The Bird is More Important than the Cat

Every six months or so we see a group of articles on the internet from different news sites that are based on the same, new scientific study about the predation of the domestic cat on birds and other animals. Birds are often highlighted. We expect scientists to be unbiased and objective but often they aren’t. I remember one who was caught being biased in favor of the bird.

Some people believe that people who let their cats outside are placing a higher value on the life of a cat than a bird as they let their cat kill birds. Others prefer the lives of birds over cats and present biased statistics to support their arguments that cats need to be dealt with inhumanely. Neither is correct. It is just nature taking its course. We are responsible. We kill far more birds than cats do. We do it through the destruction of their habitat. Of course we are often blind to that. And humans quite clearly believe that their lives are more valuable than another other. I don’t think we have a right to make judgments about the value of other animals.


Note: Comments from the violent “Woodsman” will not be published so please don’t bother.


A recent study by the University of Georgia and National Geographic allows me to revisit this debate and see if I can come up with the percentage of birds in the USA that are killed by cats annually. A simple target figure. Important: the study comes from the American Bird Conservancy. Surprised? Not me. They have an axe to grind. Bird conservationists are always attacking the cat through statistics that are often biased.

Before I go on, I will say that my target figure is impossible to calculate accurately. This is because we do not have a sufficient grasp of the basic information. As is frequently the case, in the current study, the scientists have taken a small sample of cats (60) who wore video cameras around their necks from a specific area of the United States (Athens-Clarke County) and extrapolated the information gathered to make conclusions about the entire country. That is dangerous. It is easy to extrapolate data inappropriately resulting in false conclusions.


Note: “Extrapolation” means taking a sample and expanding the data from it. It is not necessarily accurate for obvious reasons


Seagull trying to attack two cats

Seagull trying to attack two cats – tables turned! Photo by meemal

I present a spreadsheet below showing my calculations based on the information from the study referred to.

Let me say that they concluded that all cats (feral and domestic) kill “at least 500 million birds”. My calculations using their figures conclude the figure is higher at 1,123,516,800. But as I said, it is conjecture. The references to B10 and B11 etc. is reference to the spreadsheet cell. You can’t see the cell references in this published version (that is just the way Google does it). You can see this spreadsheet in larger format on this page: Birds killed by all cats.

As you can see my calculations result in the figure of 7.49% of all birds in the USA killed by all cats in the USA. A relatively low percentage and one that does not incline one to believe that the cat is wiping out native bird species.

There is plenty of argument too about the non-native cat killing the native bird. I don’t think that this a good argument. It is a false argument that places more value on one animal than another. Seems crazy to me. Animals don’t observe national boundaries. And we import them anyway. So how can we blame the non-native species?

The most important conclusion to draw from the the University of Georgia and National Geographic study is: Don’t believe the extrapolated conclusions as they are not reliable enough.

This is the page where you can see the original news item.

Associated page: Cats don’t decimate bird populations.

The photo on Flickr.

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The Bird is More Important than the Cat — 18 Comments

  1. A brilliant article Michael and you are so right about the human race destroying birds natural habitat and they destroy many birds too.
    Cat haters will say anything to try to convince cat lovers to hate cats too but they only make fools of themselves, because once a person gets to know and love cats, cats can do no wrong.
    It’s a very small percentage of birds killed by cats and survival of the fittest is Nature’s rule. A bird caught by a cat would never survive anyway, a strong bird’s instinct tells them to watch out for cats, not to be a sitting target.
    What is so hypocritical about some people who mourn over birds killed by cats, is that they happily sit and eat a roast dinner of the same species which the chances are has lived a miserable life and died a much more horrible death than a wild bird.
    Chickens and turkeys are birds too!
    Also what about the birds blasted from the sky? Yesterday the so called ‘Glorious Twelfth’ here in the UK, was the start of the grouse shooting season. Birds are especially encouraged to breed so that on that day they can be beaten out of their habitat to be shot and killed for the enjoyment of people with guns.
    Any one who eats birds or who shoots or condones the shooting of birds for ‘sport’ has NO right to criticise cats for following their natural instincts to weed out the weakling birds on behalf of Mother Nature!

    • Thanks Ruth, you reminded me that cats often catch old and injured birds anyway. Birds that are dying of natural causes. Cats like to make it as easy as possible. This fact mitigates hugely any figures that scientists want to produce to try to malign the cat.

  2. Not only have we destroyed the bird’s natural habitat with urban sprawl, those wind farms are killing birds like crazy, even endangered species. There are a bunch of those big wind mills by Horicon Marsh and and they are decimating the bird population there. Waukesha Gun Club had to cancel their goose hunt because of low numbers of geese and they stated their reason for the cancellation as being the wind farm killing so many geese. I’m not a hunter, so no big deal to me if there’s no goose hunt, but it got me thinking– what other birds are being killed? Herons, Cranes and other rare and beautiful birds are cettaunly not immune. Every time I think of Horicon Marsh (a place my parents love to go to bird watch) I just feel so sad that because of the wind turbines it will never be as it once was– so full of life. Even hunters are limited in how many and what types of birds they can kill, but there is no limit to the carnage from the wind turbines, and no species of bird is immune. But nothing will be done and more and more wind mills get built every year, many near bird sanctuaries and wild life areas. No one writes about this horrible tragedy for bird populations, but there are many articles about cats killing birds. Give me a break! No cats are taking out Canadian Geese. Those wind farms can kill Eagles, and there are more and more of them being built near their habitats. Why do people waste time blaming the cat when we have a real problem with the wind mills killing birds? The reduction of bird populations from wind mills just breaks my heart. A thousand cats couldn’t do the harm just one of those wind turbines does.

    • Great comment Ruth, I’ll do an article on this if I can find the information. It is the kind of thing that gets covered up by governments and big business.

      • Thanks, Michael. Somebody really needs to be looking into this. I first heard about this happening in California. I think Condors were the birds affected. They are on the endangered species list. The Waukesha Gun Club may have something about it on their site. I could never hunt, but many who do tend to be conservationists. They understand that if we hunt animals to extinction then there will be none left. If we allow urban sprawl to destroy all natural habitats there will be no more hunting. So although I could never hunt, and hate it if it’s done for sport and not for food, hunters can actually be helpful in conservation efforts. They are the only ones talking about the problems with these wind farms at the present time. If the oil companies were found to be killing birds in these numbers there would be a huge public outcry. Where are the environmentalists on this issue? We can’t just be politically correct, as in oil is bad, wind is good– we have to look at reality– all realities. It’s easy to blame the domestic cat for killing birds, but it’s harder to look at urban sprawl as the real culprit. People want to live outside the cities. People want wind to be the alternative to oil, so they don’t want to hear the truth. Also, people invest money in these things.

  3. I totally agree with the fact that everything is infact a force of nature, including human culture which happens to be one of the most destructive of forces. As Michael said, we don’t really deserve to be able to make choices concerning the values of other animals. Perhaps cats form a vital link in a newly adapted ecosystem that is both new and adapted because of humans. We can’t just go in and start changing things anymore, in my opinion.

    • Absolutely Marc. If we got rid of the feral cat and outside domestic cat now in the USA there would probably be consequences we have not foreseen.

      • I don’t know. Cats might be part of a newly adapted ecosystem, maybe, but cats themselves would be safer if they were kept inside at all times. There are so many dangers out there for them, sickness, vehicles, larger animals, humans, the list goes on. Humans are the ultimate invasive species, and we bring along an entourage of other disruptive species wherever we go. The damages cats cause to the environment are our fault, not theirs. However, I don’t think we can say that domestic cats with responsible caretakers who feed them well killing birds is “nature taking its course.” It’s unnecessary, and we can keep both wildlife and our beloved pets safe by simply keeping our cats inside.

        • I understand your point completely. However, when we first domesticated the cat we never thought we would need to imprison our cat companion and take away from our cat all the sensations and stimulation that the outside – the natural world – brings. Wouldn’t it be better if we stopped breeding and expanding, made the outside safer, protected the environent and generally started to behave more responsibly rather make the cat pay for out irresponsibility?

  4. Window in buildings in the USA kill about 1 billion birds per year it is believed! We don’t know the exact figure. That is about 5 times the Wikipedia figure for cat kills of birds and the same or twice the number killed by cats according to the above research that is probably biased anyway as it was done in liaison with a bird conservation organization.

    No one ever mentions this. The cat gets a hard deal.

    • Is this because of the very tall buildings there Michael?
      On the rare occassion a bird flies and hits itself on a house window here they really do stun themselves, so I can imagine falling stunned from a great height could would almost certainly kill any bird.

      • Yes, they have more skyscrapers and plenty of glass. Apparently janitors working nights at these buildings hoover up piles of birds in the morning. Astonishing. If not collected by humans urban wildlife eat them.

        Interesting thought: perhaps a lot of the birds preyed on by cats are birds that are stunned by windows? Or they are dead or injured. This brings us back in a nice circle to good old human. All the problem ultimately originate in us.

  5. I found a possible source for info on how many birds are being killed by wind farms. I tried the Waukesha Gun Club and they just had info about skeet shooting, so I tried “Waukesha gun show” and found the company that had organized the hunt that got cancelled. It’s a guy from Janesville named Bob. His dog Rocco is featured in all his commercials. He would have possibly some statistics on birds killed by wind mills and maybe he’s even seen this carnage up close. If I can get some credible statistics and good anecdotal evidence from him I could write an article on this or pass along his e-mails to you, Michael. It just makes me so mad that people would blame cats for killing birds and advocate killing cats over it while at the same time these wind farms are killing birds like crazy and everyone turns a blind eye.

    • People like to pass the buck. We do far more damage one way and another than all other animals combined. Cats are innocents compared to humans.

  6. In our local newspaper today there is a picture of a man holding 6 dead grouse upside down, birds he has shot out of the sky merely for his own pleasure…..no one comments.
    Yet if there was a picture of a cat holding a dead bird in his mouth there would be comments of ‘Oh poor bird’ ‘Cats are horrible’ etc etc…..
    Some people are such hypocrites!

  7. Pingback: Assessing Domestic Cat Predation on Wildlife | Pictures of Cats

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