Love Birds? Keep your cats inside

thA couple of years ago we discovered a mama cat in our yard with five very cute kittens. When they were old enough, we kept two of them and took the others to the animal shelter. The mother was very wild and wouldn’t have anything to do with us. A couple of months later she had another litter. Because we could see a never-ending cycle in place, we trapped her and took her to the animal shelter. The two kittens we kept are all grown up now and they are part of our family. We all love them dearly but they are neutered and we keep them inside.

Why do we keep them inside even though they are neutered? Well, for one thing, they are much less likely to pick up parasites or get a disease and unless something really weird happens, we don’t have to worry about them getting run over by a car or eaten by a coyote. But the main reason we keep them inside is that they are, to put it bluntly, natural-born killers. A recent report by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states that annual bird mortality from outdoor cats is estimated to be 1.4 to 3.7 billion and mammal mortality is likely 6.9 to 20.7 billion individuals. Those numbers are so large that I can’t begin to comprehend them. In fact this study demonstrates that cat predation on birds is by far the largest human induced threat to avian populations. Mortality estimates from collisions with windows, buildings, communication towers, vehicles, and pesticide poisoning combined don’t come close to the estimates associated with outdoor cats.

This is a politically charged topic and I can see both sides. I love my cats but I love birds too. Birds are a natural and important part of our ecosystems. Cats are not. Though the study mentioned above showed that 69% of bird mortality was from un-owned cats, other studies have shown that even well fed cats chase, stalk, and kill birds and other animals. You may have heard of trap-neuter-return programs which are associated with managed cat colonies. These are an attempt to allow cats to live out their lifespan without allowing them to produce additional feral cats. In theory the cat colony will eventually die out as all members reach the end of their natural lifespan. In practice, however, this isn’t what happens. A study in Miami showed that because the cat colony acted as dumping grounds for people abandoning cats, despite state and county laws making that illegal, the colony actually perpetuated itself. Many years ago I lived in Miami for a short while and became familiar with the birding locations in the city. There is now a managed cat colony in one of the parks where I used to bird. I distinctly remember seeing my first Ovenbird there. Friends who still live in the area say that they don’t bird there anymore because there are no birds now.

At my house, we have a couple of window hummingbird feeders. In the morning before I open the shades, you can hear the hummers when they come to the feeders. My cats can hear them too and I see them assume the crouch position, their jaws working in some instinctual way, as they stare at the window shade. Sorry kitty, you won’t be catching my hummingbirds. That’s my job and I release them again safely unlike you!

Article by: Sue Heath, Ph. D., Avian Conservation Biologist for GCBO

Photo courtesy of The sixth Wall,


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