Monday, October 08, 2007

Doubt about outdoor cats' impact on wild birds

A recent article in the Telluride Daily Planet expressed concern about the validity of studies that blame outdoor cats for bird predation. The column written by the Second Chance Humane Society said:

These days, there are studies on the Web that can support pretty much any position on any issue. Beware, though. These studies often lack validity and fail to rely on scientific method. A prime example, in our opinion, is the “Wisconsin Study”, a study by John S. Coleman and Stanley A. Temple, that argues that free-roaming cats pose a serious threat to bird populations. Of this 1992 study the authors later admitted that it was simply “guesswork” and did not rely actual data.

Despite the fact that the study was never published — thus sparing it from peer review or validation — it continues to form the basis of further work on the same issue. It also continues to be used by some conservation groups. In fact, SCHS received an e-mail from Steve Holmer, director of public relations for the American Bird Conservancy, in response to last week’s pet column. In his e-mail, Holmer cites Coleman and Temple’s work. His group proposes the banning and elimination of free-roaming cat colonies “through humane capture by animal care and control facilities.”
Conservation groups also use other studies, such as these two cited by Golden Gate Audubon Society and this published study conducted in Michigan.

The column also said:

We at SCHS believe that humans — and their lifestyles — are probably the worst culprits when it comes to decreases in bird populations. Second Chance proposes forming an allegiance with bird advocates like the American Bird Conservancy and working together toward the serious factors that are diminishing bird populations to a greater degree than cats do. And, with regard to whatever impact free-roaming cats might have on the bird populations, how about if bird advocates were to work with feral cat advocate groups toward humanely controlling the population of feral cats through a structured spay/neuter program? This would be, in our opinion, far more effective, and humane, than trying to eliminate these cats altogether.

SCHS also suggests that bird groups work with cat owners that allow their cats outside to make efforts to protect birds.

Second Chance encourages anyone looking to blame cats for declines in bird populations to look carefully at the research, and to consider that other elements besides outdoor cats might be more responsible.
What do you think of the validity of those suggestions?

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9 Comments:

Blogger tai haku said...

Whilst the first part of the report reads suspiciously like Homer's "Pah, You can get statistics to prove anything these days" I think there probably is some validity to what they are saying regarding the accuracy of a lot of studies. This one on cat impact looks rather efficient in its methods of recording however and the impact is pretty much undeniable (As is the obvious angle from which the source article is written):
http://www.abdn.ac.uk/~nhi775/cat_predation.htm

Further afield in places like australia the impact of cats has been devestating and I would advocate the removal/limitation of feral cat colonies as effectively as possible and if that means using lethal methods I'm afraid I'm still in favor of it.

October 08, 2007 1:53 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Thanks for the link!

BTW, I like "whilst." Haven't seen that for a while.

October 08, 2007 2:13 PM  
Blogger Jeff Gyr said...

Hi Amy--

I think sacred cows, except in the strictest sense--actual, sacred, cows, which seem nice enough--are to be avoided at all costs. So even though I suspect, based on my own admittedly anecdotal but nonetheless voluminous observations that outdoor cats of all kinds do TONS of killing of native wildlife, I must admit that I don't know for sure.

I think one of the saddest aspects of our current social/intellectual climate is that "science" is now seen as "political." So is journalism. So is justice.

How do we get back to believing that people, despite their private political, religious, or other beliefs, are still capable of making an honest stab at reporting the truth as they find it, not as they wish they found it? I'm not sure we can.

But this thing of where people cite "competing" studies, cherry-picking them so their own biases are supported, is a real drag.

Please, somebody--lots of somebodies--do some serious work on this topic. And please, the rest of us, let's listen to what they find.

OK, Jeff, breathe...it'll be alright...

October 08, 2007 4:26 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Yes, it'll be alright (c:

October 08, 2007 4:43 PM  
Blogger Bevson said...

When I lived on the farm we let our cats out. I can say from experience, they did kill wildlife. Now mostly that constituted mice, moles, voles, chipmunks and the occasional bunny; but they also killed birds.

Taking this lesson to heart, when I moved 7 years ago, they became indoor cats. It is really for their own good as well as for the wild things.

It has saved me lots of money in vet bills. Maybe if we push the savings angle it will get more attention from cat owners.

October 08, 2007 5:18 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Exactly. I think an emphasis on the cats' safety and health and the owners' wallets can make a solid impression.

Thank you for bringing your cats indoors!

October 08, 2007 5:41 PM  
Blogger John said...

I would agree with the point that degradation and destruction of habitat is probably the worst threat to bird conservation, and that there may be a few other things ranking ahead of cats. However, free-ranging cats are part of the problem, and it is one harm that we can limit. Commitment to a cats indoors program for animals with a clear owner would help. I'm not big on the trap-neuter-release approach to feral cats because it puts cats back out where they are a danger to birds and where they are themselves in harm's way from other predators, cars, starvation, etc. It's especially a problem in sensitive ecological areas.

October 11, 2007 4:41 PM  
Blogger Susan Gets Native said...

Sigh.

I think they are dead on that humans are the major problem.

But we can't ignore the fact that domestic cats are an introduced predator, or that most people who let their cats be "outside cats" are just too lazy to clean litter boxes or think that the cats will control the rodents.

And therein lies the big stink: Cats use flower beds, mulch, etc to poop in, leaving behind toxoplasmosis, worms, etc. And cats kill rodents, true. But being a raptor-phile and educator, I cringe to think of all the mice and rats who are played with to death, instead of warming and filling baby owls and hawks.
Why do people let their cats out in the big scary world and still claim to love their cats? Cats are hit by cars and left to die a slow, horrible death in the ditch. Cats fight with other cats and come home with Feline Leukemia.
Bells on collars don't work. Saying that "we live in the country so there isn't much traffic" is crap.

Take the birds' health and prosperity out of the equation, and you are left with irresponsible pet owners.

I tell everyone who will listen that balance is the key. And the MILLIONS of homeless/left outside cats and dogs are making an impact. Saying WE are the big problem is just ignoring the slightly smaller problems. And speaking of that...when it is said that humans are doing this or that, ever notice that humans are excused?

The "Trap, neuter, release" programs are obviously not helping. Even though I have 5 cats (INSIDE) and I love them, I would get behind a plan to eradicate feral cat colonies. Three of my cats were from shelters, and where do shelters get most of their cats? From the streets...where they were either thrown out as "disposable" pets or from those stupid pet owners who think that because cats are animals, they can live outside.
Okay, I know that I am going on and on, but I face this crisis every day: I have been trying to trap a young cat in my yard for a month, and I talk about outdoor cats during my programs. I am bound and determined to open people's eyes when they admit they have an outdoor cat. The way it usually starts is when they ask "Why does that hawk in our neighborhood swoop at our cat?" I turn it around and ask why their cat is outside in the first place. And I get the usual rodent answer. Then I show them pictures of baby GHOW's and screech owls. That changes their tune.
Amy, please tell me to shut up now.
BTW: Can't wait to meet you in NJ!

October 11, 2007 8:18 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Susan, shut up now ;)

October 15, 2007 3:49 PM  

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