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VTBIRD  January 2013

VTBIRD January 2013

Subject:

Re: bbc article on cats/birds-wildlife - (long)

From:

Jane Stein <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Vermont Birds <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 30 Jan 2013 01:19:23 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (103 lines)

Richard, please don't make up your own stories about what I think or do.
  Thanks.

Here's what I know that makes me skeptical of this and other similar
articles. First, any naturalist will tell you there's far, far more
damage done to ground-nesting birds in both woods and fields by coyotes,
foxes, racoons and other small to medium-sized predators and omnivores
whose population is way too high because of the absence of top
predators, like wolves, to keep their numbers down.

It isn't primarily nest-sitting birds that are killed, it's eggs, and
when nests are destroyed, birds often don't come back to try again.
These wild critters love eggs and seek them out. They destroy far more
ground nests than any cat, which unlike them, typically have no idea
what to do with an egg. I used to know and work with several refuge
managers for small suburban refuges, and none of them ever mentioned
their not uncommon cat visitors as a problem, but became apoplectic on
the subject of dogs, which trample nests out of curiosity more than
actually eat eggs, and egg-eating raccoons, etc.

I intensely dislike killing things, even spiders in my kitchen and wasps
nesting over my door. But there comes a point when it's them or me, and
I'm afraid I choose me. (I have it on fairly good third-hand authority,
btw, that even the Dalai Lama's household is unkind to mice. I asked
because I remain troubled about the issue.) Yes, mice are pests when
they chew their way into your house and cupboards and leave their feces
all over your kitchen and pantry or chew holes in your potato crop
before it's even harvested.

Urban sprawl and forest fragmentation, I whole-heartedly agree, is the
major problem here. But it's not because of housecats, it's primarily
from the devastation of the habitat itself, secondly the presence of
coyotes and raccoons attracted to human garbage.

We can argue all day about cats, but articles like this BBC one are just
not honest in their attempt to portray housecats as having a devastating
effect on "wildlife," which conjures up horrible images, but then not
telling you until the very end that they're talking about mice and other
creatures so abundant and with such a reproduction rate that it would
take 100 times as many cats as there are now roaming around to make a
dent in them, and then that it's feral cats that do the most damage
anyway. That's called "burying the lead" in journalism, and it's not
being straight with readers.

What this kind of thing does, IMO, is let us in our too easy anger at
very visible cats forget about the things that are doing the real
damage-- as you say, human development and forest fragmentation, which
would be just as devastating even if there were no cats at all. Far
more damage is done to bird populations by cowbirds allowed in by forest
fragmentation, not to mention the rapidly shrinking winter habitat and
staging areas along the way for migratory birds.

As for prey for hawks and owls, it's coyotes and foxes that do the most
damage there, though still not enough to make very much of a dent. You
might find it interesting to look up what's happened at Yellowstone
since they introduced wolves and the populations of both those smaller
predators dropped way down. Among other things, yes, the hawks came
back, and also the nesting habitat for birds that had been destroyed by
deer browsing.

They've seen the same thing at Plum Island in Mass., where for a while
wintering Rough-Legged hawk numbers dropped dramatically when both
coyotes and foxes, I think, moved in and the refuge staff held off on
killing them because of public distaste for the idea. There were no
cats in either place.

Also, the primary mouse and vole-eating raptors in this country have
stable or increasing populations, with only two exceptions that I know
of, one being the Ferruginous Hawk out west, the one that came back to
Yellowstone, and the Kestrel. Neither one is in trouble because of food
insufficiency.

I've also seen very vividly here that when the local hunters go on one
of their periodic coyote slaughtering parties, the population of both
rabbits and voles absolutely explodes for a year or so until the coyotes
build their numbers up again.

Against all this, cat predation is insignificant, if we're talking about
actual effects on populations.

By all means, do what you can to get neighbors to keep their cats in
where you're having a problem, or even work for a city ordinance. I'd
help you. I wouldn't have a cat that needs to be outdoors in the city
or even most suburbs. But it really does seem to me the issue is
someone's desire to have unmolested feeder birds to watch versus the
neighbor's desire to let his cat spend time outdoors. That's a volatile
issue, but it isn't a conservation issue.

I looked up, by the way, endangered species of rabbits and other rodents
in North America, and couldn't find one where cat predation was cited as
even worth mentioning. If there are places where it is, I'd favor some
kind of vigorous local, state or even federal action to restrict, trap
and remove, or even ultimately kill cats.

All I'm arguing for here is that we look maybe more calmly at the facts.
  Those are the relevant facts that I know of. Given all those things,
I'm more than a little bit skeptical of the scare stories that pop up
periodically, especially because they tend to be published, as this one
was, as scare stories and not reasoned ecological discussions and the
role cats may or may not play in them.

Jane

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