Are cats responsible for the decline of birds around the world?

Are cats responsible for the decline of birds around the world?

Better known as cat, our domestic cat, unlike many other felines, is far from being an endangered species. In France, in 2021, there were no less than 1,953,708 cats identified and listed in the I-Cad register. Even if their identification is now mandatory, our small felids would be much more numerous: 15 million individuals in 2022. And in the world, our lovely predators who have not lost their instincts represent more than 600 million individuals, not counting stray cats and harets which would double this figure.

Pointed out by the president of the FNSEA Christiane Lambert, in 2019, then by Willy Schraen, president of the federation of hunters in 2020, cats would be for one a threat to birds, for the other a real threat to biodiversity. An environmental deputy even wants to classify our purring felines as pests. So what is it really? Are our small predators solely responsible for the decline of birds? What are the other causes of their decline? How to protect biodiversity from the claws of our “velvet paws”?

A small carnivore who knew how to keep his instincts

An instinct carved in stone

With its powerful musculature and sharp claws, cats, even though it has been domesticated for millennia has never lost its hunting instincts. Not content with being fed, housed and sometimes bleached, our little companions continue to hunt small mammals, birds and even small reptiles and insects. It is written in their genes and the education that the female gives to the kitten contributes greatly to the preservation of their instinct. It is not uncommon for it to be hunted “for fun” and abandon its prey once dead, when others will give you a gift of a very alive, but injured mouse, directly on your doorstep.

A body made for hunting

In addition to this jealously preserved instinct, our small felids have all the advantages of large predators:

  • A flexible skeleton that allows them to reach the most unexpected places and hiding places.
  • An equally flexible and powerful musculature that allows them to remain on the lookout for long minutes and then to swoop down on their prey in a few seconds.
  • Retractable claws to move discreetly or to climb and lacerate their victim.
  • Thin, sharp, cutting teeth to kill and devour their prey.

In addition to these physical characteristics, the cat has hearing capable of perceiving the sounds emitted by rodents and birds, as well as keen eyesight. As for its vibrissae, they are used to indicate numerous spatial and odoriferous information to it.

What damage do our little companions do to birds and biodiversity?

Even if the remarks of the ecologist deputy who wanted to register the cat as a harmful species may shock and question feline lovers, the studies published in 2013 in the United States and 2015 in France must question us about the impact of the feline population for biodiversity and for birds.

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Is the domestic cat the cause of the disappearance of birds?

If in France and in Europe the predation of wild fauna by our small felids seems less important than in the United States, the figures still give chill in the back. The study *“The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States” by Scott R. Loss, Tom Will and Peter P. Marra indicates that free-ranging domestic cats killed between 1.4 million and 3.7 million birds. However, they seem more inclined to hunt and kill small mammals such as rodents or even dormouse and red squirrels, which, in our country, are two protected species. On the menu of our felines, small mammals would have between 6.9 and 20.7 million victims, to which are added lizards, snakes and insects. According to the website of the *SFPEMand the Museum national of natural history— and the data collected thanks to the participation of the owners of cat in 2015 — our European cats would have a clear preference for rodents which represent approximately 68% of their prey. Birds would only be part of 28% of predation by the domestic cat, reptiles, only 8%.

Other studies by the League for the Protection of Birds shed more light on the hunting of birds in our tomcats. Thus, a domestic cat in the wild kills 5 to 10 birds per year. If we multiply this figure by the number of cats in France, their winged victims are about 75 million individuals and more particularly sparrows, tits or magpies. Nevertheless, the LPO emphasizes that the cat is not primarily responsible for the disappearance of birds.

Finally, it is no secret that some French islands, and all over the world, have seen their endemic small mammals and birds melt away after the introduction of cats. When prey evolved over thousands of years without the presence of cat-like predators, they couldn’t adapt to escape them.

However, it is not the domestic tomcats that represent the most danger for wildlife and birds, but rather the feral cat which counts, in 2019, 800 million mammals killed in the world.

The feral cat, a scourge for biodiversity?

If the predation of the wandering misty games remains higher than that of our domestic felines, the feral cat, which has become wild again, does not have a generous donor of pies or croquettes. Returned to nature, it is generally fearful of humans and only relies on itself to feed itself. When our misty games hunts 27 prey, the stray tomcat 273, the feral cat counts 1,071. If in urban areas our tomcats have a limited impact on the disappearance of birds, in the countryside, as in peri-urban areas, stray cats and carts rediscover the way of life of their wild ancestors and contribute, in part, to the disappearance of birds.

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In Australia, cats killed 3.6% of the continent’s endemic birds in 2017. Today, to curb the feral cat population, estimated at six million individuals, Australia will deploy 15 killer robots to try to stem the extinction of many endemic species. These robots, the “Felixers”, will inject eight milligrams of “poison 1080” on the wild felines that they will identify from their gait and their silhouette. The feral cat alone would have caused the extinction of 28 endemic species and threatened 124 others. But does this justify the means employed?

Wouldn’t Australia suffer, just like us, from other causes that lead to the decline of birds?

Other causes responsible for the decline of birds around the world

While the 2013 and 2015 studies prove the negative impact of domestic cats and stray cats and herds on the decline of birds around the world, the study by Stanislas A gift, Vasilis Dakos, Hany Alonso and Vincent Devictor * published in May 2023 reminds us that other causes are causing the decline in their population. Four factors are detrimental to the balance of the avian fauna:

  • Intensive farming ;
  • Forest cover;
  • Urbanization;
  • Rising temperatures.

Intensive agriculture causes the greatest destabilization of biodiversity both through the use of insecticides and pesticides and through the uprooting of hedges or wooded areas. It is in these spaces that the insects that serve to feed the broods live and reproduce. Even frugivorous species feed their chicks insects. The scarcity of food remains the first cause of the disappearance of birds, particularly in the countryside where agriculture is more developed than breeding.

In France, as in Europe, there are still enough wooded areas to provide a home for birds. And urbanization offers cave-dwelling species spaces in which to nest. However, modern habitats, smooth and without roughness, are not suitable. As for global warming, if it can harm certain species, other birds adapt perfectly.

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Their disappearance began more than 20 years ago, particularly in areas of intensive agriculture. In 2001, common agricultural birds had lost 33% of their numbers, and for some species, the end of fallow land led to a drop of more than 50%!

The cat is only one additional factor among others in the decline of our bird populations. However, we can act, so as not, as in Australia, to end up using robots to curb the proliferation of feral cats.

How do you protect birds from your domestic cat’s instincts?

If it is possible to curb predatory instincts in dogs, it will be much more difficult, if not impossible, to do so with your misty games. The best solution to prevent a cat from hunting is obviously to keep it indoors. However, you can limit its impact by adopting these few tips:

  1. To protect wildlife from your misty games, provide your garden with spaces of wildflowers, dense or thorny shrubs, trees. The birds will be able to hide there, nest in height and find their food there.
  2. Rather than a feeder, plant native shrubs, flowers, grasses that will provide seeds, berries, fruits or insects for the birds. They will not come every day at the same time to feed there as with a feeder.
  3. If you want to add a birdhouse or a feeder to your garden, place them in the open. The birds will be able to spot the predator quickly and flee at full speed, whether it is your cat or that of the neighbour. Make sure they are 3 or 4 meters away from any hiding place where the feline could slip.
  4. Preserve the nesting and meal area with thorny branches or a Stop-cat grid that will disturb it without hurting it.
  5. To prevent your cat from climbing the tree and eating the brood, get a Stop-kitty barrier.
  6. To get your Mistigri away from sensitive areas, plant repellent plants like foul rue, peppermint or Coleus canina.

Feeding your cat with quality, self-service food remains essential for its balance and health, but will only have a limited impact on its predation instinct. In order to reduce his hunting instinct, take the time to play with him. Finally, to prevent it from wandering and limit abandonment, sterilize your animal.

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