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
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Photo and collage by Michael.

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.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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25 Responses

  1. Susan A. Gallagher. says:

    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. Marc says:

    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.

    • Michael says:

      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. Ruth says:

    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. Ruth (Monty's Mom) says:

    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. Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

    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.

    • Dorothy says:

      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.

      • Michael says:

        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.

        • Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

          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.

          • Michael says:

            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. Dorothy says:

    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?

  7. Rose says:

    ps I agree Ruth,those who eat birds have no right to demonise hungry cats for doing the same,for God’s sake the amount cats kill is a drop in the ocean in comparison to the number of birds killed by humans!

  8. Rose says:

    Research studies can easily be warped and biased and this is what has happened,they want the cat to show in a bad light,it’s quite obvious to see.
    I’m sick of hearing about the decline of birds being down to cats and these so called studies proving it.
    Two words

  9. Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

    I agree with you Michael ‘estimated’ and ‘thought to be’ are not good enough and cat hating, bird lovers should not be doing this research, they are totally biased.
    They should be looking to help the problem of feral cats by promoting TNR because people caused the problem in the first place by dumping un-neutered cats and leaving them to fend for themselves. Don’t blame the cats, educate the ignorant people!
    Cats have as much right to live as birds and anyway these people who blame cats for the decline of birds need to look to themselves.
    The human race pollute the air the birds breathe, destroy their habitat, poison the food they eat, some kill birds for FUN!
    Do they complain when cats keep the rodent population under control? No they don’t.
    I wonder if these cat hating, bird lovers sit down to roast turkey or chicken, birds many of whom lived in misery and died in agony, a much worse death than being caught by a starving cat.
    They have beaks, wings and feathers too, maybe they are not as pretty as some birds but so what, they are BIRDS too, not meant to be food for flesh eaters.
    Biased and hypocritical are the words that spring to my mind!

  10. We’re studying about the process of science and this review of a large group of other peoples reports seems to be the lazy mans way of doing things. I have a friend in the psychological field and she and I spoke about this type of pseudo -paper writing that suddenly started a few years back. I agree, the data seems extreme. We would have solid evidence that this stuff is true. She pushed the numbers way, way up. I wish it wouldn’t make people look down on the Smithsonian as a whole. They do good work. I’ve just been dealing with the fallout from this report and can’t say it enough, “If the numbers look funny, the report is fatally flawed and thus should be disregarded!” Sorry, meant no offensive above Michael, I just had a bit of a chip on my shoulder over this.

    In my Foundations of Science course we had to review a 6 or 8 websites that claimed to contain unbiased, peer-reviewed, scientific evidences regarding global warming. I noticed that real science papers always included both sides of their testing. This report seems to only have looked at the other possible causes for bird deaths in a very precursory way. She is afraid to show the truth, because than she won’t be justified. Remember, there are those on the left-side of things here in the States that make movies with things they know are lies. As long as it gets one more person to see things there way. (think Michael Moore). This is just a bit off the beaten path, but maybe she needs a good snoggin?

    Why do people hate indiscriminately? I know they hate things they don’t understand.
    Sadly, Mymains Stewart Gilligan aka Stewie, the Official World’s Longest Cat past away. He had cancer. Here is a link to his Facebook page:

    RIP big guy. I enjoyed the short videos and few pictures of you we were allowed to see. Your mom and dad wanted you for themselves. I have no doubt that you were more than willing to oblige. Farewell.

  11. Lydia says:

    if one truly understood the language of research and statistical significance, one would also understand that the language typically used may sound inconclusive, as even researchers will admit that often few things may be proven “beyond reasonable doubt”. Also – the practice of taking a “representative sample size” and then applying it across similar demographics is carefully designed. The people who did the study are specialists in research; this is what they do. A hypothesis is tested to come to a conclusion; numbers are used to test significance. There have been studies done over the last 3 decades testing the same hypothesis, and now we see that the majority support the same conclusion. That is good research. If you have studies supporting theories otherwise, please – bring them to the plate and dispute this with the same skill set and dedication that these scientists have. Organizations and individuals that continue bashing these studies are losing more credibility vs. gaining support. As Buckminster Fuller so eloquently phrased: “In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.”

    • Michael says:

      I really don’t think the scientists have great skills in this area. The data is built around questionnaires etc. and they openly admit that their figures are estimates. What good is that if the journalists then grab those figures and turn them into hard fact.

      You have missed my point entirely. I think it adds credibility to question and challenge scientists. They are human beings with the usual hang ups. We should not be in awe of them as you seem to be.

      The point I am making is the scientists are deliberately spreading information that damages the image of the cat to force the government to do something to reduce cat population sizes. The ultimate goal is to get rid of millions of cats. I don’t necessarily disagree with that because there are too many unwanted cats in the USA but it has to be done humanely and over many, many years. This report will encourage abuses.

  12. I think it’s unfair to say the entire Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center hates or is discriminatory towards cats because of one flawed person.

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