In mid-October, the Cape May City Council voted unanimously to amend a beach management plan keep their Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR) program for cats operating despite pressure by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to adopt a plan that would have eliminated TNR. The USFWS had proposed a plan to protect endangered birds like Piping Plover, Least Tern, and Black Skimmer calling for a one-mile buffer zone between feral cat colonies and protected beaches. The effect of this plan would have been to completely eliminate colonies in Cape May due to the small size of the city.
In essence, the city of Cape May, long considered an epicenter of U.S. birding and a critical Atlantic coast flyway, has chosen cats over birds. Is it any surprise that this move has elicited massive protest? Rob Fergus, as compassionate a naturalist as you could hope to find, has gone so far as to promote a Birdchaser boycott of Cape May until this precipitous policy is reversed. Why is a program rooted in humane treatment of abandoned animals such anathema to bird lovers?
How about because cats kill millions, if not billions of smaller creatures a year?
It’s true. The domestic or house cat (Felis silvestris catus) is an inveterate slayer of wild birds, rodents, amphibians, insects, and virtually anything else vulnerable to its considerable prowess. Cats don’t just hunt for food; even well-fed felines track and terminate prey for fun. Sometimes, they’re happy just maiming their quarry. Ultimately, a single cat can be responsible for hundreds of bird deaths over a lifetime of slaughter. One would think that the council members of a city that sees more than its fair share of the birding dollar would be sensitive to the message it’s sending.
Proponents and cat lovers claim that the TNR program is the most humane way to manage feral cats, ending their ability to reproduce while allowing them to enjoy a natural lifespan. Organizations like the American Bird Conservancy disagree, reporting that free-roaming felines are vulnerable to the perils of fast cars, ferocious animals, rampant disease, and, of course, human cruelty. I’ll go on the record and say that I could care less about the cats. In fact, I hate cats. There, I’ve said it… I know this is certainly an unpopular opinion but I can hardly be alone in despising these arrogant killing and shedding machines. While I’ve achieved a certain detente with specific members of the species, including my wife’s former feline friends but excluding Corey’s sleep-disrupting pets, I cannot ignore what a bane this invasive species is to ecosystems in the U.S. and beyond. There is simply no natural place for Felis silvestris catus in the wilds of North America, Europe, or Australia. They’ve been directly linked to at least one avian extinction and are surely complicit in plenty more.
The National Park Service quotes research that estimates that invasive plants and animals cost the U.S. economy $137 billion annually and separately that invasive species contribute to the listing of 35 to 46 percent of all threatened and endangered species. Other studies suggest that nine million of the lithe killers are wreaking havoc on wildlife in the UK alone. Thousands of years of symbiotic social adaptation with humans doesn’t change the fact that cats, love them or hate them, are dangerous invasive predators. Despite their poor attitudes, cats are not to blame for being mistreated, abandoned, or released into fragile environments, nor can they be expected to transcend their native gift for mayhem. It falls to Homo sapiens, the species that expanded the threat of this tail-twitching terror globally, to act responsibly when one favored animal imperils many others.
Now that I’ve made my position (which is not necessarily shared by Corey though Charlie certainly concurs) clear as crystal, I should announce that I am NOT boycotting Cape May, since I’m about to visit for the first time to participate in the inaugural Cape May Autumn Weekend Bird Blogging Conference. (You’ll be there too, right?) However, while I’m there, I will seek out opportunities to share my outrage with city officials and merchants. I hope that nature lovers who recognize the threat hordes of free-roaming felines pose to the countless birds that drop in on Cape May every year will do the same.
I love cats. Indoor cats. Where they can sleep on Mike’s face. Outdoor cats: not so much.
Around here, central Kentucky, the deer are responsible for more bird death than the cats, by far. They are especially hard on the neo-tropicals, they’ve stripped the understory.
I think window-strikes kill more than my two old Toms. There are no feral cats here, coyotes and feral dogs take care of that. I realize it’s different in different places, especially Australia and islands, but they really aren’t a problem here. I would love to see all the deer deaded, not just for the birds, but for my garden too. And I wonder how the number of birds killed on Cape May by feral cats compares with, oh, the Sears Tower, say? rb
Arby gives an arguement that many pro-cat people express, although he missed “habitat destruction” by humans, the greatest cause of bird demise. It is a hollow arguement, like saying that if, say, diabetes, was the third greatest cause of death (and I do not know any of the cause of death rankings, substitute the real figures if you’d like) of humans, we should ignore the problem as there are greater causes of death out there.
I’m not against cats. You want to have a cat or fifteen go right ahead. But be responsible – keep them inside. Cat’s outside are responsible for huge numbers of small animal deaths, including birds, and some of birds prey items. Studies have shown this again and again. Studies have also shown that TNR programs do NOT work, that the feral populations continue to maintain themselves and grow. Other things that do not work including belling cats, cats are far too intelligent to let a bell interfere with their hunting prowess.
So by all means, work against deer over population (you’ll face as tough a battle as the cat one as we value beauty over common sense in our world) wind farms, high rise deaths, habitat loss, and climate change. But don’t ignore a large contributer to un-natural premature bird population declines the cat, just because you love to have them around.
You’re quite right about habitat destruction caused by humans being the biggest threat to birds. And cats certainly are responsible for high mortality, especially where they are non-native, Oz, Pacific islands etc. All I was saying was that as a serious cause of bird mortality around here, this place, woodsy central Kentucky, they don’t even make the charts. And, yes, I do realize the hope of deaded deers is a futile hope. To paraphrase someone, I HATE DEER. Well, not really, they are awful purty, I just wish there were a couple of hundred thousand fewer of them.
And before you point out that Puff IS non-native in the US, just ask my birds. They know from cats. I expect their ancestors were well trained by Bobcats. The deer react to a cat for goodness sakes. Not too good at judging size, I reckon. I, as a human, have been here for around 15,000 years, and I can still make a Titmouse or Cardinal flee by a direct glance from 20 feet. ME, the guy that fills their feeder every day, and has never intentionally killed any of them! Only the young first-year birds waste any effort in pointing out a cat to their friends. And that only lasts a week or two, until they figure out that everybody else is unconcerned. The adults have better things to worry about. And, like I said, there are no feral cats here. I have seen, maybe, one cat induced bird death this year. Cats aren’t always a threat, it depends on the situation. They certainly should be controlled in Cape May, or so I gather, whatever the method. Here, not so much.
Oh, I almost forgot Mike. I’m with Rob on a boycott. While I’m a big proponent of dialogue, very few things will grab the attention of a municipality as money not coming into their coffers. It would be more efficacious to say “We are cancelling our plans to come to your community because of your stand on TNR. We write about birds to a world wide audience, and we would like to talk to you about this so this regrettable decision which will result in the birds we love being killed, that is not based on any research in support of TNR could be changed. If you don’t want to help birds, then you really don’t care about birders, and we will take our business somewhere that does”. Make the dialogue, but make them take notice of you.
I fully agree that free-roaming domestic cats should be eliminated everywhere from wild America. But one should keep in mind that these â€œarrogant killing and shedding machinesâ€ (sic!) are completely innocent â€“ they were brought, raised and released by humans. So the culprit is man – the one and only arrogant killing and shedding machine around on our beautiful planet!
Arby, you’re absolutely right that deer overpopulation and large, untreated expanses of glass are also dire threats to birds. We can trace everything back to human ignorance and ambition. Neither deer nor skyscrapers loom large at Cape May, but we’ve responded to those issues in the past and will continue to. Thanks for adding to the discussion.
Clare, you’re spot on as always. While a boycott would be effective, nothing is going to derail Autumn Weekend. With hope, those of us with an international audience of informed birders will get the ear of the right folks in order to inspire needed change.
We totally have your back on this one, 10k birds! House cats don’t belong outside, ever. Nearly nationwide feral cats are a problem, even when they are not so obviously so.
Only the young first-year birds waste any effort in pointing out a cat to their friends. And that only lasts a week or two, until they figure out that everybody else is unconcerned. The adults have better things to worry about.
The point, of course, if that a cat that birds can see isn’t nearly as dangerous as the cat they can’t. Cats are ambush predators, when birds can’t see them is when they’re the most dangerous. And with all due respect, just because you’re only aware of one cat-induced bird death doesn’t mean that’s the only cat-induced death. To deny that all cats are incredibly efficient killers down to the bone is silly. I grew up with and still like my family cats, but they are, even at nearly 20, born hunters.
Pardon me, everyone, for going on about this. Of course cats are ambush hunters, and that’s why it is open ground around my feeders. I don’t think that I denied “that all cats… are… killers”. Perhaps you misunderstood my remark that cats aren’t always a threat. I should have said they are not a threat of any real consequence.(Let me repeat: HERE) Mine do indeed pick off a few from ambush, notably from the raspberry bushes, but all I was saying is that here, as a cause of birdy mortality, they hardly register. My few square feet of windows kill more. I am more of a threat than my cats. And I rank fairly low too. I like to think I replace at least as many, directly through feeding the seed eaters and nectar sippers, and by providing 180 acres of human-free woods, brush and an untended field. rb