• 52°

BIrd’s Eye View: Cuddly Killers

We often think of our pet cats as cuddly, soft companions that sit on our laps and purr contentedly. I sincerely doubt that birds feel the same way. Just watch parent birds bombard a wayward cat that gets close to their nest or young.
“Bella is missing,” came the plea for help of someone in Americus whose cat had not come home. Through my cell phone app, Nextdoor, I keep up with any number of neighborhood events, like this one, just as many of you do. The pet owner was desperate to find his or her pet and begged other Nextdoor subscribers for assistance.
Which got me to thinking; why do the majority of dog owners secure their dog with fencing/kennels or otherwise keep them properly contained, yet some cat owners let their pets roam free? Can an argument be made that dog owners love their pets more than cat owners do? I doubt it. I’ve had both dogs and cats for pets and as any pet owner will testify, the bond between owner and pet can be very strong.
Could the answer be that leash laws are enforced for dogs and not for cats? Well now, we might be getting somewhere. The City of Americus Code of Ordinances Sec. 10-44 specifically names dogs are to be kept on a leash or chain. There is no mention of cats on a leash. Sec. 10-45 mentions that all dogs and cats shall be inoculated for rabies by a licensed veterinarian and that a tag shall be worn on the collar or harness of the animal. Sec. 10-45 further states that every dog and cat found roaming free, whether tagged or untagged (vaccination tag), shall be impounded.
But I really think the answer to my question lies in educating pet owners. If you own a pet, it is your responsibility to properly care for it. That includes not only vaccinations, but proper diet, clean water, keeping the animal warm in winter months and keeping the animal safe. A cat allowed to roam doesn’t understand the dangers of vehicles, poisons or predators. YouTube is full of videos showing coyotes, dogs and birds of prey taking cats and small dogs.
My advice is this: Cats belong indoors. Why? Because there are deadly consequences for allowing cats to roam.
The best estimates are there are 90 million owned cats in the United States alone. Add to that number another 60-100 million cats that are un-owned or feral in the U.S. Cats can have two to three litters per year. You can see the numbers quickly add up. Studies have shown that outdoor cats live half as long as indoor cats.
And then there are the fatal consequences of roaming cats. A cat’s instinct (wild or domesticated) to stalk and kill comes naturally. That’s what they do. Best estimates are there are well over a billion birds killed every year in North America by house cats. A recent study in Australia indicates a million birds per day are destroyed by Felis catus down under. Some Australian communities now offer bounties on feral cats due to their devastating consequences on wildlife. And cats are known to be the direct cause for some bird species to become extinct, like the Stephens Island Wren, or critically endangered.
We know cats can kill our native wildlife without even lifting a paw. Thanks to science we know that Toxoplasma oocysts, shed through cat feces, has a devastating effect on native wildlife as well as humans. Toxoplasmosis in humans has been linked to depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and even increased suicides.
As someone who loves and appreciates my native birds, I’ve come to almost actually believe that since they live and feed in my yard they are mine, that they belong to me. Feeding my birds, providing water, nest boxes and other places to nest and providing cover for them gives me that false sense of ownership. But I must remember that our native birds and animals belong to all citizens of Georgia.
Over the years, I’ve carefully landscaped and planted bird-friendly plants, shrubs, vines and trees to attract birds. And it has worked. I am blessed with a diversity of native birds that I enjoy right from the comfort of my sunroom windows. So, when I see a cat in my yard it greatly upsets me. I’m not talking about bobcats; I mean the non-native, introduced house cat.
If you truly want a bird-friendly property or yard you must, as a responsible pet owner, keep your cats inside. Do it for the native wildlife of Georgia. Our birds will thank you for it with lots of song and enjoyment.

Phil Hardy, a bird watcher and bird photographer, lives in Americus.