Kolb

  • Rick Kress

    Ann, with all due respect, you need an education on philanthropy. I think you will find your observations don’t hold water on fundraising and causes. Without respected philanthropy, there would be no Audubon Society, Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, humane societies, many hospitals, and so on. I only ask you learn more and give it respect.

  • Steve

    With all due respect, Rick, did you even read the article? Your comment makes no sense and is unrelated to anything she wrote.

  • Every cat I’ve ever had was brought in as a bird-killing stray. One of my two cats right now was from a TNR program, and was feeding on birds in my daughter’s back yard in Ohio. This past fall I spent a LOT of money bringing in and getting veterinarian care for a stray cat that had been eating birds at my mother-in-laws, and spent weeks searching out a home for him, and driving 1200 miles round trip to bring him to a new home.

    Obviously, I love cats. And I will never, ever own a gun. But I’d rather see an outdoor cat euthanized, by shotgun if necessary, than that it kill a single wild, native bird. There. That’s my stand on the issue.

  • I must add, though, that when neighbors trap cats that are on their own property, this is not just within their rights, but a reasonable thing to do when those cats are causing problems. Cats that toy with birds are the ones most likely to carry toxoplasmosis in their feces, and outdoor cats use children’s sandboxes and well-tilled garden soil as their preferred places to deposit those feces. Babies, small children, and the elderly are extremely prone to serious health issues after exposure to toxoplasmosis. In my city, Duluth, Minnesota, we have a cat leash ordinance which was approved by our city council not because they really cared about the bird population but because our county health department testified so strenuously about the problems outdoor cats pose to human health.

  • Susan Benson

    I agree with you. Currently have at least four neighbor’s cats stalking birds in my yard. They also use my garden as a toilet and I am happy my grandkids are out of the country, so I don’t have to worry about them when they played here. Why are people so irresponsible.

  • Hi Rick, I’m not sure what you meant by your comment. I have great respect for philanthropy. In fact, the organizations I volunteer and fundraise for depend on it. It’s the “voting for your cause” paradigm that causes me some concern. Some worthy causes are not necessarily popular, and some popular causes may not be particularly worthy. Your list of charities are all worthy, IMHO, but typically have considerable resources to dedicate to fundraising. Smaller organizations don’t stand a chance in a popularity contest with larger organizations with public relations and fundraising staff.

  • Ian Cruickshank

    Great post, Ann.

    At the following link is information on the trap-neuter-release option, from the American Bird Conservancy (note that the American Bird Conservancy is opposed to trap-neuter-release):

  • Thanks, Laura, and Susan, for your comments. I find myself torn on the trapping issue. As I’ve mentioned, I am a complete convert to keeping cats indoors. I’ll even agree with a person’s right to chase their neighbours’ cats out of your yard, as you might do with their dog, horse or child. I don’t believe that trapping or killing a stray or wandering pet is reasonable, which is what a number of people (but not all) who trap them do. Even an indoor cat may accidentally get outside for a brief period, and I think it would be a tragedy to have a lost and loved animal pay such a high price for such a lapse.

    Trapping also involves baiting, and it may be that the cat would have never gone into the yard if it was not for the tempting aroma of a can of tuna or other attractant. I don’t really have a problem if the trapper turns the offending cat over to the pound and post a notice in the neighbourhood that this has been done. A responsible owner will claim it. An irresponsible owner will probably not.

  • I completely agree, Ann. These ridiculous on-line voting popularity contests to determine funding of projects are nothing more than PR for the sponsoring corporation–they generate a whole lot of free publicity to determine who gets the amount of money they were going to donate anyway. Corporate foundations used to actually research the organizations they gave grants to, and often picked the most worthy, something that isn’t part of this ridiculous new system.

  • Thanks for the link, Ian. I agree that TNR is not the solution, but I think it’s better than no TNR. At least it should help slow down the population increase. I think the ABC would be able to get more “buy-in” from cat owners, though, if they presented more reasonable stats. When I let my cats outdoors (twenty years ago), it was claims like those made in this video that well-fed cats kill 365 birds a year on average (one a day). I found that so hard to believe that I missed the rest of their message. I would love to see the ABC and groups like the Alley Cat Allies find some common ground and work together to reduce the feral cat population in a way that is acceptable to both.

  • Back in the ’80s, a single cat in my neighborhood killed something like 18 or 20 Yellow-rumped Warblers in a single day, during a migration fall-out. I picked up the little bodies and piled them up on the cat owner’s porch with a note saying if I found the cat outdoors ever again, it was headed for the animal shelter. That was one of my breaking points regarding cats outdoors.

  • Great post. Feral cats force tough decisions. They don’t present well to potential fosters or adopters. They require more resources, because in the amount of time it takes to rehabilitate and place a single feral cat, several surrendered pet cats could be re-homed. TNR eliminates the need to rehabilitate and re-home feral cats, but is not always effective in reducing feral cat populations.

    So what’s the solution? Ordinances requiring cat owners to license, microchip, and leash their cats, with fees funding shelters? Maybe, but where cat licensing laws are already in effect, they are not widely enforced, and there is a very low compliance rate (less than 1% according to a study done by San Diego County Animal Control). Population control by euthanasia is not practical on a large scale or acceptable.

    What we can do is educate cat owners. Tell them how dangerous it is for cats to be outdoors. Tell them that predation by outdoor cats is one of the top causes of bird mortality. We can work together with rescue groups (many require potential adopters to keep their cats indoors) to spread the word.

    And please consider fostering or adopting one of the 70+ million stray cats in the U.S.

  • Rachael Butek

    I’m curious what your standpoint is on country cats. More specifically, farm cats.

    My family has several outdoor cats because we live in the country, and some of the people in the house are allergic to them. As near as I can tell, the issues of trapping and poisoning are nonexistent around here, but of course there is the bird problem. I firmly believe that most of them don’t regularly catch birds, but as you pointed out, every one counts. So I’m still working on figuring out what to do about ours.

    But what I was thinking about was cats on functioning farms. Most of our farming friends have at least a few cats, but they also have scores and scores of introduced starlings, House Sparrows, and pigeons. I wonder how many native birds they catch when there is such an easy and abundant source of “wild” food right at their doorstep. It seems like everything I read about keeping cats indoors is talking about city cats, and I wonder why they never mention all the farm cats.

  • Farm cats are implicated in the losses of meadowlarks, bobolinks, and other birds, though pesticides and dramatic changes in how large farms manage their fencerows and mowing compound and complicate the issue.

  • Liz Deluna Gordon

    Rachael, Are your farm cats spayed/neutered?

  • Marijuana KillsBrainCells

    Rick – just because you now have a prescription for the marijuana doesn’t mean it no longer kills brain cells….

    By the way, very nice article Ann, great info and perspective.

  • Thanks, Rachael, for your comment. As my librarian friends would say, farm cats are another WCCO (Worms comma can of). Clearly one of the reasons cats were domesticated in the first place was to control rodents in homes and agricultural settings. I’ve pondered this dilemma a while and here’s my take. I believe that a controlled (i.e. small)number of neutered cats in a farm setting would be better than using pesticides but worse than using mechanical traps. As Laura has noted, cats are causing damage on the grasslands and agricultural fields, too, so an uncontrolled feral or semi-feral population of cats isn’t a good solution. If they are merely being employed as cheap labor and not being cared for by the owners, I’d advocate using mouse traps instead.

    As you have pointed out, introduced species of birds are also causing problems–that’s a whole other blog piece! The problem for native birds is that the cats aren’t picky. They’ll take a thrush instead of a starling if that’s the bird they set their eyes on. In fact, domestic cats are known to befriend some pet birds. A brief, very unscientific, photo search for “cat kill bird” on Flickr showed only about one or two pictures out of every ten seemed to be introduced species, even though, as you pointed out, they are more abundant near human dwellings. I wonder if cats that are constantly surrounded by house sparrows, starlings and introduced pigeons start to see them as part of their “family” and less as prey species.

    It was a little shocking (and depressing) how many of the photographers thought their cats catching birds was a good thing.

  • Some farmers (not large-scale operations) are setting up Barn Owl and screech-owl nest boxes to help control rodents. A much wiser solution in many ways.

    The trick with so very many of these issues is how entrenched they are in our culture. It takes a major effort at education to get people to even acknowledge the problem, much less consider possible solutions. The TNR people have huge resources from various foundations and humane societies filled with well-meaning people who quite justifiably hate violence and cruelty toward cats, but don’t see the validity of a bird’s existence or its capacity to feel pain, much less the larger issue of natural populations at risk from cats. I was a licensed rehabber long enough to know how widespread the problem is. I’ve dearly loved cats and grieved when they died. But I’ve also held in my hands chickadees, Evening Grosbeaks, and other beautiful birds as the light was extinguished in their eyes.

    EVERY cat in the wild is a human-imposed problem to birds. But how to get humans to see that–sometimes it feels hopeless.

  • Hi Amy,

    The city of Calgary, Alberta, has a very progressive program in place and in five years has achieved 50% compliance on licencing. Here’s a great article on what they are doing:–what-cowtown-s-pound-can-teach-hogtown

  • Excellent point, Laura, about engaging natural predators to solve the rodent problem. I am collaborating on a project with a large scale tree plantation project that has installed nest boxes to encourage raptors for rodent control and now has what we believe is the highest density of breeding Northern Saw-whet Owls anywhere!

  • Thanks, Mary Ann,

    I think it’s going to come down to those of us who love both birds and cats to be the bridge between the groups. You’re absolutely right that we would turn neutered dogs loose. I saw another great comment on another site providing a similar take on what would happen if we had feral lions in North America. It’s highly unlikely that we would tolerate them taking their “natural” share of humans. I’m heartened to know that there are people like you doing what you can to reduce the problem.

  • Rachael Butek

    Unfortunately most of them aren’t. 🙁 (and the ones that are are so ancient they wouldn’t try to catch a bird if it was sitting in their lap!) We talk about it lots, it’s just so expensive.

  • Ted Floyd

    I don’t know–nobody knows–how many birds are killed by cats. But here’s an anecdote perhaps worth pondering:

    For ages (into a 3rd decade now!), Kei and I have had a classic, well-behaved, neurotic, indoor cat. Declawed by the previous owner. Timid as can be–to the point of neurotic. Oh. I already said that. Scared of her own shadow.

    Long ago, Kei and I lived in a nice, tidy, sanitized, high-rise apartment in West Philly. (Hi, Amy Davis!) No cockroaches, no box elder bugs, certainly no vertebrate vermin. And yet that declawed timid cat would routinely find rats–which the maintenance people swore of a stack of bibles didn’t occur on the premises–and drown them in her water bowl because, remember, she didn’t have the claws to subdue the rats.

    Cats can kill. All cats. If a declawed, tiny, timid, female indoor cat in a regularly fumigated apartment in a major American city can regularly hunt and kill large rats, then, believe you me, any outdoor cat can easily knock down 365 Cerulean Warblers, Philadelphia Vireos, Gray-cheeked Thrushes, and such during the course of a year.

    Our cat is now an aged, deaf, toothless wraith of bones and matted fur who can’t even get out of bed in the morning. But if a miller moth is flying around the kitchen, that cat will somehow leap onto the chandelier, swat the moth into submission, and proudly drag its sorry-ass carcass into the water bowl.

    Again: Cats can kill. Prolifically and skillfully so. It’s what they’re all about.

  • Ted Floyd

    Here’s something else to ponder:

    This story is, of course, tragic. A human being was killed. What struck me in the aftermath of the incident was all the shock and surprise that the jaguar would have done such a thing. One last time: Cats can kill. Prolifically and skillfully so. It’s what they’re all about.

    If you have an outdoor cat, it’s killing birds–probably in numbers far greater than any of us can wrap our minds around.

  • Liz Deluna Gordon

    What a great solution. I think one that deserves more looking into for a farm cat workaround. Ann, I think it would be nice to hear more about this program.

    Hey Rachael…Think you could talk your Parents into trying something with owl boxes?

  • Michael Retter

    Wonderful post, Ann!

  • Thank you Ann and ABA for taking on this issue. Birders have too often been silent on this issue (at least in the public sphere). A couple years back the Georgia Ornithological Society produced a statement on feral and free-ranging cats ( We did so not because we ‘hate’ cats as folks that take a stand against outdoor cats are usually portrayed. We did so because we (and the other organizations that signed on) are people that support birds and bird conservation. If the scientific literature showed that TNR reduced populations over time, it might have been a different story. But it is only anecdotal evidence that shows any reduction and that reduction is only at the colony level (and furthermore that reduction is usually because of the REMOVAL of kittens and adoptable strays). As Ann said, feeding cats increass their breeding potential and if you miss only a couple of females during trapping, all of your expensive spay and neuters are for naught. It is one thing for well-meaning individuals to take it upon themselves to see a colony and begin to TNR that colony. This is fairly common and amounts to a drop in the bucket when it comes to a region’s feral cat population. It makes the folks feel better, but in all honesty doesn’t really change things on a population level. It’s another thing, entirely, when a government (county or city) decides that TNR will be the ONLY way it manages feral cats. They have, in the past, not listened to wildlife biologists that tell them what the science shows. They don’t listen to wildlife advocates that tell them these cats continue to hunt, maim, and kill birds, small mammals, and herps. They don’t even listen to public health advocates who know that feeding an outdoor predator puts it into increased contact with rabies reservoir species like raccoons and skunks. Our jobs as bird advocates should be to continually provide unbiased information to local governments. We don’t tell people to clean their feeders because disease causes population-level reductions in birds. We don’t tell people to put bird tape on their windows because collisions are the most common cause of anthropogenic bird mortality (okay, maybe we do). We don’t tell people to provide backyard habitat because it will increase continent-wide populations of Brown Thrashers. No, we tell them these things because we believe they are the right things to do, regardless of their effects on populations. Birds have enough stressors acting on them, do they really need outdoor cats in addition? Are we so afraid of the proverbial crazy cat lady that we stay silent when this is brought up in a public meeting? Btw, we (GOS and Oconee Rivers Audubon folks) were linked to Nazis and accussed of promoting a feline holocaust when we testified against TNR in Athens, GA. If TNR advocates like cats so much they should each put up an outdoor enclosure in their yard and house 5-10 safely and securely. It’s too easy to throw food out behind a strip mall, and think you are helping out a cat, but the reality is that that cat will die. It won’t die a humane death at the hands of animal control. No, the reality is that it will die under the wheels of a car, in the jaws of a coyote, ravaged by ticks and other parasites, bleeding and gasping for breath from FIV/FLV, poisoned by eating a poisoned rat, or many other horrible ways to go. And yet, we, TNR opponents are called cruel and inhumane for advocating their removal from the environment and housing in enclosures, or yes, humane euthanasia. That is just not right. When you trap a feral cat and bring it to a shelter, you are saving the lives of many animals that would be needlessly killed by a nonnative invasive predator, even if those animals would eventually become prey for a Coopers Hawk or black rat snake. They need these prey animals to simply survive. They evolved with these prey animals, exerting pressures on them to fly faster, hide better, or run more quickly. That is natural, that is beautiful, and that is what we should be promoting in the ABA.

  • Mary Ann

    My little town has taken one step towards a solution to the feral cat problem. someone donated several acres to an organization called Animal Advocates. On a few of those acres they have built a cat shelter that is fences all around and over the top. It is furnished with sleeping boxes and feeding stations. They trapped and removed a good sized cat colony at our lake. All of these cats were neutered and given basic medical care and then turned loose in the shelter area. Volunteers feed and try to socialize these cats. Those that can be are made adoptable. Those that can not be socialized are kept there in this no-kill facility. At the present they can not take in any more cats but will do so as new funding is available. While this may not be a perfect solution–small animals and birds can find their way into the cat area, it is certainly far better for both cats and birds than turning these cats loose back at the lake. A small step in the right direction.

  • Excellent and very thoughtful post, Steve!

  • Bird Nut

    Last summer, Say’s Phoebes nested and successfully fledged 5 young in our neighborhood. After they had fledged, and were following mom & dad around for handouts, the neighbor’s cat eventually killed all 5, each on separate ocassions and on different days. The cat was also able to kill one of the parents. The sole surviving parent continued to hang out throughout the summer and migrated by itself in the fall. Last summer, this same cat also killed countless adult Savannah Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, Lazuli Buntings, an entire clutch of Quail, a Yellow-bellied Racer (snake), and a Long-tailed Weasel. I told the neighbor that I didn’t like her cat running amuck; she said the cat was “born to hunt, and the cat didn’t like being indoors, and that it was ‘natural'”.

    Natural? Cats are subsidized (ie. human fed) killing machines. Like a paid mercernary, the more this cat was fed, the more it killed. If cats weren’t being subsidized by human providers, then perhaps one could argue that it is ‘natural’. But is it natural for 100 million subsidized mercenaries to be preying on wildlife that have far fewer numbers are not subdidized? I don’t think so.

  • Steve H.

    So, is the life of that one cat whose owner is irresponsible worth more than the native species it has killed? That is the question isn’t it? See if the owner would be willing to put a cat bib on the cat if they will not keep it indoors. It stops about 80% of the killing.

  • Cat and Bird Person

    Thanks for promoting the concept of keeping cats indoors or protected/controlled through leashes or enclosures. That said, I am so very sick and tired of hearing that TNR is better than nothing. Where is the proof of this? There is no scientific evidence or peer-reviewed research indicating that TNR works to reduce the feral cat population in any geographical area (municipality, county, and so on). Colony reduction is not the same as population reduction. There is no proof that TNR ‘slows’ the growth rate, and in fact, a paper published by Levy et al in 2005 showed that population growth was not reduced. For all we know, TNR may result in increasing the number of cats. Maybe ‘nothing’ is better than the establishment of ‘managed’ colonies. Consider that not every cat may be trapped, immigration occurs due to the food source, there is abandonment at colonies, and caregivers often relocate cats to existing colonies.

    There is no indication that TNR does anything to improve public health or reduce the risk or transmission of parasitic, viral, bacterial or fungal diseases.

    This is an infringement on the property rights of others. Neighbors are not dreadful for trapping cats if they do so humanely and responsibly. My yard is not a playground for neighborhood owned cats or feral cats. They get trapped and impounded. My yard is habitat for native wildlife. Period. I have rescued cats, found them homes, and I trap when that is not possible or feasible. I adore cats, but they don’t belong outside.

    I take issue that TNR is humane. I disagree completely. PeTA has the right idea – euthanasia is a kinder, more compassionate end if permanent placement in an indoor home or facility cannot be found.

    Collaborating is an issue – a big issue. There is no compromise in supporting a practice that is wholly environmentally irresponsible and one in which still provides that cats have access to wildlife.

    You may be unaware that Best Friends recently suggested that even friendly cats be returned in a handy 22 page document designed to implement TNR across the country. They are noted for coining the term ‘community cats’, which is a deliberate effort to convince the public that cats are a natural part of the landscape, but they are not.

    TNR is part of the no-kill philosophy. No-kill is making for trends across the country that includes ‘TNR-only management’ and the refusal of shelters and impoundment facilities to accept feral cats. We must be supporting open admission shelters – something else that PeTA supports.

    The solution may involve cat licensing, required rabies vaccines for owned cats, anti-roaming ordinances, education, mandatory spay-neuter for owned pets, and low-cost resources for pet owners. The answer does not involve condoning a method that is, in my opinion, essentially re-abandonment of a domestic animal. We won’t make more responsible pet owners by saying cats can and should live and die outside.

    One other thing to note is that cats are not ‘green’. They should not be used for rodent control. Prevention and native predators are the way to go. According to ABC, as a result of the cancellation of a number of pesticides over the last 20 years, perhaps fewer than 15 million birds are dying annually from pesticides. Keep that figure in mind. Now here is another – maybe 3 to 5 million cats are dying in shelters annually. But, there are at least one million birds dying EACH day from cat predation (not even considering mortality due to competition for food (as in the case of hawks) and disease transmission and also not considering the billion or so deaths of small mammals as well as herps annually). How in the world as conservationists can we be more focused on those cat deaths at shelters than what is happening to wild birds, especially given that cats are yet one more stressor birds don’t need?

    The Wildlife Society produced an excellent resource covering many areas of this topic, including public health. There are fact sheets and a 20 page cat package at the link below. Birders need to read this and decide whether the life of one cat is worth more than the dozens if not hundreds or more wild animals she will kill during her lifetime upon ‘returning’ to the outdoors.

  • Bravo! Thanks for the information and the additional links, too.

  • Wow, there have been lots of interesting comments that have generated more than a few good ideas. Thanks Steve and Cat and Bird Person for such well-thought out responses. I will try to assemble some of the points made in this thread, and that have come to mind after reading it for a follow-up post. I think it’s safe to assume that we haven’t heard from any TNR advocates at this point, but I found it especially interesting to read PETA’s stand on TNR. Small steps won’t solve the problem, but move us towards a solution. My municipality is considering a mandatory spay/neuter program for cats. IMHO, the efforts would be best placed on spaying the females. You only need one unneutered male to “service” all of the unspayed females. A spayed cat won’t produce generations of free-roaming offspring regardless of how many intact males are around.

  • But like you said, a single unneutered male can impregnate any unspayed females he may encounter, and unneutered males are the ones who are involved in most of the fights outdoors.

  • And mine, too, Laura. Thank you.

  • I believe all the females in heat will draw in that single unneutered male and all will become pregnant even if 99% of the male cats have been neutered. You’re right about the fighting, though. I think males are responsible for most of the noise as well.

  • Cat and Bird Person

    Good resource here about the movement of cats, sterilized and intact. At the link below there is another link at the bottom to read the actual study:

  • Tanya Borg

    Thank you Ann for this information. In our rural community we are also trying to find an acceptable way to deal with farm, feral and free-roaming cats. This has given great insight into what can be accomplished if we try to work together.

  • I used to have 20+ outdoor cats in my neighborhood. One day I realized that I hadn’t seen any cats in a while. A few weeks after that I found a large, healthy coyote scat in my driveway.

    My neighborhood isn’t even close to being rural. It’s a midcentury neighborhood with single family homes on 1/8 acre lots. The nearest park is about four blocks away.

    With the spread of coyotes into urban areas around the country, this is a problem that may solve itself.

  • Bonnie Mulligan

    We have one cat who quite literally walked in our door 5 years ago. He had a flea collar, but no ID tag. When we took him to a vet to see if he had been microchipped, he did not have one; he had,however, been neutered. We have no idea how long he had been living outside, and no idea whether he had escaped or if he had been dumped by a previous owner.

    Since we are backyard birdwatchers and maintain a feeding station we turned our new family member into an indoor cat who goes outside only for brief periods when he is sitting on my lap.

    He’s a great cat, and I am thankful that we live in a neighborhood where no one would have considered euthanizing him by gunshot or poison, as some commenters have suggested.

    Personally I think that TNR has merit in that it can reduce the size of feral cat colonies, but people will disagree on that issue.

    This was a very thoughtful article.

  • Check out the TNR Awareness parody

  • Rachael

    For those who bait or have neighbors who bait…..

    We have cats and dogs and are responsible pet owners. The cats have an outdoor enclosure within a large fenced yard for our dogs. We also have a bird and butterfly habitat approved yard. There are wild hummingbirds who nest in our hanging baskets and nests in the pre-built wren houses. My husband and I love animals of all kinds.

    Animals have lived as beloved indoor pets, for a relatively miniscule amount of time. There is a balance of nature in this world. Worms are eaten by birds, birds and rodents are eaten by cats, who are in turn eaten by dogs or wolves, etc. The same is true for aquatic wildlife.

    This comment is for the people in this post who have remarked that they would kill a cat, simply because a cat follows it’s nature and kills a bird… Who is more humane? Certainly, the cat, because regardless of our desire to have pets, cats are hunters. For those who bait, it is like luring a kid with candy or toys. The person who chooses to kill, rather than confine or turn a rogue pet over to the “humane” society, is disgusting and a disappointment to human behavior.

    Any animal following it’s instinct is not an excuse for people to act cruelly. It is not lawful in urban communities. Additionally, there are fines and criminal charges for animal cruelty. If you know of a neighbor who baits and/ or kills, I highly recommend that you report them to the humane society, animal control and the police department.

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