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Keep Close Eye on Pets
Cats Pose Threat to Wild Birds

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 most vulnerable.

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.

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