Number one killer of birds in Canada: cats

Maureen Coulter
Published on January 14, 2015

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.

©Submitted photo

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.”