Keeping Kitty In Is For the Birds
by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., April 29, 2006.)
During the next 4 weeks, more than 200,000 Pennsylvania hunters hope to harvest a wild turkey gobbler. By the standards of efficient predators, their chances of success are poor. They will take only about 40,000 of the big songbirds – less than a 20% success rate.
As a hunter, I appreciate the cat's desire
to hunt for the pure pleasure of it. But
while laws and regulations control my hunting,
cats enjoy open season 24 hours a day,
365 days a year and they prey indiscriminately.
More efficient predators have already taken countless birds this spring. We see these predators every day, and any of us who have had a close association with them have likely at one time or another seen its prey deposited on our doorsteps. Yes, I'm talking about "Felinus domesticus" – ordinary house cats.
Thirty percent of Americans share their homes with more than 60 million cats. Cats have replaced dogs as the number one pet, partly because they're so easy to take care of. We seldom need to bathe our cats. Their sandpaper tongue is a thorough washcloth. We don't need to let them out for their daily constitutional. They use the litter box and we clean it once a week. We don't need to take them for a walk. They're not leash-friendly, and most of them get all the exercise they care to have on their own.
We don't even need to feed and water them. Automatic food and water dispensers can take care of that chore, and make it easy to leave a cat at home for an extended period. Business travelers or vacationers must put Fido into a kennel, but they can confine Felix to a room with food, water and litter box. It's no wonder that cats are the pet of choice in our mobile, fast-paced society.
Besides their ease of care, cats are warm, cuddly, and make that comforting but mysterious rumbling sound when they're at peace with their world.
We usually think of dogs as service animals. They fetch, lead the blind, and guard our property. Cats are useful, too. They rid our homes of mice. But Felix kills more than rodents. Some people who would object to hunters shooting turkeys have no problem with their cats terrorizing neighborhood songbirds just returning from a long northbound flight to find a mate, furnish a nest and raise a family.
Some estimates are that the number of feral cats is equal to the number of house cats, so in all perhaps 120 million cats roam the country. Each one is a soft, furry, efficient hunter -- and many of them kill regularly. They exterminate countless fledglings as well as ground nesting adult birds.
Even though we may excuse them by saying they're only doing what instinct drives them to do, the unnaturally high feline population takes many of the animals that owls, hawks, weasels, foxes and other animals prey on. Cats, being subsidized by humans, have a huge advantage over wild animals for available prey.
As cat populations have risen, songbird populations have declined. Although loss of habitat is one reason, statistics show that our feathered friends are too often the special guests at kitty's dinner. A 4-year study at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1990's found that the estimated 1.4 million to 2 million cats that range freely in rural areas of that state alone kill 31.4 million small mammals and 7.8 million birds a year. In an effort to avoid appearing extreme, that study was deliberately conservative in its numbers.
Some might think I'm just another cat hater, but I've owned a cat in the past and I've grown fond of them. As a hunter, I appreciate the cat's desire to hunt for the pure pleasure of it. But while laws and regulations control my hunting, cats enjoy open season 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and they prey indiscriminately. I don't like to see domestic or feral cats out in the woods, but it's a people problem more than a cat problem.
A few locales have passed confinement ordinances similar to leash laws for dogs, but that's not likely to happen in rural areas. What can be done? Accept it as a fact: cats are detrimental to the bird population. Keep kitty indoors as much as possible. Avoid letting your cats out in the early morning or late evening, and monitor them closely in the spring and summer -- the times when prey is most vulnerable. Consider attaching a bell to the collar of your cat. It won't always warn birds of the cat's approach, but it sometimes will. Give your cat the close attention it needs -- it's for the birds.