Pro­tect birds (and cats) by rein­ing in cats

Wisconsin Gazette - - Opinion - By Kather­ine Roth AP writer

Bird and cat pro­po­nents agree that both an­i­mals are safer if cats — a lead­ing cause of bird mor­tal­ity — are reined in.

The good news is that cat own­ers are, in­creas­ingly, keep­ing their felines en­closed.

“The cat realm is catch­ing up to the dog realm in this,” says Danielle Bays, com­mu­nity cats pro­gram man­ager for The Hu­mane So­ci­ety of the United States. The num­ber of cats kept in­doors has in­creased dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years, she says.

Cats kill an es­ti­mated 2.4 bil­lion birds in the United States and Canada ev­ery year, ac­cord­ing to re­searchers from the Smith­so­nian and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice.

World­wide, cats have con­tributed to the ex­tinc­tion of dozens of species of birds, re­searchers say. Be­sides birds, cats also are a threat to many small mam­mals.

“The sin­gle best way to pro­tect birds from cats is to keep cats in­doors. This is safe for birds and other wildlife, as well as safer for the cats. In­door cats are less sus­cep­ti­ble to disease, ve­hi­cle col­li­sions or at­tack from a larger preda­tor,” says John Row­den, di­rec­tor of com­mu­nity con­ser­va­tion for the Na­tional Audubon So­ci­ety.

Bays says the Hu­mane So­ci­ety doesn’t see it as a cat ver­sus bird de­bate, but as a win for both groups.

“We pro­mote keep­ing cats in­doors, on a leash or in an en­clo­sure. We find more and more peo­ple opt­ing for walk­ing cats on a leash or putting in a catio,” says Bays.

Ca­tios are screened-in out­door en­clo­sures, of­ten fea­tur­ing shelves or ramps, in­tended as safe out­door ar­eas for pet cats. Ca­tios vary widely in size and style, and some even have room for peo­ple.

Bays says ca­tios are a good option for cats who dash out the door at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity.

They don’t have to be fancy.

“Even a win­dow-box catio can be help­ful,” she says. “There are also portable, pop-up ca­tios and ca­tios for apart­ment bal­conies.”

When Bays and her co-work­ers built a catio in her back­yard, she says, the neigh­bors were fas­ci­nated and joined in to help.

“There are still some peo­ple who in­sist their cats should roam free. But it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that peo­ple also used to let their dogs roam free.

“We don’t al­low dogs to be feral and that goes for cats as well,” says Grant Size­more, di­rec­tor of in­va­sive species pro­grams at the Amer­i­can Bird Con­ser­vancy, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion de­voted to con­serv­ing na­tive birds and their habi­tats.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s na­tional Happy Cats Happy Birds ini­tia­tive is one of a num­ber of na­tional re­sources de­signed to ben­e­fit both pop­u­la­tions. The ini­tia­tive fo­cuses on out­reach, ed­u­ca­tion and ad­vo­cacy to keep cats con­tained.

The Hu­mane So­ci­ety’s Com­mu­nity Cats Pro­gram also works to re­duce the num­ber of cats roam­ing wild. The pro­gram is de­signed to “hu­manely trap, neuter and re­turn” stray cats to the area where they were picked up. The cats are given an ear clip — a vis­ual iden­ti­fier that they’ve been spayed or neutered and vac­ci­nated.

“The idea is that over time, the pop­u­la­tion will be re­duced hu­manely, pro­tect­ing wildlife as well as cats,” Bays says. “When we get peo­ple in a com­mu­nity in­volved in mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion, we can spot kit­tens and new cats as soon as they show up.”

She urges any­one who spots stray cats to contact a shel­ter or the Com­mu­nity Cats Pro­gram.

In ad­di­tion to keep­ing cats from roam­ing, Row­den says peo­ple can help na­tive bird pop­u­la­tions by plant­ing na­tive plant species and keep­ing out­door light­ing to a min­i­mum, es­pe­cially dur­ing sea­sonal mi­gra­tions.

“Audubon’s Plants for Birds data­base is a tremen­dously help­ful re­source for any­one who wants to help birds. Sim­ply by putting in their ZIP code, users can get a list of plants na­tive to that re­gion, along with the birds they’ll at­tract and shel­ter, as well as lo­cal Audubon re­sources to help with any ques­tions or plant sourc­ing,” he says.

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