Categories: hunting birds

Feral cats prefer insects and frogs on island with many migrating birds

Kittycam footage. Screenshot from study.

This is another study, this time written up on the National Geographic website, which debunks the myth about feral cats having a cataclysmically destructive impact on America’s birds. It is a myth which ornithologists disseminate relentlessly. Clearly feral and outdoor domestic cats do prey on birds but the numbers that are quoted are guesstimates and often exaggerated, I’d argue, to suit the aims of bird lovers.

For one year KittyCams (miniature camcorders on harnesses) were attached to 31 feral cats living on Jekyll Island off the coast of Georgia, USA. There are about 150 cats on the island as a whole. The island is a popular stopover for migrating tropical birds. Biologist Sonia Hernandez wanted to see if the feral cats preyed on this oven ready meal in high numbers.

Many hours of video was made and checked. It is said that the researchers were surprised to see that birds ‘were not top of the menu’. Frogs and large insects were the preferred meals. This does not surprise me at all because birds are much harder to catch than frogs and insects. I am surprised that the researchers were surprised. They also found that 59% of the cats hunted. That’s little more than half of the feral cats of a TNR colony hunted. Once again it is an eyeopener for some ornithologists because they like to present the idea that all feral cat hunt wildlife. They tend ball all feral cats together and label them manic predators of native species but it not the case. Also it is noteworthy that 70% did not consume their prey. This was probably because they were fed by the volunteers managing the colony.

This is the sort of research which is conveniently ignored by bird lovers who want to push a point when criticising the cat. They want feral cats exterminated and TNR to be abolished. Ironically, TNR is practiced on Jekyll Island.

The researchers had no idea that feral cats ate some many insects and amphibians. Insects are quite a favoured prey item for domestic and feral cats. The city of Washington, USA is carrying out a large scale survey to count the number of feral cats in their city. This is an excellent starting point for working out their impact on wildlife. At present the ‘experts’ have to resort to guessing the population of feral cats in the US. The figures vary wildly. You can’t work out the consequences of predation by feral cats without know how many cats there are.


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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in a many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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