New study finds cats have bigger impact than previously known
It's no secret … cats are hunters, plain and simple.
But a recent study of their behavior is shedding a whole new light on the extent of what our furry friends are capable of doing.
According to a USA Today story, researchers studied the number of birds killed each year by predators or other situations such as wind turbines or window collisions, because about a third of the 800 species of birds in the U.S. are endangered, threatened or in decline.
The results were shocking.
“Free-range” cats, it was discovered, killed an estimated 1.4 billion to 3.7 billion birds in the continental U.S. each year.
And when you look at little mammals, like mice or rabbits, the number explodes: 6.9 billion to 20.7 billion are killed by cats each year in the U.S.
This may not seem like news in and of itself – cats are predators. But consider a city like Yuma, which has struggled with feral cat populations.
That population is significant here. A management analyst for the city of Yuma estimated in October that there were 30,000 to 45,000 feral cats roaming the streets and alleys of Yuma. Another organization in Yuma that works with the feral cat populations through trap, neuter and release programs said that in October, they were managing 120 feral cat colonies here. No matter how you look at it, that's a lot of little hunters roaming the streets.
Within the city limits, there aren't really any natural predators for cats, other than the occasional dog – coyotes tend to stay out in the county. Water sources can be slim, but cats are resourceful – a puddle left behind by a sprinkler system is enough to keep them going. And Yuma doesn't have freezing cold winters, which in other areas help curb the feral cat population.
Yuma makes a great home for birds, too.
Our region features an impressive array of feathered friends. Yuma – especially the wetlands – is a migratory stop for traveling birds. In fact, the wetlands are home to more than 330 species of birds and wildlife.
Neither side – pro-bird or pro-cat – is happy with potential solutions.
Bird advocates find the trap, neuter and release programs problematic, because the cats are still able to prowl and kill prey. Bird fans note that feral cats are non-native species and should be dealt with accordingly.
Cat advocates, on the other hand, say cats are being blamed for bigger issues impacting birds, such as loss of habitat, for which humans ultimately are to blame. They argue the trap, neuter and release programs provide a way to stop the cats from reproducing, which, combined with responsible pet management, will lead to the end of feral cat colonies.
Birds have an added benefit to Yuma. They bring in tourism dollars from nature lovers who come here to watch migratory patterns and native habitats, and that's important for our economy. The trap, neuter and release program, if fully enforced throughout the city, would eventually control – and eliminate – the feral cats. Yuma needs to become more proactive in controlling the feral cat population, before it causes significant damage to the native wildlife.