June 24th, 2024

Headline>Roaming cats wreaking havoc on bird populations

By Al Beeber on June 12, 2021.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

I was walking the dogs last spring down the street when to my right I heard a sharp squeal. I looked and there was a ground squirrel in the jaws of a cat on a driveway. The small squirrel was in clear distress so I did what anybody with a conscience would do – I slackened off a leash in hopes a lunging dog might scare off the cat.
It worked and the squirrel bolted, at least temporarily, to freedom.
That incident really bothered me so I began to wonder how much environmental impact pet cats are having.
I realize writing about roaming cats is a sensitive issue but it’s one that needs to be addressed.
According to the website of Avian Conservation and Ecology, “predation by house cats (Felis catus) is one of the largest human-related sources of mortality for wild birds in the United States and elsewhere, and has been implicated in extinctions and population declines of several species.”
That website suggests between 100 million and 350 million birds are killed every year by cats roaming outdoors in Canada. That’s Canada, not the world, just Canada.
In the U.S., the kill rate by cats is estimated to be between an astounding 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion birds a year. According to the information from this site, which dates back several years, between two and seven per cent of all birds in Canada are killed every year by house cats.
Forty of 115 bird species considered potentially vulnerable to cats often can be found in urban and suburban environments.
House sparrows, which are the birds we probably see most often, are considered to be an important prey of cats.
The site says, though, that feral cats are likely to to kill more birds than pets. Still, those are big numbers.
According to the American Bird Conservancy, domestic cats have contributed to the extinction of 63 species of birds, mammals and reptiles. According to this group’s website, “the ecological dangers are so critical that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists domestic cats as one of the world’s worst non-native invasive species.. . .”
“The mere presence of cats outdoors is enough to cause significant impacts to birds. Because cats are recognizable predators, their presence near nesting birds has been shown to reduce the health of chicks and decrease nest success.”
Given how many cats roam our neighbourhoods at night, perhaps this type of predation needs to be examined by government, society and anyone with a conscience.
Of course, in Lethbridge the issue of cat licensing is a sensitive one as we know. Many have expressed outrage at the thought but if dogs need to be licensed, an argument could be made that cats should, too.
And given the amount of environmental harm they cause, cat licences should probably be higher.
I can see how licensing would be an issue. Dogs are pretty hard to hide; just ask anyone who hears them barking at night. Cats, on the other hand, fly under the radar unless they’re engaged in a fight.
The website catsandbirds.ca is advocating for municipalities across Canada to intervene and introduce bylaws that make roaming unlawful.
Bylaws, says the website, “place the responsibility for pet cats precisely where it belongs, with cat owners. They send the message that cats are valued pets and we need to take better care of them. No-roam bylaws can serve to improve the welfare of pet cats, help to decrease the influx of pets into the homeless cat population, and provide a safer environment for birds. But without public education about why bylaws are a positive step, they often fail to convince cat owners to keep their cats safe and save bird lives. Our recommendations include not only bylaws and public education, but also collaborating with local stakeholders to develop a strategy and messaging, mandatory identification and/or licensing, accessible spay/neuter and feral cat-care programs.”
Anyone concerned about the environment needs to think about this matter, including our politicians.
The environment has enough pressures thanks to climate change and human activity.
Allowing cats to continually roam and kill indiscriminately is making matters worse.

Follow @albeebHerald on Twitter

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