Heavier senior feral cats have first pickings

Being, older, wiser, bigger provides feral cats with an edge in survival. I guess it is the same for humans.

Here are some feral cat facts gleaned from a series of scientific studies listed on the first two pages of a Google Scholar search for “feral cat”. Google Scholar lists thousands of scientific studies on all manner of topics.

Note: Studies on feral cats are not always accurate or representative of all feral cats. For example, the region where they live has an impact on behaviour, obviously.

Australian feral cat orange tabby

Heavier, senior cats take priority


Heavier feral cats get the girl. They usually win out in “agonistic encounters” (fights) over females during the mating season. Heavier male cats had the better positions and had better success rates in mating. Heavier cats are higher up the “courtship rank” in a feral cat colony of their own. Circumstances change, however, when the heavy mob visit females in a colony that is not their own. Their courtship ranked dropped because they were more often defeated by lighter competitors2.


There is a “feeding order” in feral cat colonies (groups). Gender, age and size played a role in the feeding order. Males eat before females and larger and more senior cats eat before smaller and younger cats. Amongst adult females, larger cats tend to eat first. The question I have is whether a smaller, younger male trumps a larger older female?

Kittens were given priority by both adult males and females within the colony3.

Stray of Feral?

In a study of roaming cats on the campus at Florida University, three-quarters of the cats were true ferals while the remaining quarter were socialised strays. Fifty-six percent of the cats were kittens. The ratio of males to females was 55% male, 45% female1. The slight preponderance of males to females was the same for other studies. The high number of domesticated strays serves as a warning about trapping cats and taking them a shelter without fair warning to local residents.

More males than females

  1. As mentioned 55% were males on the Florida Uni campus1.
  2. In another study4 there was one male for every 0.8 females or put another way 5 males for every 4 females.

Diet of mammals such as rabbits and rodents

In a study on Macquarie Island (an island about 1,000 miles southeast of Tasmania) the diet of feral cats was 81% rabbit. The cats also ate rats, mice, wekas and Antarctic prion and white-headed petrel. Birds who nested on the ground were not preyed upon by feral cats4.

In a study in New South Wales, Australia, the major prey was mammals. Rabbits were the staple diet and carrion (animals that are already dead) came second. Birds, reptiles and vegetation were a minor part of the diet6.

In a study in a Mediterranean island the diet of feral cats was: ship rats, 70%; wild rabbits, 7%; and yelkouan shearwaters, 6%5.

As usual birds are very low down the order of preferred foods fatally undermining the moans of ornithologists.


  1. Evaluation of the effect of a long-term trap-neuter-return and adoption program on a free-roaming cat population — Julie K. Levy, DVM, PhD, DACVIM David W. Gale​‌ Leslie A. Gale, B.
  2. Mating behaviors, courtship rank and mating success of male feral cat (Felis catus) — Akihiro Yamane, Teruo Doi, Yuiti On.
  3. Factors affecting feeding order and social tolerance to kittens in the group-living feral cat (Felis catus) —  A. Yamane, J. Emoto, N. Otab.
  4. Biology of the Feral Cat, Felis Catus (L.), On Macquarie Island
  5. Feeding Ecology of a Feral Cat Population on a Small Mediterranean Island — E. Bonnaud, K. Bourgeois, E. Vidal, Y. Kayser, Y. Tranchant, and J. Legrand (2007) Feeding Ecology of a Feral Cat Population on a Small Mediterranean Island. Journal of Mammalogy: August 2007, Vol. 88, No. 4, pp. 1074-1081.
  6. Feeding ecology and population dynamics of the feral cat (Felis catus) in relation to the availability of prey in central-eastern New South Wales — Robyn Molsher, Alan Newsome and Chris Dickman
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Michael is retired! He retired at age 57 and at Aug 2018 is approaching 70. He worked in many jobs. The last job he did was as a solicitor practicing general law. He loves animals and is passionate about animal welfare. He also loves photography and nature. He hates animal abuse. He has owned and managed this site since 2007. There are around 13k pages so please use the custom search facility!


Heavier senior feral cats have first pickings — 6 Comments

  1. Very good article

    Thank you Michael

    What I have observed in Feral Cats…. The kittens are not given priority actually.

    The main reason is that the MALES & FEMALES (both), but not their feeding mothers, they hesitate/ hate/ dislike the smell/look of the kittens. They hiss on them and when any kitten hiss them, they just run away or kill the kitten.

    These are original Feral cats behavior. The mom cat does not allow the kitten to rush towards a combine food until it is secure and she always protect them and if any male touch the kitten, that means straight away a war between the mom and male.

    But it is true that territory and area is most important for the study of such cat behaviors.

    perfect but many things not covered and just assumed by researchers. 🙂

  2. I agree with nearly everything except some things that involve domesticated strays.

    In my world, there have been some strays that hang out with a colony. Generally, they are “backgrounders” and not really members. They are last in the feeding order, regardless of sex. They, generally, are passive. A threatening stray would be chased off.

    There are times that I have had to stay with a colony to make sure there is enough food left over for any strays.

  3. Very interesting Michael, especially that kittens were given priority by both male and female adult cats, just like the human race really, most people put children first.

  4. This information debunking the myth that cats decimate bird population should be thrown in the faces of those bent Smithsonian researchers.

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