For years they have been at each other’s throats arguing about how many birds cats kill annually. Bird lovers say 4 billion birds are killed by cats each year in the USA, many of which are native species.
Cat lovers like me say that the numbers are estimates based on local studies and extrapolated. Therefore they might be inaccurate. It’s been a silent war of numbers and propaganda, even fraud by one ornithologist scientist.
Team work from both sides
Now things are set to change because both sides in Washington DC have realised that they need to carry out a much bigger study to get accurate information. This is why bird and cat lovers are working together in Washington DC on a $1.5 million project which will run until 2021.
Two scientists who support cats work for the Humane Rescue Alliance and one who supports birds works for the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. The objective: hard information. So for first time in the USA there will be joint conclusion from opposite sides of the fence on how many birds are killed by feral and domestic cats each year in the US.
The team is using camera traps like scientists use to count tigers in far flung places such as India and Bangladesh. For a cat lovers such as myself, it is very refreshing to hear Bill McShea of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute say:
“We’re making wild guesses as to, are there 1,000 cats out there, 10,000, 100,000? So we set up a project to try and count the cats in a typical city, Washington, D.C.”
Their work helps forge trust between people who are seeking the same objective: scientific accuracy. However, I guess the bird lovers are quietly and understandably hoping that they are proved right about cat predation on birds. The cat lovers want the figures to come out much lower than the existing estimates to allow them to continue to conduct TNR programs without criticism from ornithologists.
Also bird kills that are found to be significantly lower may lead to local authorities deciding to fund TNR as the best way forward in reducing feral cat populations.
Interesting first finding
The study has got off to an interesting start. So far the team has taken 40,000 camera trap photographs mostly in Rock Creek Park. Amazingly only one cat has been photographed; just one photo from 40k. They photographed foxes and coyotes and squirrels but almost no cats.
This surprising outcome so far (it is early days) may be because of coyotes preying on cats. Where there are coyotes cats move out of the area because no matter how able a cat is he or she only rarely escapes a coyote.
The outcome of the study may be very significant and it may have a big impact on how the authorities deal with feral cats for years to come in the US.