Cats are Number One Threat to Birds

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According to a report by the American Bird conservancy, cats are responsible for the deaths of between 500 million to one billion birds each year in the United States. These figures include birds killed by feral and domestic cats, and many cat owners have had the experience of being presented with a feathered ‘gift’ from their furry felines. Following a study, the results of which were presented in the Journal of Ornithology, research scientist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Peter Marra, confirms that cats wreak havoc on bird populations in both urban and suburban areas.

Although these studies only serve to confirm what bird-lovers have known all along, that cats are enemy number one to birds, having this confirmed by scientists has been helpful in dealing with the controversy of wind-turbines and bird deaths. With the growing demand for renewable and alternative energy sources, wind turbines are getting a lot of attention. The European Wind Energy Association held its annual event in Brussels, Belgium, on 14-17 March 2011, with up to 200 top speakers addressing the more than 8,000 visitors on various issues related to using wind to generate energy. It has been reported that up to 440,000 birds are killed annually by flying into wind turbines in the United States. While the figures seems high, when compared to the number of birds killed by domestic cats alone, it becomes clear that cats pose far more danger to birds than wind turbines do.

In the study conducted by Peter Marra and fellow scientific researchers, radio transmitters were attached to fledgling Gray Catbirds in an effort to document the factors that influenced their chances of survival. The results revealed that predators were responsible for up to 80 percent of deaths among the birds being monitored, with close to half of the predators being domestic cats. Directly related to the number of cats in the area, the fledglings had a survival rate of between 20 and 50 percent. It has been shown, especially in closed ecosystems such as islands, that cats play a significant role in declining bird populations, even hunting some bird species into extinction.

The bottom line is that the leading cause of bird deaths in the United States is collisions with buildings, windows and towers, with predators being the second most common cause. While wind turbines do lead to bird deaths, this needs to be seen in relation to the value of turbines as an alternative energy source – bearing in mind that the family cat is a far greater threat to bird populations.


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With the increasing loss of bird species throughout the world, bird conservation should be of great concern to all.

Why should we be concerned with bird conservation? Birds bring pleasure to humankind. In fact more than 63 million Americans are enthusiastic bird watchers and that number is growing. Try to imagine the world without the bright colors of birds or the intricacy of beautiful bird song. Birds also have a scientific value. They have taught us about flight, vision, physiology and much more. Birds provide us with an indication as to the condition of the environment. A decline in bird populations equals a decline in the health of our environment. They also warn us of the effects of our actions e.g. the negative effects of DDT.

The main reason for the decline in bird numbers and the urgency of bird conservation is habitat destruction. Birds require sufficient habitat to provide a continuous food source as well as nesting places. With the expansion of urban areas and agriculture, such habitats are being destroyed at a frightening pace. In an attempt to compensate for habitat destruction, man has created islands of natural habitat in urban environments, many of which do not fulfill the needs of birds. Another reason for concern is effect of non-native species. Cats are the second greatest threat to birds, causing a large number of extinctions. Other threats are poisons, pollution and man-made towers into which birds collide (an estimated 100 million birds in America die each year due to such collisions).

What can be done? Many non-profit organizations have been set up in the interest of bird conservation. To benefit bird conservation, wild birds need to be monitored. After data has been gathered, research can be done into the reasons for the decline of certain species. From such research bird conservation strategies can be devised. Such strategies include finding ways to maintain habitats in a suitable condition to be utilized by birds.

You too can help with bird conservation by educating yourself as to current issues affecting birds. Some people volunteer to assist non-profit organizations and participate in projects to monitor birds. If you are interested in bird conservation, contact either your local government or a non-profit organisation to find out how you can help with conserving native bird species. Consider making your garden bird-friendly by planting indigenous vegetation. You can also help by avoiding the use of pesticides, using products that won’t harm birds and preventing your cat from wandering outdoors.

Your assistance in bird conservation may vary according to your resources (time, money etc), however, any small effort will be a positive contribution to the continuation of our many bird species.

Below is a list of major bird conservation organisations:

BirdLife International
American Bird Conservancy
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Injured Birds

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What can be done for an injured bird – whether domestic or wild?

Should your pet bird be injured it is vital to get it to a Veterinarian as soon as possible. In the interim it may be necessary to practice first-aid on your bird. The following are suggestions for dealing with various injuries, but remember even if first-aid is administered the bird must be taken to a Veterinarian.

In the case of bleeding, the source of the bleeding must be determined. Styptic powder, corn flour or baking soda can be used to stop the bleeding. A mixture of alum and cold water can also be applied. Place a gauze pad over the wound and apply firm pressure. If the bird has injured its leg or foot use antibiotic ointment and loosely bandage.

For broken wing bones, cut the toe out of a sock and place the injured bird inside with its head through the hole. Ensure the bird can breathe comfortably and there are holes for its feet.

When a bird is injured by a cat the greatest concern is that of infection. Clean the wounds with hydrogen peroxide. The injured bird will require an ampicillin shot.

If the injured bird is in shock (not moving, breathing is shallow and quick, eyes slightly closed) place it in a warm environment with low light.

If you find an injured wild bird it is better not to treat it as this is illegal in some countries. The best thing to do is to contact your nearest rehabilitation centre. If a bird has collided with a window it is likely just stunned. Cover it with a box with holes for a while and then remove, it will more than likely recover and fly off.

Do not handle a wild bird too much as this will add to the trauma of the situation. It is best not to handle an injured bird of prey as they are likely to hurt you, rather promptly contact the authorities trained to handle them correctly. The best way to capture a wild bird is to throw a towel or light blanket over it. Carefully pick it up making sure its wings are lying against its body (remember, this method cannot be used on an injured bird of prey). Other methods of capture, such as grabbing the beak and holding the injured bird under the arm, are not recommended unless you have been trained to do so.

It is advisable to keep the number of your Veterinarian and a local rehabilitation centre on hand in case a situation with an injured bird arises.

Birds and Outdoor Cats

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No bird-enthusiast likes it when their cat kills a wild bird. But they may be unaware just how harmful cats can be on bird populations. Many bird species are reduced in number, or have even become endangered, because of outdoor cats. In fact, one study calculated that in the U.S. state of Wisconsin alone, rural cats may be killing up to 219 million songbirds each year. Another study in England followed 964 free-roaming cats for five months. The cats killed 14,000 animals, 3300 of which were wild birds.

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