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In Our View / Ecosystem


Finding a cat/bird balance

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Tweety Bird always found a way to outsmart Sylvester, didn't he?
Not so in reality.
In the age old battle between bird and cat, felines are ringing up quite a lead.
A study published by Nature Communications in January credited domestic cats -- which includes both pets and strays -- with killing an estimated 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds a year. That's significantly more than previous estimates, which had the number at closer to 500 million.
It's worth emphasizing that the study doesn't blame cats for all that killing -- not exactly.
The scientists were looking at so-called "anthropogenic threats," a fancy way of saying threats on the environment that trace back to humankind. Those threats include things like cars, glass-walled skyscrapers, wind turbines and, yes, pets.
All of this leaves cat owners in the Northwest caught in a small paradox. Many support conservation efforts. Many also like letting their cat embrace its inner beast and go prowling -- it just seems natural. But doing so is ultimately harming the ecosystem.
Part of the problem is that domesticated cats haven't lost their killer instinct. They are smart and effective hunters, able to outwit even a well-meaning owner.
For instance, the British Trust for Ornithologists in 2010 found that many cats will compensate for a bell on their collar, stalking prey with careful and steady movements that keep the bell from ringing.
That group recommended using different types of bells at different times to keep a cat slightly off balance.
Other ideas are out there. Some suggest getting an electrified fence and collar to keep cats in their own yard, although this clearly wouldn't protect birds that land in that particular yard.
The National Audubon Society highly recommends making sure yards have cover for birds in the form of brush or to simply keep cats inside.
This latter idea is supported by the American Humane Society. The Humane Society argues that an indoor cat can be kept healthier, since it will be protected from fleas, parasites, sickness and, yes, the same anthropogenic threats that kill birds, including cars and other cats.
For some, this may seem impractical. It would deprive their outdoor cat of its defining pastime -- going outdoors. But the Humane Society says any cat can become an indoor cat, so long as its owners provide indoor toys that keep the pet stimulated.
Failing that, the Humane Society suggests building a screened-in enclosure. That way, the cat can get a taste of the outdoors without being exposed to its dangers.
And if cat owners do that, they may hear a few birds singing their thanks.

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