June 24th, 2024

Cats a huge threat to bird populations, says study

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on May 23, 2024.

Herald photo by Al Beeber Sparrows perch at a bird feeder on Wednesday in a residential backyard. Birds eating or nesting close to the ground are easy prey for domestic and feral cats.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Between 150 million and 300 million birds are killed annually by domestic cats in Canada alone but only about 38 per cent of communities in this country have bylaws on the popular pet.

A study suggests that between two and seven per cent of birds in the southern regions of this country are killed annually by cats with many species potentially vulnerable because they feed or nest at or close to ground level.

In the U.S., it’s estimated that as many as 3.7 billion birds and 6.9-20.7 billion small animals are killed every year by domestic cats.

“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,” says the 2013 study by researchgate.net which is still used to this day by organizations investigating the issue.

Canadians own about 8.5 million cats and there could be as many as 4.2 million feral felines.

Communities in Alberta have different regulations regarding cats. The town of Ponoka, for instance, allows a maximum of five cats and dogs permitted in a household while Red Deer has fins of $30 for first offence for allowing a cat to run at large and $60 for a second offence. In that city, it’s an offence for a cat to run at large off a property.

In Edmonton all cats and dogs six months or older must have a valid licence and tags, including pets kept indoors.

In Calgary, cats must be confined to an owner’s property.

Lethbridge currently has no bylaw for either keeping cats or control of them but in February the City said it hopes to put a new modernized animal bylaw before council by the end of September.

The Community Safety Standing Policy Committee of city council last October recommended the City do a thorough review of the animal bylaw. The existing dog control bylaw was passed in 2004.

The Stewardship Centre of B.C. and Nature Canada in 2016 created recommendations for reducing the impact of cats on both birds and wildlife.

In a pdf document online, they say that the B.C. SPCA believes that both regulatory and educational initiatives are needed for communities to improve cat welfare.

The North American Bird Conservation Initiative in 2012 reached the conclusion that breeding bird populations in Canada have dropped by 12 per cent since 1970 with some groups seeing declines of more than 60 per cent.

The SCCP also states that allowing cats outdoors is not only dangerous for birds and wildlife but cats themselves because they can get fleas, ticks and diseases such as rabies, distemper and feline leukemia, some diseases being transferrable to humans.

Cat feces also spreads disease and parasites throughout communities.

The SCCP states that while communities have long had dog bylaws, “historically, cats have been allowed to be unsupervised because of a belief that cats are independent and need to explore outdoors. We think of cats as being able to ‘look after themselves’ more than other pets. This ignores the fact that cats have been domestic pets for thousands of years and do not belong in the wild.”

The organization says the most important bylaw a community could enact is one to address cats that run at large to mitigate the risk to birds and wildlife and reduce the numbers of unwanted, lost and feral cats. Such a bylaw would restrict cats from roaming of their owner’s property. That doesn’t mean, says the SCCP, restricting cats from being outdoors, but rather containing them under supervision to a property. Sixty-six per cent of Canadians already have indoor cats, says the SCCP.

The National Companion Animal Coalition states municipalities can address problems by introducing bylaws which discourage breeding and require cats to be licenced and permanently identified.

“When a cat licencing bylaw is introduced, the municipality will need to conduct a public awareness program to help cat owners understand the issues and what their responsibilities are. It is important that this be done in a positive way to encourage compliance. This can be done by highlighting the benefits to the animals themselves as well as the public at large,” says the coalition.

With euthanasia responsible for the deaths of almost 60 per cent of cats and 30 per cent of dogs in Canadian shelters every year, the coalition also suggests communities implement and enforce bylaws that “encourage and reward responsible pet owners who licence, permanently identify and neuter their pets.

“An important aspect of responsible pet ownership is neutering of companion animals to prevent the birth of more puppies and kittens needing homes. Municipalities can encourage pet owners to have their pets neutered by implementing preferential licence fees for altered dogs and cats. The differential should be high enough to act as an incentive for pet owners to have their pets neutered.”

Birds Canada calls invasive species and cats among the five main threats to birds in the country. The others are habitat loss; pesticides and contaminants; collisions; and the climate crisis.

But it states predation by cats – both domestic and feral – causes the largest number of bird deaths in Canada of the five biggest threats.

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My personal hearty thanks for you including this important story-line in the paper Al. — RESPECT ! I have long been involved in environmental education, including leading bird study outings, and I have sadly seen an alarming decline in many native species and the apparent extinction of some during my lifetime. Non-native felines are not the only cause of this decline, but numerous studies through the decades have proven that wandering pet cats and discarded-come-feral cats are responsible for a staggering number of native bird deaths across North America daily. My wife and I maintain our yard as small bird haven, especially for seasonal and migrating birds, and we have watched too many of these wonderful birds die in the clutches of neighbour’s cats. A bylaw in this city will not be the be-all-to-end all solution, but a bylaw with some truly effective repercussions for careless cat owners will certainly save some of these birds.

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