Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.

Cats are an invasive species

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird conservation, Birds in the backyard Updated: March 31, 2013 - 2:16 PM

In today’s (Sunday) StarTribune outdoor writer Doug Smith writes about the current cat vs. bird discussion. It began recently when National Audubon suspended (and then reinstated) its best conversation writer because he noted in a free-lance (non-Audubon) article that a certain over-the-counter pain medication would kill cats if ingested.

A local response to the question of what to do with outdoor cats came from a man named Mike Fry. He is executive director of Animal Ark, according to the Smith article a no-kill Hastings animal shelter that sterilizes and releases feral cats picked up in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Fry is quoted in Smith’s article as saying that the science-based reports of birds and mammals killed by cats nation-wide contain numbers that “are just made up.” The university and Smithsonian Institution researchers who have published their cat-study results are, in other words, lying about their findings. That is both highly unlikely and highly insulting. Fry should be embarrassed at this weak defense of his position, which is, don’t kill feral cats, they’re no big deal. 

Fry, as do many other cat fans, prefers capture-neuter-release as the solution to the far-too-many-feral-cat problem. Not that neutering and releasing does anything to curb the cats’ hunting instincts. What Fry, among others, fails to mention is that domestic cats are an invasive species in North America. We had no cats until European settlers introduced them. Out native birds did not evolve with cats as they did with our other bird predators. Cats enjoy a hunting advantage.

According to Smith’s article, Fry also believes that outdoor cats for the most part kill only House Sparrows, House Finches, European Starlings, and pigeons. Talk about bogus statements. There is no way Fry can back that assertion with facts. Those four bird species are non-native, introduced, so I suppose his idea is that losing them is no loss. Those species are vastly outnumbered by native bird species, however. Odds are, unless cats are heavy into bird identification and have unheard of self control, cats kill whatever they please, non-native or not.

If non-native makes a species expendable, then cats are in that category. Theoretically, killing them should be no different than killing a House Sparrow. My position is that cats found free-ranging outdoors should be captured and euthanized. Many cat owners care for their pets enough do what is best for the cat and best for our native wildlife – keep the cat indoors. Other cat owners care so little for their cats that they are willing to sacrifice them to the unproven idea that cats absolutely must be allowed to be outdoors.

After all, it’s their instinct to be outdoors. 

It’s also their instinct to kill. And it is not their instinct to be pets.

Municipalities that face this decision – capture and euthanize or neuter and release, sometimes cave to the loud protests of irresponsible cat owners. Too bad for the birds, House Sparrows included.

The photo below, taken from an Internet free-use site, shows a cat – whether feral or a beloved pet is unknown – with a coot in its mouth. Coots are native birds, big ones at that.

 

 

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