The truth about cats and birds: Should humans be the only invasive species allowed to kill birds?

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Cat bird

Cats can no longer hide behind their sweet meows and irresistible eyes-half-closed purring stares. A new study proves deceitful felines are not the peace-loving vegetarians they would like us to believe.

Birds beware: cats will try to kill you.

I guess their sharp teeth and razor claws should have tipped us off that we haven’t been able to completely breed the wild out of our “domestic” felines.

The study, carried out by scientists from the University of Georgia and the National Geographic Society’s Crittercam program, attached “kittycams” to 60 house cats allowed to roam outdoors for five to six hours a day in Athens, GA.

Lead author of the study, Kerrie Anne Loyd, described the fact that cats hunt small city critters as not just surprising, but “startling.”

The study found that about 30 percent of the cats were successful in capturing prey. The American Bird Conservancy’s press release states that cats are killing about 500 million birds a year in the United States.

According to the press release:

“I think it will be impossible to deny the ongoing slaughter of wildlife by outdoor cats given the videotape documentation and the scientific credibility that this study brings,” said Michael Hutchins, Executive Director/CEO of The Wildlife Society, the leading organization for wildlife professionals in the United States. “There is a huge environmental price that we are paying every single day that we turn our backs on our native wildlife in favor of protecting non-native predatory cats at all cost while ignoring the inconvenient truth about the mortality they inflict.”

I’m all for exposing “inconvenient truth,” but a little perspective is in order before we start stringing up our inconvenient little predators.

A recent NPR series is taking a look at how the glass used in modern architecture is killing an estimated 100 million to a billion birds every year in the United States.

But it’s easier to make cats your scapegoat when you’re a bird person. Naturally it’s heartbreaking to see a cat kill a little bird. It’s equally as heartbreaking to watch lions tear apart a baby zebra, but we obviously can’t hold animals to the same standards we hold ourselves to. Cats are just doing what they were built to do.

Of course house cats are not native predators in Los Angeles, but before humans paved over the sprawling beauty of the Los Angeles river basin, birds had bears, cougars, snakes, lizards, wolves, hawks and a whole host of other native predators to reason with.

Perhaps the most destructive non-native invasive species birds – and all natives for that matter – have had to deal with are humans. We destroy the places they live, eat, drink and breed. We drive cars. We fly planes. We poison water and plants. We put up wind turbines. We capture them for the exotic bird trade. We imprison them. Hey, wait. We even… hunt them. Maybe we haven’t bred the thirst for blood out of ourselves either.

Then we publish studies extolling the “ongoing slaughter of wildlife by outdoor cats” fueling the hatred so many misguided bird supremists use to justify total lack of a compassionate approach to dealing with our homeless cat problem.

Cats are not native. But we can’t sit here and pretend that if we got rid of all the cats we’d restore the balance of nature in urban America, or even rural America. Cats served a vital role in allowing civilization to thrive by protecting grain crops from rodents before we decided poisoning our own food with pesticides was the better way to go. Now, they serve as our companions, and deserve protection from harm just as much as birds.

Taken responsibly, this new report could benefit both birds and cats. Millions of cats are killed each year in shelters and many more homeless cats suffer hunger, disease and exposure. If we take a compassionate approach, we could end the needless killing of cats and birds.

Requiring that all cat owners have their pets spayed or neutered, and actually making a real commitment to sterilizing colonies of ferals, would mean fewer cats and birds dying needlessly.

The press release ends with a warning to anyone who might be left with some compassion for our little felines that many feral cats have tested positive for toxoplasmosis. So not only are cats killing birds, but they are also coming for your children and pregnant women. Um… So are we left with a “Sophie’s Choice” between toxoplasmosis and bird flu?

Thanks for the study proving that cats are carnivores, but fueling hysteria benefits nothing, including birds. A more responsible approach to our impact on everything is needed to stop the “slaughter” of our birds, and to give cats their rightful place as well-loved companions.

Tina is a journalist and mother of three who's lived all her life in the South Bay of Los Angeles except for a two-year stint in the heart of Spain. She believes humans have the capacity to make this a beautiful world for all species to live, and mothers have a special charge to raise their children to enjoy, love and respect all creatures.