Should an ornithologist report on cat predation?

I argue that the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center has a policy of denigrating and maligning the domestic and feral cat to serve its own ends.

I say an ornithologist should not be studying and writing reports on cat predation but unfortunately this is exactly what has happened at the highest level in the United States and it has caused significant damage to the image of the domestic and feral cat because journalist of online papers don’t know anything about the subject and just regurgitate what I argue is biased and flawed science that should shame Scott Loss of the renowned Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

Biased report into cat predation
Photo and collage by Michael.
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

Let me explain, please. I won’t be long winded about it. Scott R. Loss headed the recent notorious study into cat predation statistics in the report entitled The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States.

Scott R. Loss is an ornithologist and is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. There is a precedent for biased research coming out of this center: Nico Dauphine, 38 was exposed as a biased cat hater. She poisoned cats and was convicted. She worked at Smithsonian’s Migratory Bird Center.

In the case of Dr Ross, I will make a presumption that if he has studied birds to such a high level and for so long it is likely that he likes and values birds more highly than other animals. And it is fair to presume that he dislikes cats because on occasion they catch and kill birds. Is this a situation where a little or perhaps a great deal of bias could creep into a major study on how many birds are killed by domestic and feral cats in the United States? I don’t know for sure but I do know that the study he has put his name to is full of holes and it is an attack on the cat.

The infamous study is a collation of previous studies which themselves are based on admitted unsound methods in that the conclusions were vague. If a previous study is based on a questionnaire, for example, sent to a group of people living on one area of America you can’t extrapolate the figures to the whole of America because we don’t know how many feral cats there are in the USA and feral cats do far more preying on wildlife than domestic cats. There have been wild estimates of feral cat numbers. If they are this wild you can forget about formulating conclusions as to cat predation across the USA.

The study in question, by implication, admits that it is impossible to come to a meaningful conclusion as to how much wildlife cats kill because throughout the report the authors use language such as:

  • “The researchers estimated…”
  • “There are thought to be …..”

These scientists are guessing. They are estimating numbers. Fine, but the real danger is that journalists who like to spin stories to make them more meaty ignore the conservative language of the scientists and write sensationalist headlines about mass extermination of wildlife by cats. It is all over the internet and has been for many days.

I can only say: shame on Scott R. Loss and the Smithsonian. They knew what they were doing when they released their report to the media. Scott knew his report would damage the image of the cat in the eyes of the general public. This is not helpful. It could lead to lowering of cat welfare standards when they need to be raised. It could lead to more ill-treatment of feral cats.

Note: Dr Peter Marra is one of the co-authors of the report. He is a research scientist
at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Migratory Bird Center National Zoological Park. Another person who may well be biased against the cat.

25 thoughts on “Should an ornithologist report on cat predation?”

  1. Words fail me regarding these cat-hating pillocks and their trumped-up pile of rubbish “reports” – well, they don’t, but you’d never print them!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Even if they don’t point out who the real bird killer is and we only look at the report, it is, as we have already said, based on extrapolations that come from questionanaires. Cats are different. I had one cat who was a bird catcher and the 7 or 8 other cats I have known and lived with never catch birds. Also – doesn’t it also depend on the amount of birds in an area too. How do they even calculate that.

    Michael you found a good study in England that openly admitted that it was too undefined to make any real conclusions. This makes both the scientists and the media look pretty awful if you consider the end result and how far from the truth it possible, or more likely is.

    • Yes, it can be an unholy alliance I think. It is a bit like celebrities using the media to get some exposure. The media can be used and played and of course the media use and abuse people and information. It is symbiotic but for the wrong purposes sometimes. This latest “study” (actually a reworking of previous studies) is a bit of a game and for me it is an obvious attempt at exploiting the media and attacking the cat: part of the cat vs bird war.

  3. Yes a good point too Ruth but it’s far easier for the ‘experts’ to blame cats than look to the human race.
    The number of birds caught by cats is actually very small going by our own cats over the 39 years we’ve had them. As Dorothy said, it’s the survival of the fittest and fair game, it’s Natures way of weeding out the weaklings.
    All the cats in our neighbourhood have their freedom and while we often see one with a mouse, they rarely catch a bird.
    We feed the birds in our garden and Walt and Jo often sit out there and watch them, the birds know they are there, they can easily fly away. Our boyz know it’s much more fun and more likely to be successful hunting out the mice.

  4. Why is no one studying the outrageous numbers of birds killed by wind farms? Why do these studies not acknowledge that a major contributor to declines in bird populations is loss of habitat? Because people have money and high hopes invested in wind as a power source and they want to be able to live out in the country, even though they are contributing to urban sprawl. It is easier to blame the cat than to realize that wind power is probably not the solution we wish it could be and building a new home that destroys animal habitat is probably not necessary. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Cat caretakers should try to limit their impact on local wildlife, but people need to examine their own lives and do the same when it comes to how they choose to produce power and where they choose to live– because those two things are having an impact that goes way beyond what a million cats could do.

  5. Good points Dorothy!
    Here we have a lot of wild pigeons and they naturally gravitate to the town centres where people eat fast food as they walk and throw the wrappers with uneaten food down. The birds are then called messy vermin and some people want them killed!
    We can always trace back problems with any animals and birds to humans often disgusting or careless or stupid behaviour in the first place.

    • Pigeons, if you study them are pretty cool critters. But yes. A well known journalist in San Francisco defined them as flying rats! Probably a good definition in certain settings. But honestly, thank goodness for the recyclers as I like to call them, including vultures. They clear the roads of road-kill. I always say “thank you” out loud when I see them at work on these country roads we live in.

      • Exactly dw. I believe that feral cats do a lot of unassessed good in, for example, keeping down rodent populations. I’d like to see some recognition of that. By the way, how often have you seen a dead bird? I wonder if cats eat birds that have already died of old age. A lot of the birds killed by cats are ill, dying or injured anyway. The Smithsonian scientists don’t give recognition to that point, either, as far as I am aware.

        • Good question!
          Our Walter sometimes brings home a dead bird or mouse which has obviously been dead for a while as he hasn’t been out long enough to catch one and besides that they are stiff and ‘gift wrapped’ with grass or twigs.
          Neither he nor Jozef eat them in that state even though Jo has been known to eat his freshly caught ones.
          But I suppose a starving feral cat would eat a dead bird or mouse that he/she found.

          • Although no really solid work has been done on this, my belief is that cats often prey on dying birds. Fit birds are hard to catch. Mice and rodents are easier to catch so they come first. I have only seen one dead bird (dying of natural causes) in my entire life! True. And that was in a derelict building.

  6. What happened to the theory of survival of the fittest? In the animal world, it is fair game. A healthy bird will not be caught by a domestic or feral cat if it is healthy and fit.

    Birds can be a problem themselves. European Starlings for instance were introduced to The United States around 1890. It is said that 100 Starlings were released in Central Park to begin bringing all of the birds mentioned in Shakespear’s work to the new world. Well, the population of Starlings today is estimated at 200 million. It is considered an invasive species.

    They are beautiful birds really. And very destructive. I know about the starlings because they are a blight here in the wine country. Very difficult to control. One effective way is using falcons. Trained falcons handlers work the vineyards. The falcon may get one or two starlings is all, but it scares the birds and they swarm to another vineyard. A flock of starlings can be in the thousands. They can distroy a crop of grapes in this example in very short order.

    Maybe we need to introduce small colonies of feral cats to the vineyards. Could be a win win.

    We see what we want to see. Science can prove most anything. But what about the big picture?


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