Politically Incorrect: Cats and Songbirds

Yesterday, a friend of a friend on Facebook posted this article: http://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/index.ssf/2012/06/man_likely_sickened_by_plague.html

In case you’re too impatient to read it, the story is that a man in Oregon is suffering from one of the three forms of plague (who knew there were three kinds?), the fifth case in Oregon since 1995.  This occurred after the man was bitten by a feral cat while trying to take a mouse away from it.  The FOF’s comment was, not to mention that cats kill 500,000 songbirds a year.

I instantly jumped to the concept of, what sane person would try to take a mouse away from a feral cat?

Let’s go back to the 500,000 songbirds a year.  Is that in Oregon?  Is that nationwide?  Or is that worldwide?  And is that even true?  Who said so?

Last week, I heard a story on NPR about migrating songbirds becoming confused by the flashing red lights on TV and cell phone towers.  Sometimes they die by the thousands, especially in bad weather, in a single night. They become disoriented and fly until they exhaust themselves or start running into each other.  Then they either drop to the ground and die of exhaustion and stress, or are picked off by predators.  I knew this already, but the new thing is that the FCC has determined that solid red lights (which don’t seem to bother the birds nearly as much) are completely sufficient to warn pilots of towers.  They are not requiring the removal of existing ones, but requiring that future towers be built without flashing lights.  My conclusion is that people are more dangerous to birds than cats are.  Think Silent Spring.

In about forty-three years of owning cats, I’ve had ONE cat who killed ONE bird, and that was more or less by accident.  I figure that any bird who allows itself to be killed by a cat deserves to be chopped from the gene pool.  Birds have a major advantage.  They can fly.  A cat who kills a bird did the bird species a favor.  It’s like catching fish.  You only ever get the slow and dumb ones.

In that same forty-three years, I have never kept a cat inside.  I’ve had cats who roamed, and cats who could barely be coaxed to go outside.  But it would take a heap of cats a heap of years to kill half a million songbirds.  And then they could write Shakespeare too, given half a million typewriters.

One of my friends commented  that anyone who lets a cat outside should at least bell it.  I actually tried that once, and it was horrible.  The cat was so terrified by the bell that it wouldn’t move and practically clawed itself to death trying to get the bell off.  If a bird can’t detect a cat, a bell isn’t going to help anyway.

I think it’s just the way nature works.  It’s ugly and bloody, but everybody has to eat.  We kill millions of cows every year but we do it in a “civilized” way, so that we can avoid the blood and gore and get cow parts in a shrink-wrapped package from the grocery store.

These days it seems like having a cat carries some sort of special responsibility to the Planet.  I object to that.

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11 responses to “Politically Incorrect: Cats and Songbirds

  1. There are several varieties of ground nesting birds around here. The adults may escape predation but if they don’t successfully breed there will be fewer of them as time passes.

    However, if your collection of cats wants to thin the chipmunk population, I have just the place for them!

  2. I don’t know of any ground-nesting songbirds, which doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Like all predators, cats prefer easy food if they can get it. What usually happens is that they eat themselves out of the easy food and have to go to the hard food, i.e., things that can fly away. But ground-nesting birds are exposed to predators of all kinds–like snakes. So the smart ones get really good at hiding, although nothing is foolproof. I object to the cat-bashing. Why not bash snakes, and people, and cell towers? I can’t help you with the chipmunks. My collection of cats consists of one wimp. Prey has to more or less poke her in the nose and say “Eat me, already”.
    The FOF on Facebook replied to my mild objection by posting a comment just full of statistics. And you know how I love statistics. If I can manage it, I’ll post that reply here.

  3. And in California you’d be surprised at the number of eagles killed by wind turbines. A report by Will Huntsberry (June 4) in the Raleigh Public Record states that Wake County commissioners approved euthanizing 4,830 cats from the county-run animal shelter because they were “unadoptable” feral animals. Between 2010 and 2011, the shelter took in 7,766 cats. The others were neutered and returned to the wild with one ear clipped. Cats, it seems, are extremely hard to trap. Darin Schroeder, an official with the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), says “Numerous studies have shown that cats kill hundreds of millions of wild birds.” Other studies indicate that 532 million birds are killed by cats each year. According to the Feral Cat Coalition (FCC), a pair of cats can produce up to five litters per year. As the offspring mature and breed, the cumulative total can be over 400,000 cats within 7 years. Cats can transmit diseases such as rabies, toxoplasmosis, and cat scratch fever to humans. The CDC has declared cats as the TOP CARRIER of rabies in domestic animals. Cats maintain their predatory instincts, no matter how well fed they are. And don’t get me started on the civil liability under the Endangered Species Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

  4. There’s the comment. I’m going to have t look up that CDC and cats and rabies thing.

  5. And the answer is…it’s bats, according to the CDC.
    http://www.livestrong.com/article/125452-common-rabies-carriers/
    I’ll grant you, the commenter did say “among domestic animals”. I will say that ferrets in my county are now required to be vaccinated for rabies.

    • And what is the PERFECT play-toy for any outdoor cat?

      Even vaccinating your cat against rabies won’t prevent it from finding the nearest rabid bat or other small mammal dying on the ground from rabies, to cruelly rip it to shreds for its daily cat’s play-toy. Then bringing back a mouthful or claws full of fresh rabies virus to you, your family, neighbors, other pets, or other animals.

      • Thank you for commenting, Woodsman. I see your point, but it’s my understanding that you have to be bitten by an already infected animal. The two articles I posted taught me a lot. For one, if you are bitten by a wild animal, they assume it’s rabid from the start, and proceed with prophylactic treatment right away. This makes sense to me. It’s unlikely that you’ll be bitten by a wild animal unless it’s rabid, otherwise it would run away, unless it’s cornered. If you’re bitten by a domestic animal, they will first quarantine it for 10 days. If it shows signs of rabies,only then will they institute prophylactic treatment. The second article I posted concerning rabies in domestic animals, says that no one has ever contracted rabies from a domestic animal that has been quarantined for 10 days.

      • It’s a little more complex than that. The gestation period for rabies can be as long as 6 to 9 months (and in some cases even longer). This is why any wild-harvested animals in the world intended for the pet-industry must undergo an extensive quarantine period before transfer or sale of that animal. The generally agreed-upon period usually being 6 months to be somewhat safe (but not completely safe yet).

        Take for example this story (URL below), of how a wild-harvested cat was given all its shots, then adopted out to a family. The very popular pastime of TNR promoters who trap feral cats to sterilize them and then get their kittens, if any, adopted to unsuspecting people who have no idea of that cat’s origin. In this case their adopted cat died of rabies. And all their other pets then had to be put in quarantine for 6 months, and everyone in the family get rabies shots. All at their own expense.

        http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/09/23/2631106/rabid-cat-adopted-from-wake-county.html

    • That is a terrifying story, Woodsman. I at least take from it that if you adopt an animal, you absolutely must know its history as best you can. Or seriously beware. I once bought a Rottweiler puppy, and he had only had one set of puppy shots. The vet said he should have three more sets instead of the usual two, because Rottweilers are very prone to Parvo. I knew the people who adopted the last available puppy in the litter, and they did not give the remaining shots needed. She died of Parvo. They were at work one evening when they got a panicked call from their little boy who said that the dog was lying in the bathroom bleeding. In fact, the dog was bleedng from every orifice and bled to death.

  6. Well, among domestic animals, according to the CDC, it’s cats. That surprised me. I thought it would be dogs. My one cat and two dogs are vaccinated. http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/exposure/animals/domestic.html

  7. By the way, I was a little unhappy to hear that about bats. I absolutely love my bats. I used to sit out at my picnic table in the evening at dusk, and the bats would start flying. Sometimes they would fly so close to me I could hear their wings whirring right in my ear. It sort of takes nerves of steel–I would be afraid that one would run into me, but it never happened. That sonar thing really does work.
    Because we have lots of bats here, the authorities have been very clear that if you see an apparently dead bat lying on the ground, you should not touch it and should call Animal Control immediately. Because it might not actually be dead yet, and could bite you if you try to pick it up.
    I still sit at my picnic table at dusk, but ever since they built Walmart, the construction drove them away. Just another reason to hate Walmart.

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