Number one killer of birds in Canada: cats

Maureen Coulter
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Richard Elliot, right, is shown conducting a bird survey with his son, Malcolm. Elliot, director of Wildlife Research with Environment Canada, spoke at a recent Nature P.E.I. meeting.

Bird mortality:
• Over 100 million — by cats.
• 10-100 million — From collisions into houses, vehicles and transmission lines.
• 1-10 million — From agriculture pesticides, sport harvest and collisions with industrial buildings.
• 100,000-1 million — From commercial forestry, agriculture, power lines.
• Of those killed by cats, 60 per cent of bird deaths are caused by feral, 40 per cent by pet cats.

Terry Howatt is on the fence about letting her cat outside.

The Mill Cove woman attended the recent presentation, Bird Mortality in Canada: Assessing The Impacts of Cats and Other Human-Related Sources, at the Beaconsfield Carriage House. She knew beforehand the number one killer of birds is cats but was surprised at the numbers presented.

“I guess I kind of knew that cats do eat a lot of birds. I guess I didn’t expect it to be really that high,” she said.

Richard Elliot, director of Wildlife Research with Environment Canada, gave the presentation at the Nature P.E.I. monthly meeting and many people were surprised to learn that cats are not just the highest total, but exceed all other estimates combined, with over 100 million birds dying a year from cats.

The study of bird mortality in Canada took four years, with 20 different research scientists from Environment Canada. They looked at 28 activities and different sectors to determine what was causing the mortality adults birds, young birds or active nests.

Over 200 million birds are killed each year from various causes. The number one killer is cats with over 100 million, 10-100 million collisions into houses, vehicles and transmission lines, 1-10 million from agriculture pesticides, sport harvest and collisions with industrial buildings and 100,000-1 million in commercial forestry agriculture and power lines.

“It is important not just to think of the active activities but also the more passive ones that are having an impact on our birds,” said Elliot.

There are between 5-10 billion birds that breed in Canada of about 400 species. The species affected by cats are the songbirds and land birds, with 115 susceptible, and 23 of those are already identified as species of risk.

Cats were broken into two sections. Pet cats and feral/stray cats. There are approximately 8.5 million pet cats in Canada and between 1-4 million feral and stray cats in the country.

“Just having our own cats outside, even though we think of them as our pets, they are also predators and they may be having a severe impact on birds in our neighbourhood,” said Elliot.

Solutions for pet cats would be to reduce the number that go outside or the time they spend outside, said Elliot.

“Veterinarians, in most cases, are very strongly supportive of keeping cats indoors as they are exposed to disease and accidental rates for cats in the wild is really quite high.”

Elliot said there are small things cat owners can do now.

“Even if we do simple things like the next cat we get we are going to keep inside because the one we have now is used to going outdoors, or if we clip their leash on to a clothes line so they don’t range widely but they stay in the backyard.”

He is not saying cat owners are bad or wrong because often, cat owners like birds and don’t want their cats hurting birds anymore than other people would.

“What I want cat owners to do is understand what their cat could be doing that is outside.”

Howatt, who is both a cat and bird lover, turned thoughtful as to what she will do if she gets another cat.

“I’m going to keep my cat but maybe my next cat, he will be an indoor cat.”

Organizations: Environment Canada, Beaconsfield Carriage House

Geographic location: Canada, Mill Cove

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • mGl
    March 30, 2015 - 10:43

    Look homo sapiens - a monster and tyrant of nature, no cats, dogs or birds.

  • puzzling figures
    January 15, 2015 - 12:45

    I don't doubt that cats kill birds, and I don't doubt that Elliot is an expert on bird mortality. But I am suspicious of these figures: do they mean, for example, that BETWEEN 10 million and 100 million birds are killed by collisions etc? The difference between 10 and 100 is so great that I am wondering whether any of these figures should be regarded as anything more than informed guesses.

  • Really?
    January 15, 2015 - 10:21

    Those wascally puddy tats. Perhaps we can stop blaming the seals for the state of the cod fishery and blame that too on the cats. Nothing to do with we the people and our greed.. got to be the cats and seals who have thrown off the balance of nature

  • Eureka!
    January 15, 2015 - 10:15

    Cats Kill birds. Who knew?

  • Eric Cartman
    January 15, 2015 - 07:16

    No kitty! That's a bad kitty!

    • Tom at south park news
      January 15, 2015 - 10:54

      Oh look a bird..Annnnd its gone

  • How It Is
    January 15, 2015 - 07:03

    ...said the homo sapien after annihilating between 200 and 2000 species per year in their pursuit of economic prosperity.

    • Twix
      January 15, 2015 - 14:30

      Yes, and what I see when I look at these figures is that the majority of birds are killed as a result of human activity. As for the cats: for thousands of years people valued cats precisely for their hunting skills. Today there would be few, perhaps no feral cat colonies were it not for irresponsible owners who abandon their pets or fail to neuter them.

  • Mike Mouse
    January 14, 2015 - 22:44

    Cats should be band along with mouse traps, both kill thousands of cute mice and rats

  • enough already
    January 14, 2015 - 19:56

    Cats will also kill young snowshoe hare and anything else they can get their claws into.

    • Ben MacKie12049
      January 14, 2015 - 23:45

      Enough Already, so you are stupid enough to think a house cat chases down and kills a snowshoe hare. Do you know there is a reason they are called snowshoe hare? - their really large hind feet give them the advantage of speed. A lynx could have a chance at a snowshoe hare, but a house cat...

  • Adolphus
    January 14, 2015 - 19:29

    Not our little 'Trooper'! Bad cat!

  • reality
    January 14, 2015 - 18:11

    many people complain about cats roaming the neighbourhood but are kind enough not to mention it to the animals owner -Do you really think your neighbour wants your cat around their place ???????

    • rodent exterminator
      January 15, 2015 - 07:07

      My neighbour was afraid of cats, thus didn't have one, and mice used to chew through their house and the wires on their vehicles, causing $$ of damage. My cat kept the mice away from not only my cars and home, but also protected my cat fearing neighbours place, so they didn't mind the occasional visit from my little furball. But hey, maybe you're a rodent lover and don't mind the $ damage $ they cause. In that case, I can see why having a cat visit your to hunt mice would bother you....

    • Doug
      January 15, 2015 - 11:19

      I think I would rather a cat as a neighbour than a grouch sutch as you.