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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Cats prey on birds


Okay, this title isn’t exactly news. We all know that if given the chance, cats will stalk birds. What you may not know is the extent to which this predation goes on. According to work by Christine Stracey, a graduate student at the University of Florida, cats are by far the number one predator of urban mockingbirds.

Previous studies have demonstrated cat predation on adult bird populations. This time, the researchers wondered whether cats were also responsible for attacking nests. To test this, Stracey and her colleagues placed small security cameras near mockingbird nests. Sure enough, cats came in as the top predators by a huge margin. To be fair, this was only true in urban regions. In rural settings, hawks were the main predators. In either case, the videos documented predators attacking not adult birds, but eggs and nestlings. Videos were placed only around mockingbird nests, but the researchers expect to find similar rates of predation around other birds’ nests.

graph of predators

Although the researchers could not identify individual cats, at least some of them were wearing collars, indicating that they were not feral. All but one of the cat predation events occurred at night. For this reason, Stracey makes the following plea:
Please, at the very least, keep your cats indoors at night.
On the other hand, a new study showing that cats are responsible for spreading Toxoplasma gondii infections through wildlife suggests that cats should be indoors all the time.