Jeremy Hastings: We are spoilt. Very spoilt. The flegeling birds have been enjoying a bumper early summer. It has been warm and insects abound. Occasionally it is not always positive though. Although not a huge problem on Islay we do have the key predator active in Port Charlotte and often as I am out an about I notice them: the domestic cat. regularly we have them sitting outside the garden, and I swear i can see them licking their lips as the young Goldfinches, Blackbirds, Greenfinches and Sparrow call to be fed. These birds come form the fields surrounding our house as well as living in the garden and housing themselves, in the case of the House Sparrows in our walls. We have two dogs so the cats are wary but they have also become accustomed to the fact that they have a kennel and run so cannot get to them directly. However the Border terriers are good early warning devices and as soon as they start barking it is for a reason. We look out the window and if the dogs and birds are calling in a panic stricken way then the predatator s about. Cat patrol happens and we go out of a look hissing and pishing to scare of the ginger, black or white attackers that frequent our bird camp!
There has been quite alot written about this effect recently and the best I have come across is is by Peter Strangel of Wild Bird Magazine who suggests keeping your beloved cat indoors during the flegeling season:
by Peter Stangel, Ph.D. Many human-related factors contribute to bird declines, including habitat loss, pesticide poisoning and collisions with windows and other structures. One important cause that is also one of the easiest to remedy might be curled up in your lap right now â€” your cat. This might shock you, but experts estimate that domestic cats may be responsible for killing 3 million to 5 million wild birds per day in the United States. This staggering number is backed up by a growing body of research suggesting that cats are contributing to bird declines.
Studies of Cats as Predators. Some of the earliest research about bird predation by cats took place in England, where scientists chronicled the predatory habits of cats in the village of Bedfordshire. Although the primary items in the British cat's diet were small mammals, songbirds like House Sparrows, Song Thrush, blackbirds and robins accounted for more than one-third of all captures. These scientists estimated that Britain's 5 million cats probably killed about 20 million birds annually. They speculated that cats were responsible for one-third to one-half of all mortality for House Sparrow, a preferred prey! Closer to home, Dr. Stanley Temple and his students at the University of Wisconsin in Madison studied cats' predatory behavior in rural areas of Wisconsin. Temple estimated that there were about 1.7 million free-ranging cats in rural areas of Wisconsin and that about 23 percent of their prey were birds. From their research and that of others, Temple found that the number of animals killed by any individual cat varied widely. Some killed no wild animals, but others captured one per day. Accounting for this variation, Temple estimated that free-ranging rural cats killed between 7.8 million and 219 million wild birds per year â€” in Wisconsin alone! And these numbers don't include predation by the state's urban cats.
It's not just common feeder birds that take a beating from cats. Ground-nesting birds like meadowlarks are particularly vulnerable. Cats contribute to the endangerment of populations of birds such as Least Tern, Piping Plover and Loggerhead Shrike. On Marion Island in the subarctic Indian Ocean, cats introduced to control mice now kill an estimated 600,000 seabirds annually. thanks to www.wildbirdmagazine.com
There are plenty of farm cats on Islay too and I wonder how much damage they do to the wild bird population - granted, cats also need to feed their young and they are exceptionally good at catching all types of food but I guess as we are obsessed with feeding birds( you should see my seed bill!) and other folks love their cats then I guess it will be a problem that comes and goes with the seasons. so as peter suggests keeping our fury friends indoors may certainly help.
Here on Islay we are encouraged to keep dogs away from sheep fields especially at lambing time then perhaps we should also be aware of cats and young birds... who knows.... it may catch on!