Bird report: Domestic cats kill more birds than collisions with windows, cars, and wind turbines combined

Sachi Schott and Robyn Perkins
For the Lakeside Leader

Last week, we discussed how to responsibly enjoy wild spaces with our dogs. Yet, dogs are not the only pet that harm wildlife.

In Canada, the largest direct human-caused killer of birds is domestic cats, whose depredations far exceed the deaths caused by collisions with windows, wind turbines, and cars combined.

Bird are especially vulnerable to pets this time of year as their babies leave the nest, but still cannot fly well enough to escape a determined predator.

As with dogs, time spent avoiding cats is time taken from incubating and feeding young.

Free-roaming cats kill between 100 and 350 million birds each year in Canada, and those that survive must migrate through the United States, where a further 1.3 to 4.0 billion birds fall prey to cats annually.

These numbers are derived from many careful scientific studies whose methods are geared towards generating a conservative estimate of bird mortality; the actual number of birds killed by cats is likely even larger, and would include birds that are injured by cats and die later, and nestlings who starve to death after their parents are killed.

As awareness of the dangers posed by house cats to wildlife has grown, there has been a growing call for cat owners to keep their pets indoors.

Slave Lake bylaws even prohibit cats from roaming ‘at large.’ But some people find it hard to believe that their cat could be a threat to wildlife. After all, house cats are not the only animals that prey on birds, so why should they be singled out?

It is important to realize that, while hunting is in a cat’s nature, cats themselves are not natural predators for wild birds.

House cats are an introduced species in North America, one that would not be present if we had not brought them here.

Because we feed and care for them, they exist in numbers far higher than could ever be attained by native predators and occupy broader habitat types.

Being fed and well cared-for does not stop a cat from hunting.

A study that placed video cameras on pet cats found that they abandoned fully half of their prey where they had killed it rather than eating it or even bringing it home.

Loving birds and loving cats is not a contradiction.

Many of the staff here at the Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory (LSLBO) and the Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation share their lives with beloved pet cats, but none of us would ever let them roam outside unsupervised!

Instead, our cats enjoy the outdoors at the end of a leash, or from inside a protected outdoor enclosure.
In this way, not only are birds and other animals kept safe from our pets, but our pets are kept safe from cars, wild animals, dogs, diseases, and parasites.

While keeping our cats indoors is not the ‘magic bullet’ that will save wild birds once and for all, it is still a simple step that we can all take towards improving the lives of the birds we love, and the cats who love us.

This article is a reprint of a 2019 report by Sachi Schott, LSLBO assistant bander; with a few updates by Robyn Perkins LSLBO bander-in-charge.

A cat on a leash can watch the birds but not kill them.

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