Newspaper Misleads on Cat Predation of Birds

Once again a newspaper has misreported a study on cat predation that is misleading in itself. It is double trouble and unfair on the domestic cat. I have to at least report this, briefly.

This time it is the Times newspaper of June 29th 2013. The article was written by Toom Whipple and Oliver Moody. Two highly educated journalists got this wrong.

The article discusses the killing of a rare bird, the white-throated needletail – the world’s fastest bird as far as I am aware – by a wind turbine.

The newspapers writes that cats and windows kill far more birds than wind turbines. Apparently, 30 million birds in the UK fly into closed windows and are killed annually.

Anyway, they write that:

“According to research from the University of Reading,  each cat in Britain kills 18.3 birds a year…….cat-based apocalyse of an estimated 150 million birds a year”

WRONG AGAIN. My immediate reaction was, “what!”. So, I found the research study that they referred to and checked. The whole study is written up on PLOS ONE.

In the summary to the study (the abstract) this is the relevant extract:

The estimated mean predation rate was 18.3 prey cat−1 year−1 but this varied markedly both spatially and temporally:

No mention of birds, just general prey. And notice that the figure of 18.3 items of prey is an “estimate”. And the estimate is based on what cats brought back to their owners in one part of England over a set time. Not the best of basis to assess cat predation.

Then the authors of the study write:

Overall, cat predation did appear to be of sufficient magnitude to affect some prey populations, although further investigation of some key aspects of cat predation is warranted…..

In other words more work is required and the figure is a pretty wild estimate.

We know that cats favour ground dwelling mammals as they are easier to catch. We also know that if a cat catches a bird it may well be dying anyway because once again it will be easier to catch. Together these facts totally alter the figures disseminated by the Times newspaper.

Conclusion: the smart Times journalists have been stupid or careless and in doing so they have unjustly maligned the cat and encouraged more cat abuse when the exact opposite should be happening. Please be more careful in future. Visit PoC and you’ll read the truth.

Here is a PoC Google search result for birds.

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Newspaper Misleads on Cat Predation of Birds — 10 Comments

  1. Michael you should write to them – it seems like you have uncovered a genuine mistake regardless of whether the study is right or wrong. The Times is the sort of paper that would admit a mistake I believe – or at least I thought so until they started behaving like CNN.

      • lol to much information Michael or do you have you best thoughts on the loo? lol
        Yes this calls for all UK troops to write to the Times and educate those ignorant journalists!

          • 🙂 – and seriously though – they like facts and references – if you send them the paragraph containing the bit they mis interpreted to mean birds rather than ‘all prey’ they might well take it seriously.

            Having said that the damage has already been done sadly. It’s been in the paper and been read. Even if they published your letter it would not necessarily make it to the right people. However, nonetheless I think you should do it because it’s a technicality and they are clearly wrong. Not for the sake of this instance, but for the sake of it not happening again as such.

          • In my mind, the “study” is one that should have been disregarded long ago as garbage in the scientific fields. The resesrch should never have been published. [Elisa and VG, take a look into this, would you?]

            Anyway, here is a link that I think you all might like:

            http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/29/science/29cat.html?_r=0

            My cats and I respect birds in the garden. The wildcats, as you all know, have a need to predate to hunt as that is dominant in their traits. I happen to know a certain Horticulture prof, who would take us on field trips to identify trees in the dead of winter. He encouraged the young males in our group to throw ice clods at the semi-feral cats on east campus UNL. I would sprint to the front and stop the stupidity/ignorance immediately. They didn’t seem to get it. He – my prof- had a hatred for his neighbor’s cat, as I soon gathered.

            We all love birds and most of us keep birdbaths and feeders in our gardens/yards, but this man did not understand that they could all coexist. 🙁

            • Wow Caroline your teacher sounds like just the kind of guy that I can’t stand. It’s never ok to ‘hurt’ any animal, ever, unless you are in self defence and there is no other way out than hurting for the sake of it.

              I’d love to have given your professor a piece of my mind – but I’d love to corner him with questions more than anything. Being a teacher I’m sure he would bite and keep answering until he was well and truly cornered. He would become cornered because he wrong to encourage people to hurt animals, Especially the ones who have previously been abandoned and are trying to survive the cold winters without anybody to help them. Very nasty. So he was a cat hater with influence over people which is just horrible.

              • Yes, you are so right. I haven’t been back to visit him, although I mean to, when I can get my pals from The Cat House to accompany me for moral support. I’m just biding my time. He just earned his doctorate not so long ago, and I am prepping my “stealth mode” 😉 to better confront him in a non-confrontational way (which, blv you me, I’m not very good at). I’m learning…

                Thanks for the support for our colonies of sweet, innocent, lovely cats.

                Hope you have a satisfying day at work today. We all look forward to hearing from you later today! 🙂

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