Watercolor by J. Cloud Walker
It is estimated that free ranging cats kill from 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds every year in the lower 48 states, the median range being 2.4 billion. That's BILLION with a "B."
More than 100 million cats reside in the United States. They are a non-native invasive species responsible for the deaths of more birds than are killed from collisions with windows, communications towers or vehicles, or poisoned by pesticides, second only to habitat loss. Un-owned, wild roaming cats are estimated to be responsible for 69% of birds killed. Owned cats that are allowed to roam free outdoors kill over 700 million birds every year in our country. Migratory and nesting birds are particularly vulnerable at certain times of the year.
Owned cats are mostly family pets, fed at home and have a nice, safe place to sleep at night. They aren't farm cats kept to control rodents. They don't need to kill to eat; they hunt and kill because it is their instinct. One study tracking household cats outdoors using video cameras recorded cats killing birds at a rate of one bird every 17 hours spent outside.
Feral and stray cats clearly pose a larger threat to birds. Strategies to manage their numbers become polarizing political issues that local municipalities struggle to confront. Elected officials might be reluctant to pass ordinances allowing for the trapping and humane euthanizing of feral and stray cats as they don't want to be labeled cat murderers. TNR (trap, neuter, release) programs are an effective way to prevent outdoor cat populations from explosive increases but sadly leave cats outdoors to continue hunting. Some cats are too feral to be adopted. And there just aren't enough people who wish to adopt the friendly ones.
You can learn more about the problem of outdoor cats by clicking the links below.
American Bird Conservancy is a great resource for information on keeping your cat indoors and happy. Be sure to take their Cats Indoors Pledge.
Written by Nancy Chang (who has four rescued cats that live happily and exclusively in her home)