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Spring’s Nesting Birds

…and Other Newborn Wildlife Make Easy Prey for Outdoor Cats

(Washington, D.C., March 25, 2015) With Spring now here, baby birds and other young wildlife will soon be arriving and later venturing from their nests in a generally defenceless state. American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is reminding cat owners that even the most well-fed domestic cats pose serious threats to vulnerable wildlife.

“Spring is an incredibly dangerous time for wildlife because newborn prey don’t have the same physical defenses as their parents and have not fully developed the danger awareness regarding predators that comes with time,” said ABC Invasive Species Program Director Grant Sizemore. “Spring is perhaps the single most important time of the year for cat owners to protect wildlife by keeping their cats indoors or under their direct control,” he said.

For example, Sizemore said a study on the effects of urbanisation on wildlife that tracked the early lives of Gray Catbirds in three Washington, D.C. suburbs found that outdoor cats were the number-one source of known predation on young birds. The peer-reviewed study by Anne L. Balogh of Towson University and Drs. Peter Marra and Thomas Ryder of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute found that almost 80 percent of the catbird mortality in the study was from predation and that cats were the source of almost half of the known predation.

Even brief appearances of cats near avian nest sites lead to an increase in nest failure according to another peer-reviewed study. Those cat appearances can cause behavioural changes in parent birds which can cause an approximately 33 percent reduction in the amount of food brought to nestlings following a predation threat.

Birds whose natural movements include time on or near the ground are most susceptible, especially those that breed or nest on the ground. Typical prey for cats includes a wide variety of birds including songbirds, game birds, and waterbirds.

People often believe that cats won’t hunt if they’ve been well fed. Research shows that cats instinctively hunt, no matter how much they’ve been fed, because the hunting instinct is independent of the urge to eat.

“People can do something to help native wildlife in their backyard, and it will likely help their pets live longer,” concluded Sizemore. “We advise cat owners to spay and neuter their pets, and protect them by keeping them indoors, on leashes, or in outdoor enclosures.”

A peer-reviewed study authored by scientists from two of the world’s leading science and wildlife organisations—the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—found that bird and mammal mortality caused year-round by outdoor cats is much higher than has been widely reported, with annual bird mortality now estimated to be 1.4 to 3.7 billion and mammal mortality likely 6.9 to 20.7 billion individuals.

For a list of the top ten things people can do to help birds out in the Spring, click here

Robert Johns, American Bird Conservancy

26th March 2015