July 28, 2005
Springfield, Illinois - As young birds make fledgling flights,
owners of cats are reminded by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources
that cats, even well-fed domesticated pets, can pose a threat to wild
birds. The American Bird Conservancy estimates that as many as one billion
birds are killed each year by domestic and feral cats in North America.
Well-meaning cat owners may not realize the threat posed by a cat on the
prowl, said Joel Brunsvold, director of the Illinois Department of Natural
Resources. Here in Illinois, our state bird, the cardinal, is among the
Birds whose natural movements include time on or near the ground are most
vulnerable, especially those that breed or nest on the ground. Migratory
birds are also more at risk, because they are less familiar with cats, and
may not be trained to avoid them during migration. Breeds of birds which
cats are most likely to turn into prey include cardinals, blue jays, quail,
pheasants, and warblers.
Many pet owners believe if they let their pets outside only after feeding,
they will not bother birds, said Jeff Walk, Ph.D., the comprehensive
wildlife conservation plan coordinator for the Illinois Department of
Natural Resources. The research shows cats instinctively hunt, no matter
how much they’ve been fed by their owners, because the hunting instinct is
independent of the urge to eat. Feral, or wild cats, cause even more
problems for birds.
In the U.S., the American Bird Conservancy reports there are about 77
million pet cats, 65% of which spend time outdoors. In addition, the
homeless cat population is estimated at up to 100 million animals.
The only way to keep a cat from preying on birds is to keep it indoors
exclusively, said Walk. Researchers have found even cats with bells on
their collars learn to move without making a sound plus birds don’t
associate the sound a bell with danger, and may not respond.
Jeff Walk, Ph.D., IDNR comprehensive wildlife conservation plan
coordinator, is available for interviews on this topic. To schedule an
interview, call Gayle Simpson, 217/558-1543 or 217/725-9083.