Cats ‘Out on the Town’ kill more birds, mammals, and reptiles than you think!

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
October 2012

I know many of you are cat lovers.

In all animals, there is a wildness that we can learn much from as humans.  We appreciate and love them, and thus cats and pets help us relate to wildlife too, each having unique personalities.  However, most of our pets are non-native.  Domestic cats were brought over by the European colonists, originating from Africa.  A 2007 genetic study revealed that all domestic cats are descended from as few as five African wildcats. Therefore, cats are an invasive species to the U.S. that have few natural enemies to check their numbers.  Cats are found almost everywhere in the world where people live.  They currently are the most popular pets in the world.  Cats are another way we humans impact our natural environment.

Do you know what your cat does when it goes outside?  To find out, recently, Scientist Kerrie A. Loyd outfitted sixty domestic cats in the Athens, GA area with “KittyCams” (small video cameras) around their necks and allowed them to roam freely outdoors during the day and night.  Factors these domestic cats faced were: 45% cross roadways, 25% eat and drink things they found, 20% explore storm drains, and 20% enter crawl spaces where they could become trapped.  A video is available from one of the kitty cams: 

In order to survive, one of the cat’s instincts is to hunt.  Surprisingly, in this University of Georgia/National Geographic project, she and a colleague found that of the cat’s kill, 41% were reptiles (e.g. lizards, snakes, and frogs); 25% mammals like chipmunks and voles; 20% insects and worms; and 13% birds. However, these cats brought back to the house only a quarter of their prey, ate about 30%, and left nearly half to rot.  So, just because your cat does not bring back birds or other prey, does not mean that it does not hunt.  Previous estimates of birds killed were thus low.  Cats like to stalk, capture, and kill.  They are born that way.

The Humane Society estimates there are 86.4 million cats owned in the U.S. with 33% of U.S. households owning an average of 2.2 cats.  Not to mention an estimated 70 to 100 million feral cats roaming about.  That means millions of birds die yearly, especially nestlings. George Fenwick, president of the American Bird Conservancy says: “Cat predation is one of the reasons why one in three American bird species are in decline”  (also see In contrast wind turbines kill an estimated 440,000 birds and 7,000 killed by the BP Gulf oil spill.  So more fuss must be made about cats.  A University of Nebraska study released last year found that feral cats were responsible for the extinction of 33 species of birds worldwide.

Michael Hutchins, Executive Director/CEO of The Wildlife Society, the leading organization for wildlife professionals says this study shows without doubt “There is a huge environmental price that we are paying every single day that we turn our backs on our native wildlife in favor of protecting non-native predatory cats at all costs, while ignoring the inconvenient truth about the mortality they inflict.”

So why is it good for you to keep your cat indoors?  You will know your cat is safe, healthier, and happier and your cat will not likely be fearful of the real predators and hazards in the neighborhood and nearby nature.  What’s more, the cats will be safe from:  vehicle accidents, disease, parasites, poisons, fights with other animals, theft, and live trapping.  Outdoors cats live between three and five years, while indoor cats have a life expectancy of 10-17 years. And you will prevent many millions of wild birds from dying.  Show your cats you love them, care for them…inside your home.

Some suggestions on how to keep your cats happy and more active indoors:

  • Provide a safe outside enclosure, such as a screened porch.
  • Provide window shelves so your cat can monitor the outdoors from inside.
  • Plant kitty grass (available at pet supply stores) inside so your cat can graze.
  • Clean litter boxes regularly.
  • Play with your cat each day, give good nutrition and give treats, and snuggle.
  • Provide toys and climbing areas allowing them to get exercise

Love and have fun with your cat and wild birds!  Keep your cat safe inside, the birds safe outdoors!

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