Cats – The Predator Next Door

by | May 25, 2020


Last weekend my daughter got a pair of kittens for her 21st birthday. They are adorable. Here they are:

They are so sweet it’s hard to imagine it, but they are potentially deadly killers.

Domestic cats are a major source of wildlife mortality. As summarized in the Smithsonian Magazine, “equipped with laser-quick paws and razor-tipped claws, these natural born killers are the stuff of every bird and small mammal’s nightmare.” Outdoor roaming domestic cats kill an astonishing number of animals:

  • Free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.3–4.0 billion birds and 6.3–22.3 billion mammals annually. Source.
  • Cats likely represent the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for U.S. birds and mammals. Source.
  • According to the head of the American Bird Conservatory, “Cat predation is one of the reasons why one in three American bird species are in decline.”
  • Free-ranging cats on islands have caused or contributed to 33 (14%) of the modern bird, mammal, and reptile extinctions. Feral cats are the primary threat to 8% of all critically endangered birds, mammals, and reptiles on earth.
  • While the majority of the animal deaths are by un-owned cats (meaning barn cats, feral cats, or community fed cats), outdoor pets certainty do their part. A study in Georgia that put “kitty cams” on 60 pet cats found that these cats killed 2.1 animals per week. The cats only brought home about 1/4th of their kills. The study found that cats will kill a wide variety of animals, including lizards, voles, chipmunks, birds, frogs, and small snakes.

We have a lot of pet cats in the U.S. – about 95 million cats – many of whom are allowed outdoors. In addition to these pet cats there are an estimated 30-40 million unowned cats in the U.S. and these unowned cats are responsible for 80% of the kittens born each year!

What should we do about this problem? There is no easy solution. Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is one program that is being tried and that recently has received funding from some pet food companies and pet stores. However, reports on the effectiveness of this sort of program are mixed. Another strategy is the capture and removal of feral cats. With this solution, the feral cats would either be placed in homes as pets or euthanized killed.

I’ll leave you with this flashback video from the 1980s:


  1. This one of my favorite IFODs because I used to have a cat and I learned a lot about our cat. And now I know that if we ever get him back (he is in a camp) to make him stay away from birds.
    -Jones Andrew Hilburn

  2. This will certainly raise a lot of anger in the uniformed. It’s not really true reporting (I was a journalist for 23 years). You need to put it in context. Cats are NOT the only source of bird deaths and they’re certainly not the leading cause. BUILDINGS and POWER LINES are the leading cause of bird deaths, not cats.

    Specific Cause of Avian Mortality and Number of Birds Killed
    Buildings 550 million
    Power lines 130 million
    Cats* 100 million
    Automobiles 80 million
    Pesticides 67 million
    Communications towers 4.5 million
    Wind turbines 28.5 thousand
    Airplanes 25 thousand

  3. Please say killed not euthanazed when you mean the “removal of feral cats”. To use kill when talking about what the cats do but being squeamish about using the term for when we do it to equally innocent creatures is hypocritical. You are normally above this type of cop out!

    • Noted! Will change

    • The probable connection between Rockabilly and the declining bird population is Erwin Schrödinger. 🙂

      • That is a great comment.


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