Estimate of Bird Loss to Feral Cats at $17 Billion

A new report calculates the economic impact of feral cat predation on wild birds.

A new report calculates the economic impact of feral cat predation on wild birds.

A new, peer-reviewed report from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln has put the annual economic loss from feral cat predation on birds in the United States at $17 billion. The report, Feral Cats and Their Management, analyzes research on the growing feral cat population — over 60 million — in the United States, including the practice of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR).

Officials with the American Bird Conservancy consider the report essential for community or government officials dealing with feral cats. Darin Schroeder, vice president for Conservation Advocacy at ABC, says the report validates what his organization has said about feral cats, primarily that TNR doesn’t work in controlling feral cat populations.

“Communities seeking a solution to their feral cat problems need to consider the science on the issue and the well being of animals impacted by feral cats as well as the cats themselves,” Schroeder added. “These other animals – birds especially – don’t deserve to die at the hands of a predator introduced into their environment by irresponsible pet owners. A humane decision-making process on this issue must also recognize that feral cats live short, miserable lives because of disease, other predators, severe weather and traffic hazards. Thus their life expectancy is about one third as long as owned cats.”

Alley Cat Allies disputes the accuracy of  the report’s findings and rejects the conclusion that shooting feral cats is an acceptable means of control.
  
“This ‘report’ is basically a summary of previous studies, some inaccurately quoted and others extrapolated to reach wildly exaggerated conclusions,” said Becky Robinson, president of Alley Cat Allies. “It seems the writers did little more than collect a set of confusing facts and figures and pull conclusions from previous research — including research which has been characterized by the original author as ‘not actual data.’
 
“Still, this is not just an issue of science, but also of ethics. The fact that this report — based on no conclusive or reliable data — could be used to justify shooting cats is disturbing and offensive,” she said.
 
Robinson pointed to scientific research that shows the effectiveness of Trap-Neuter-Return, which she says the University of Nebraska researchers overlooked. She notes that decades of anecdotal evidence by feral cat caregivers show TNR to be the only effective and humane approach to feral cats. She says killing feral cats to manage the population is a cruel and useless exercise, and that going a step further and, “actually advocate shooting cats is outrageous and in direct opposition to our values as a society.”

Report authors say they do not recommend the TNR method to eliminate colonies of feral cats. In their research, they were unable to find a single real-world example of TNR succeeding in eliminating a feral cat colony.

Robinson disagrees with the authors’ suggestions, saying the report ignores the fact that feral cats — like all members of the domestic cat species — are protected under state anti-cruelty laws. An Alley Cat Allies survey of Americans’ attitudes toward outdoor cats conducted by the respected research organization Harris Interactive found that the overwhelming majority would prefer a cat be allowed to live out her life outdoors rather than be caught and killed.
 
“It is sad that inflammatory reports such as this should revive a debate that is both tired and counterproductive,” said Robinson.  “As animal advocates, Alley Cat Allies supports policies that are in the best interest of all animals, including birds. That means taking a hard look at the real threats to wildlife — habitat destruction and pollution foremost among them — and changing the way our choices impact our environment.  Intentionally killing cats is no solution.”

The report alleges:
• Feral cats kill an estimated 480 million birds in the United States each year (the study did not address the question of bird predation by owned cats. Studies suggest that there are 80 million owned cats in the United States and that 43 percent have access to the outdoors. Total cat predation on birds is likely around one billion birds per year, although some analyses suggest much higher figures.)

• Feeding feral cats encourages them to congregate which encourages the chances of diseases being transmitted.

• Cats kill more native wildlife species than nuisance (invasive) species.

• Cats will kill wildlife no matter how well they are fed.

• One reference to TNR success claimed that one particular feral cat colony numbered 920 cats before TNR, and then 678 after.  However, when migrations and births were factored in, the colony had actually increased in size to 983 cats.

• The life expectancy of a feral cat is 3 to 5 years, as opposed to 15 years for owned cats.

View the report here by visiting the website and scrolling to report EC1781.

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