Cats. It’s the four-letter word of bird conservation.
For over a century, ornithologists have been sounding the alarm about cats and their impacts on the environment. Whether owned, stray, or feral, roaming domestic cats hunt and kill the wild creatures that we value. To date, at least 40 bird species have been driven to extinction in the wild due, at least in part, to cats.
Cats’ predatory instinct means we must be responsible about how we manage our pets. Learning this lesson, however, can take time. Growing up in suburban Ohio, I long believed that preventing a cat from running outdoors was cruel. To me, cats’ predatory behavior was “only natural.”
But, like a growing number of cat owners, I began to see things differently. I learned that cats kept indoors — as recommended by veterinarians — live longer, healthier lives. I learned of the substantial and preventable losses of wildlife caused by cats, one of the world’s most harmful invasive species. (In the United States alone, cats are estimated to kill 2.4 billion birds each year.) And I experienced these lessons firsthand, sometimes painfully, through my own cats. One of my childhood cats, for example, was killed by a car.
Today, I’m proud to keep my cat, Amelia Bedelia, safely contained. I’ve chosen to protect her and local wildlife by keeping her indoors. When she does venture outdoors, she is on a leash or in an enclosure and always supervised. I’m also proud that American Bird Conservancy’s Cats Indoors program is helping others to make the same responsible choice.
Only decades ago, domestic dogs frequently ran wild, whether owned or not. Thanks to education and a concerted community effort, allowing pet dogs to roam is no longer acceptable — or legal — in most of the United States. This transition from semi-wild pet to responsibly contained companion animal is precisely what is needed for domestic cats.
American Bird Conservancy and responsible pet owners are leading the way to a more sustainable future for birds, cats, and people. Hopefully, many more will follow. — Grant Sizemore, director of invasive species programs
A version of this article was published in the March/April 2020 issue of BirdWatching.