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Phoenix Niesley-Lindgren Watt
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Someone who cares, I have lived in my home for over 20 years--the unowned cats showed up only 3-4 years ago--so I have spent a fair amount of time observing the birds in my neighborhood long before the cats showed up. My home does not border a wildlife refuge, nor is it in a recently developed area--there has been a home on this property since the late 19th century. The nearest untouched natural habitat is at least 20 miles away. Before becoming a veterinary student, I worked for a decade as a naturalist and interpreter for a world-famous zoological park near my home. I have had several semesters of university-level instruction in animal behavior, anatomy, physiology, etc., and a bachelor's degree in molec cell biology. (I switched away from conservation biology as an undergrad because I didn't enjoy the company of the others who had chosen that as a career path.) But enough about me. In spite of the absolute destruction of all native habitat and the intrusion of community cats, birds continue to thrive in my neighborhood. Birds are more resilient than you want to give them credit for.
Anonymous, I, too, am an observer. I observe beautiful, healthy, happy cats at play in my yard, while my many trees are filled with birds. A single bird carcass is all that has ever turned up--whether it landed in my yard because of the feral cats or was dropped by one of the local red-tailed hawks or red-shouldered hawks that soar in the sky above my home, I'll never know. My feral colony is well-fed, and, three years in, the population is 80% neutered. Our backyard is a certified wildlife habitat where we welcome skunks, raccoons, and a variety of birds and reptiles. When I volunteer with the Feral Cat Coalition to assist with spaying and neutering feral cats every month somewhere here in San Diego County, I meet like-minded individuals who are also compelled to do the right thing for the cats who show up in their nieghborhoods. So take a deeper look at the bad science being used to villify outdoor cats, meet the people who care about them, and open your mind to the idea that extermination is not acceptable--maybe then we'll find a solution that is.
Et tu, Brute? I have yet to read a study about feral/community/stray/unowned cats and/or TNR that wasn't fatally flawed in either it's design or assumptions, and it seems the "conservationist" agenda is more than willing to continuously rehash bad science from as far back as the early 20th century to blame cats for every bird death. Until your side is ready to throw out the junk science and understand that feral cat population management is possible without mass extermination, I'll have to be satisfied that public opinion strongly favors my position.
Are you referring to Kerrie Anne Loyd's non-peer reviewed study? 2,000 hours of video following 55 cats where it was assumed 5 of the 39 successful hunts involved common birds? I'm not sure there is any validity to making definitive conclusions about whether fed or unfed cats kill more or less birds based on that study. And to say that feral colonies aren't under the same ecological pressure as other predators dismisses entirely the fact that they are also prey animals and subject to the same pressures as the animals you think are MORE deserving of protection. Bottom line is that all the difficulties faced by native wildlife are of a man-made origin and killing community cats is not the answer, it doesn't work, has never worked, and the vast majority abhor the idea. Sadly, I am but a lowly student of veterinary medicine, home on spring break, and I don't have nearly as much time to pursue the study of this issue as I would like. But it is truly going to take our two sides coming together and using real science to find a solution.
I truly dislike conversations with anonymous posters, but since you persist... how did your new development end up with feral cats? It seems that what you are actually talking about are owned cats who are allowed outdoors, which is not strictly what this opinion piece was about. That said, did you set up a camera to capture the healthy Savannah sparrows being picked off of the low willows? Did you necropsy all of the dead carcasses to ensure the animals were not infected with a virus/fungus/bacterium/protozoa/etc.? I don't doubt that you believe the birds in your neighborhood are being picked off by cats, but I also think you are seeing what you want to see, and not necessarily being rational or critical in your assessment of the situation.
So the logic is that fed cats kill more birds than unfed cats? That argument makes no biological sense.
Conservation 101... just like the majority of the feral kittens that were born in my neighborhood prior to trap/neuter/release died before reaching sexual maturity, so it goes for birds, snakes, rodents, and every other prey species (which cats are, as well.) I have had stray and feral cats in my neighborhood since 2008 (apparently my neighbors who lost their homes in the crash didn't think they could support the unsterilized family cat any longer, either) and in 5 years I have found exactly one single pigeon carcass in my yard. There was an owned neighbor's cat who was quite prolific at snatching house starlings off the fence near my bird feeders for a few months, but apparently either he lost interest after a while or the birds stopped sitting on the fence. Look, the fact is that trap and kill hasn't worked, too many veterinarians don't support low cost spay/neuter programs (which, coupled with TNR and neonate fostering, has reduced the number of cats being killed in shelters), and the general public doesn't think killing one species to save another is an especially humane idea. TNR works, but only to the extent that it is practiced, which means there are tiny little islands of success (like my backyard) surrounded by oceans of ignorance and apathy. This is a fight that bird and cat people shouldn't be having--we need to work together to find solutions, and we can start by dumping all the bad science that's being quoted over and over again as if it has any relevance and start talking to each other. Baby birds die. Kittens die. Let's leave our emotions at the door and work together.
It is easier to point to the neighborhood cats and their mutilated prey as the biggest threat to native wildlife than it is to look at your own contribution to the demise of native species, living "in a new subdivision on the edge of a natural area in the foothills." It is well documented by true scientists (not the pseudo-science quoted by Dr. Monk and the rest of the bird people) that cats, as any predator, prey only on the sick, old, weak, and young. Predation makes a species stronger via natural selection. But habitat destruction, such as your new subdivision, destroys irreplaceable food, water, and nesting resources. It's easy to see what cats do, but not so easy to see the reduction in nest availability, crowding, reduced egg-laying, increased mortality due to lack of food, etc., caused by habitat destruction. For more information about the truth behind the bad science, visit http://voxfelina.com/ where Peter Wolf goes line-by-line through all of the "evidence" against cats and contrasts it with the few real scientific studies on the subject.
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Mar 29, 2013