Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Natural born killer

Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
This beautiful cat is a natural born killer, but as a domesticated animal it is decidedly NOT a natural predator. What natural predator would kill two shrews just for fun, leaving the carcasses when the tiny mammals stopped "playing" along?

This morning when I was walking Photon we came upon the first dead shrew and I wondered what had killed it. Shrews apparently taste horrible, and normal predators, after tasting one, stop wasting time with them. The question was answered when we came upon this cat with the second shrew in its mouth. When it saw Photon, it dropped the shrew and skulked into the woods, too late for the little mammal. I could tell exactly where the cat was in the understory by following the sounds of the many anxious parent birds giving alarm calls.

Shrew #1 killed by cat
Shrew #2 killed by cat

There are so many nestlings and flightless fledglings right now--I get a stomachache every time I see a cat slinking about outdoors. Someone recently asked me whether their cat was in danger from Barn Owls that were calling and seeming to "scold" the cat every night. I feel so angry when people pretend their cat is a natural predator but don't want to subject it to the same harsh realities that genuinely natural predators face. And in the case of the Barn Owls--they're hardly big enough to mess with most cats. That group was clearly a family with probably more than one owlet. Their chicks were far more at danger from the cat than the cat was from the owls.

I love cats. But they belong indoors. Period.


  1. Growing up we always had cats and they spent time roaming freely outdoors. I remember the day that one cat brought my Mom a dead baby robin. I'm not sure why that little bird turned her opinion, but our cats never went outside after that. I too love cats. They make wonderful companions but they belong inside.

  2. "people pretend their cat is a natural predator but don't want to subject it to the same harsh realities that genuinely natural predators face" - More often than not, that is SO true!!!

  3. good post Laura- unfortunately we deal with this problem often, in a very rural area where cats are dropped off and abandoned. In one day's time we watched a large male cat kill 5 birds, one chipmunk and a flying squirrel. They're very smart and almost impossible to trap. (My hubby took matters into his own hands when the traps didn't work. The cat was mangy and we feared it may spread the mange to our dog, which is never allowed off her tie out because she too would go after wildlife) I always feel badly for the cats too, as they face alot of diseases and perils out there in the wild, where they should NOT be. Ever.
    Shrews are a vital part of the ecosystem too as they keep mice populations in check. I can almost always tell when a free-roaming cat is out and about in our woods, by the alarm calls of not only birds, but squirrels, chipmunks and other critters. I've watched white-tail deer on our property stomp furiously at a feral cat-- wild animals are intelligent enough to know that a domestic cat is a danger to them, you'd think people would catch on to that fact someday!'
    How about taking on the topic of window-killed birds? You have a large readership here, and I'm continually appalled at the many dead bird images I view on many 'birding blogs' where folks still refuse to cover their reflective windows with deterrents and seem to see that as a 'natural death' as well. :(
    Keep speaking for those who cannot speak (or rather those that are not heard)

  4. Gosh..I feel bad..My kittie travels with us..we put him on a leash usually take him for walks

    yesterday I left him on tether.. He was outside my parents yard yesterday and caught a was too late by the time I got to it.

    He never has caught a bird. But I suppose that could happen. Though..he doesnt seem interested in birds...and I keep him away from feeders.
    I guess I should sit outside with him when he is tethered.

  5. Dear Laura,
    Cat owners should use CatBibs on their cats to stop them from catching birds and other wildlife. Where you can find published results of field trials, Audubon recommendation, and 100's of testimonials. The CatBib has the potential to save millions of birds, if only more people knew about it. I also read your blog on the Ovenbird hitting the plate glass door. Here's a quote from Prof. Daniel Klem, Jr.(Bird Observer Vol 34, 2006)”Even considering the remarkable number attributable to cats, this figure is more than likely to be far less than the annual kill at glass. Further, cats are active predators that most often capture vulnerable prey, while sheet glass is an indiscriminate killer that takes the strong as well as the weak and is astronomically more abundant than cats in the environment.” I use a product called Collidescape on my windows to stop window strikes. We could save billions of birds using Collidescape, if only more people knew about it. Thanks!

  6. Dr. Klem does say that the number of birds killed at windows may outnumber the number killed by cats. But that is irrelevant unless you believe that we should stop treating heart disease because now more people are dying of cancer.

  7. Hi Laura,
    Lynne from Hasty Brook and I are planning a Birders who Blog, tweet and chirp Birding event. Aug 15 we will meet up with Birdchick and her Birds and Beers group later in the eve.
    Please Join us

  8. I could not agree more. Mine only go outside supervised. My take...try to help the cat! Especially if it's friendly, take it to a rescue. If it's feral, trap, neuter, return. Let's get the numbers down.

  9. There is absolutely no evidence supported by a single study that feral cat colonies (the trap neuter return thing) have reduced feral cat numbers anywhere in the least. I would rather see them humanely euthanized than see them continue to kill untold numbers of birds. But I did my part--my cat Kasey was one of those feral cats until I brought her home.

    No one should EVER allow their pet cat to breed. There are plenty of homeless cats out there to fill the world's pet needs pretty much as far into the future as I can imagine.